The Orlando-area prosecutor ousted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Wednesday hit back at the shock suspension, calling the stunt a “smokescreen” to distract from DeSantis’ spiraling presidential campaign.
Monique Worrell is now the second democratically elected state prosecutor to lose her job to a DeSantis power grab. The governor attributed Worrell’s suspension to her being too forgiving on crime, despite her comfortably winning 67 percent of the vote in Orange and Osceola counties in 2020.
“I am your duly elected state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit and nothing done by a weak dictator can change that,” Worrell said in a press conference Wednesday.
The executive order suspending Worrell cites “neglect of duty” and “incompetence,” and is part of DeSantis’ anti-woke crusade.
“Worrell’s practices and policies have too often allowed violent criminals to escape the full consequences of their criminal conduct, thereby endangering the innocent civilians of Orange and Osceola counties,” the governor’s office said in a statement.
DeSantis did the same thing to Tampa prosecutor Andrew Warren for defying a state abortion ban last year. Warren challenged it in court—and lost. In January, a federal judge acknowledged that the Florida governor violated his own state’s constitution and a prosecutor’s free speech rights by firing him, but held back from stopping him. Critics at the time warned that DeSantis would feel emboldened to strike again—especially as he continues to falter on the campaign trail.
“He needed to get back in the media in some positive way that would be red meat for his base, and he will have accomplished that today,” Worrell said Wednesday.
Worrell had long been on DeSantis’ target list, according to government emails that were exposed in Warren’s case. She had also clashed regularly with Orange County Sheriff John Mina, who claimed she was too soft on crime and didn’t pursue harsh enough charges for repeat offenders.
Tension simmered further in March after a local shooting in which a news reporter, a 9-year-child, and a woman were killed randomly. The suspect, 19-year-old Keith Moses, had been released early from prison on prior convictions for aggravated battery, assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, and more.
DeSantis’ office demanded Worrell hand over records of Moses’ prior cases but, as she told them, all but one offense was from before her time in office.
Last July, Worrell alleged that Mina, in a meeting involving DeSantis, “was trying to provide the governor with evidence that the governor could use to justify my suspension.”
The governor has the authority to suspend a state officer under Article IV, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution. DeSantis appointed former judge Andrew Bain to replace Worrell as state attorney of the 9th Judicial Circuit for the duration of her suspension.
Worrell nevertheless vowed to challenge her suspension in court despite acknowledging that it’s “likely permanent.” She said she also plans to run for re-election in 2024.
“I know Andrew Bain personally, I think he’s a great guy,” Worrell said Wednesday. “I’m not going to, you know, take any hits against him. This is the work of the governor. And the person who we should all be concerned about is the governor.”
She said she believed most Floridians didn’t realize who and what they were voting for in the last election cycle, saying nobody could have foreseen DeSantis’ extreme pivot to “tyranny.”
“I don’t think anyone who voted for him then could have foreseen the attack on democracy that would have followed from his reign,” Worrell said. “Elected officials can be removed simply for political purposes and on a whim by the governor. No matter how you feel about me, you should not be OK with that.”
Democrats in Florida released a flurry of statements with a similar tone. Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-FL) wrote, “WE WILL NOT stand for this blatant abuse of power and fascism in our state.”
Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democratic state representative in Orlando, said DeSantis ousted “one of America’s only Black female prosecutors, and installed a stooge… to save his failing presidential campaign. He took no questions [at his press conference] because he’s a coward.”
DeSantis has been pining for the 2024 GOP nomination but has fallen far behind former President Donald Trump–the very man whose support helped usher him into the governor’s mansion in 2019 and kept him there in 2023.
In recent months, his office has taken increasingly extreme rightwing positions that seem to be a ploy to energize angry Republican voters by showing his zeal for harming progressive causes. He has started bureaucratic councils to limit what books students can read at public school libraries, implemented changes that have restricted what advanced placement classes children can take, and keeps tightening limits on kids discussing homosexuality or their own same-sex parents in class.