Florida's governor suspends another elected prosecutor, citing neglect of duty to prosecute

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AP DeSantis November 2022

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in November 2022 in Las Vegas. DeSantis suspended Monique H. Worrell, the state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, in an Aug. 9 order. Photo by John Locher/The Associated Press.

Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed an executive order Wednesday that suspends a second elected prosecutor from office, citing actions that she took to avoid triggering mandatory minimum sentences.

DeSantis suspended Monique H. Worrell, the state attorney for Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit, in an Aug. 9 order, report, the Tampa Bay Times, Reuters and the New York Times. The circuit includes Orange and Osceola counties.

The order cites “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” for administration of justice that is “clearly and fundamentally derelict.”

Worrell has avoided triggering mandatory minimum sentences and sentencing enhancements, the order says, by dropping or failing to file “meritorious charges” and by declining to allege provable facts. She has also discouraged charging juveniles as adults, according to the order. And she has a policy of limiting the number of counts in child pornography cases, the order says.

DeSantis appointed Orange County, Florida, Judge Andrew A. Bain of the Ninth Judicial Circuit to take over Worrell’s duties.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and Fair and Just Prosecution issued statements condemning DeSantis’ decision.

Worrell is the only Black woman serving as a state attorney in Florida; she was elected with 66% of the vote, according to the ACLU.

“Ousting elected officials because you disagree with their leadership and installing hand-picked individuals to take over their job responsibilities is what happens in authoritarian regimes, not democratic nations,” said Kara Gross, legislative director and senior policy counsel at the ACLU of Florida, in the press release.

Miriam Krinsky, executive director of Fair and Just Prosecution, called DeSantis’ action “a desperate political stunt” in the group’s statement.

“During her time in office,” Krinsky said, Worrell “has created special victims and mental health units, developed a new diversion program to help reduce recidivism, and implemented policies to hold police officers accountable for misconduct. She also convened the first-ever violence prevention summit in her community, aimed at developing collaborative solutions to stop crime from happening before it occurred. She has enacted changes to make her community safer and stronger—just as she promised to do.”

DeSantis previously suspended Hillsborough County, Florida, State Attorney Andrew Warren from his post, citing “woke” positions and “neglect of duty.”

DeSantis had said he was suspending Warren for pledging not to prosecute people in connection with abortion and refusing to prosecute some misdemeanor crimes. DeSantis also cited Warren’s criticism of bills that criminalize medical treatments for transgender people.

Warren has so far failed to win reinstatement in either federal or state court. The ABA Criminal Justice Section decided to give Warren and one other prosecutor its Curtin-Maleng Minister of Justice Award during the association’s annual meeting last week, according to an ABA press release.

The award honors prosecutors who embody principles in the ABA Standards for Criminal Justice, Prosecution Function, particularly the duty “to seek justice, not merely to convict.”

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