Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Monique Worrell, who was elected in 2020 and took office in 2021, was the second state prosecutor targeted by the governor for removal, after he alleged last month that she was “clearly and fundamentally derelict” in her duties.
Ms Worrell – the only Black woman serving as a state prosecutor in Florida – had recently announced her intention to run again in 2024.
A 47-page lawsuit filed with Florida’s Supreme Court, which is dominated by DeSantis appointees, argues that the governor’s executive order “does not allege a single instance in which Ms Worrell’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion violated Florida law.”
“To the extent the governor disagrees with how Ms Worrell is lawfully exercising her prosecutorial discretion, such a disagreement does not constitute a basis for suspension from elected office,” the complaint adds.
Her removal is “without basis, frustrating the will of the voters who elected her,” according to the complaint.
Last year, Mr DeSantis suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren after he criticised the governor’s positions on abortion care and gender-affirming care for transgender people.
A federal judge affirmed the suspension but admonished the governor for falsely accusing Mr Warren of relying on a blanket policy to avoid prosecuting certain cases with which he disagreed.
Democratic officials have accused the governor of using politically motivated removals of elected prosecutors to elevate his national profile as he campaigns for the 2024 GOP nomination for president.
Ms Worrell had recently come under fire from Republican officials following a shooting that left three dead in February, with a suspect with an alleged history of criminal offenses on the streets at the time of the shooting; 19-year-old Keith Moses is charged with three counts of first-degree murder and pleaded not guilty. The suspect’s juvenile cases predated Ms Worrell’s time in office.
The governor’s executive order accuses Ms Worrell of “systematically” allowing people to avoid jail time, either by dropping charges or declining to allege provable facts. In a press conference announcing her removal, he acknowledged that prosecutors like Ms Worrell “do have a certain amount of discretion about which cases to bring and which not” but he claimed that she has “abused” that discretion and “effectively nullified certain laws in the state of Florida”.
“Although he proclaims to be a man of ‘law and order,’ he has only challenged the Constitution and pushed it to its very extremes at every single end,” Ms Worrell said during a press conference on 7 September.
Mr DeSantis has “created chaos instead of order,” she said.
Her removal “can’t just be based on a whim” or her political affiliation, ideology or campaign contributions, she added.