Governor Replaces Orange County State’s Attorney With a Republican
On August 9, 2023, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended the democratically elected State’s Attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit. The State Attorney—Monique Worrell—is a member of the Democratic Party.
The suspension and appointment of Republican Andrew Bain to take Worrell’s place followed the shooting death of three people, including a nine-year-old girl. The governor’s office claims the State Attorney’s office failed to adequately prosecute serious offenses, from gun charges to the possession of child pornography.
Suspension and Replacement Stems From a February Murder
The action taken by the governor is reportedly linked to a February 2023 triple murder in Orange County. The victims in that case include a nine-year-old girl and a journalist on the scene covering the initial shooting.
Not long after the shooting, general counsel for Governor DeSantis wrote to Worrell alleging that her office failed to hold the shooter accountable despite a lengthy criminal history and suspected gang affiliations.
This initial interaction raised some eyebrows among legal experts, as the Governor’s office sought the shooter’s juvenile records. These records are generally sealed in order to protect the privacy of children, even when they are accused of wrongdoing. DeSantis also alleged that Worrell’s office had a track record of allowing juvenile offenders to avoid serious consequences, even on violent offenses.
Worrell has promised to seek re-election in 2024. She was previously elected with more than two-thirds of the vote and is the first Black woman to ever hold that position.
This is the Second Suspension of an Elected Prosecutor
This is not the first time Governor DeSantis has removed an elected prosecutor from the opposing political party from office. In 2022, the governor suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren, the elected prosecutor for the Tampa area.
The origin of that case was different in that it resulted from a pledge made by Warren, as opposed to a specific courtroom outcome. DeSantis suspended the prosecutor from office after Warren signed pledges that he would not prosecute criminal cases related to state abortion laws or gender transition treatments.
In that case, Warren challenged the suspension by filing a lawsuit in federal court. The federal judge ultimately found that the suspension of Warren violated the United States Constitution and the prosecutor’s freedom of speech protections. However, the judge also upheld the suspension.
In the final ruling, the court determined that a federal judge does not have the power to rescind a suspension that was based entirely on state law.
The Impact of These Replacements Remains Unclear
How Bain’s appointment will impact criminal defense cases in Orlando and the Central Florida area is yet to be seen. However, the governor claimed these steps were taken because the former prosecutor was “soft on crime.” Some in the legal community believe that in order to prevent another replacement, prosecutors may become more aggressive in charging crimes.
There is also concern over the governor’s pursuit of juvenile records in this case. State law has long protected the privacy of child defendants, and the juvenile justice system is focused more on rehabilitation than punishment. Some observers are concerned that there could be repercussions for juveniles facing charges in the near future.