TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority when he removed a Democratic prosecutor from her elected office after a teenager fatally shot a girl and a news reporter, her attorney told the Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The state constitution only allows for the suspension of an elected official for egregious misconduct, and Monique Worrell was simply doing her job as she sees fit — not anything illegal or negligent — when DeSantis suspended her, said her lawyer, Laura Ferguson.
“It is the voters, not the governor, to whom Ms. Worrell is accountable,” Ferguson said.
But an attorney for DeSantis said Worrell's history of failing to prosecute crimes committed by minors and in not seeking mandatory minimum sentences for gun crimes put the public in danger in her central Florida district. Statistics show that Orlando and the surrounding area were grossly underperforming compared with other prosecutorial districts in the state, lawyer Jeffrey DeSousa said.
If "it just turned out that Ms. Worrell was not just very effective at prosecuting crime, and the data I think does prove that ... I would think that would be enough. Now practice and policies make that even stronger,” DeSousa said.
DeSantis’ office began investigating Worrell earlier this year after 19-year-old Keith Moses was charged with first-degree murder in the deaths of Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons, Nathacha Augustin and 9-year-old T’yonna Major. The girl’s mother and Spectrum News 13 photographer Jesse Walden were also shot.
Shortly after the shooting, DeSantis’ general counsel said in a letter to Worrell that she had previously failed to hold Moses accountable for crimes he allegedly committed before the deaths. The letter noted that Moses was arrested during a traffic stop in November 2021 for cannabis possession. According to a police report, a deputy witnessed a gun being thrown out of the car window as it was being pulled over. The three occupants had ski masks and past firearm charges, including Moses, who was on juvenile felony probation.
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputy charged Moses with a drug offense and not a firearm offense. The case was dismissed the following month after prosecutors concluded it wasn’t suitable to pursue.
DeSantis is one of a number of Republicans in various jurisdictions across the U.S. who have called into question decisions from Democratic prosecutors.
DeSantis last year removed State Attorney Andrew Warren, a twice-elected Democrat in Tampa, after he pledged not to pursue criminal charges against seekers or providers of abortion or gender-transition treatments. He also had a policy of not bringing charges against people for certain low-level crimes.