Ousted State Attorney Monique Worrell appears before Florida Supreme Court, makes plea for reinstatement

'No, I am not going to change my ways because I have not done anything wrong,' Worrell tells reporters
Posted at 5:28 PM, Dec 06, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-06 17:28:34-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — One of the two-state attorneys ousted by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had their day in court Wednesday morning.

Lawyers for Orlando prosecutor Monique Worrell pushed the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate her to the Ninth Judicial Circuit's elected post during an oral argument hearing.

"No, I am not going to change my ways because I have not done anything wrong," Worrell told reporters during a news conference on the high court's steps in Tallahassee. "The decision that the court makes around this hearing today is so important because it will set the precedent as to whether or not the governor can single-handedly remove every elected Democrat in the state."

Her legal challenge hinges on whether DeSantis exceeded his constitutional authority with the suspension last August. The governor, in an executive order, alleged Worrell was too soft on crime and that her practices as state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties resulted in lower incarceration rates. DeSantis called it "neglect of duty."

"Prosecutors have a duty to faithfully enforce the law," DeSantis said at an Aug. 9 news conference when he announced the suspension. "One's political agenda cannot trump this solemn duty."

"Neglect of duty" is the same rationale DeSantis used when suspending former state prosecutor Andrew Warren. However, Warren, a fellow Democrat, signed pledges not to enforce new abortion laws.

Inside the Supreme Court chamber Wednesday, Worrell's legal team argued the governor overstepped his power.

"Historically, most suspension orders have involved officials who have committed a crime or presented a grave threat to public safety," Laura Ferguson, an attorney for Worrell, told justices. "Removing a state attorney because of the lawful exercise of prosecutorial discretion is unprecedented."

DeSantis' attorneys countered, saying Worrell was not only an ineffective prosecutor but that the courts didn't have the authority to step in. Florida law, they believed, allows the governor-wide discretion to suspend and the state Senate to have the final say.

"The people elect the governor, and he is accountable to them," Jeffrey DeSousa, the chief deputy solicitor general who represented DeSantis. "Also, because the constitution — the people themselves — set up the Senate as effectively performing the judicial review of the suspension order."

Questions from the justices ranged from the court's role in the matter to the implications of backing DeSantis' argument.

"Is what we're doing here today placing a chilling effect on prosecutors?" Justice Jorge Labarga asked.

A final decision won't likely come for weeks, but five of the seven justices were appointed by DeSantis giving critics the impression that this case is already over.

Worrell is seeking reelection in 2024. She believed that even if the court battle was lost, voters would reinstate her next year.