Ron DeSantis May Be Plotting To Topple Another Democratic Prosecutor In Florida

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Last summer, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis removed the state prosecutor in Hillsborough County, Andrew Warren, generating controversy and a major lawsuit. Though DeSantis claimed he removed Warren for a supposed failure to protect public safety, Warren says it was pure politics. “This has become part of the authoritarian playbook,” Warren recently told NBC News.

Now another Democratic prosecutor in the state thinks DeSantis is coming after her.

Monique Worrell, the state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit Court of Florida, in Orange and Osceola counties, said in a scathing April 28 letter that DeSantis “seeks to exploit his political agenda against me” and that she thinks his office is trying to “build and justify a baseless case against a prosecutor he simply disagrees with politically.”

DeSantis’ office has not said publicly if he is seeking to remove Worrell, but her office said recent actions by state officials indicate they are working to build a case for suspension.

Worrell said state law enforcement officials have been requesting data from her first two years in office, suggesting they are trying to cherry-pick incidents to build a case for dismissal.

In an odd twist, some state officials are not asking about specific cases but essentially asking Worrell to build a case against herself. Late last month, State Committeewoman Debbie Galvin asked Worrell’s office to provide examples of cases in which justice was not served for victims of human trafficking. “She did not specify which cases she wanted. She seemingly wanted us to identify cases for her,” Keisha Mulfort, a spokesperson in Worrell’s office, told HuffPost.

Galvin told an employee in Worrell’s office that she was supposed to provide the information to DeSantis and needed to have it to them by May 1.

“Ms. Galvin’s efforts support the fact that there aren’t any policies that would justify my suspension, and the Governor’s team is pursuing this witch-hunt to establish a basis for the removal of another duly-elected prosecutor,” Worrell wrote in an April 28 letter to Galvin. “This request mirrors similar requests from local law enforcement officials who have requested data of my first two years in office. These requests are unprecedented.”

DeSantis’ office has also focused on a shooting spree in Pine Hills on Feb. 22 that left three people dead, including a local journalist and a 9-year-old child. DeSantis’ office concluded that the accused shooter, Keith Moses, a 19-year-old Black man, was a threat to society and that Worrell’s office was negligent for not prosecuting him for an earlier marijuana offense.

State Attorney Monique Worrell holds a news conference on March 9 about the case against Keith Moses, accused of killing three people on Feb. 22.
State Attorney Monique Worrell holds a news conference on March 9 about the case against Keith Moses, accused of killing three people on Feb. 22.

State Attorney Monique Worrell holds a news conference on March 9 about the case against Keith Moses, accused of killing three people on Feb. 22.

On March 10, Worrell announced she would file charges against Moses. A grand jury indicted Moses on first-degree murder charges nearly a month later. He has pleaded not guilty.

When the shooting happened, DeSantis immediately attacked Worrell.

“I know the district attorney, state attorney in Orlando thinks that you don’t prosecute people and that’s the way that you somehow have better communities. That does not work,” DeSantis said at a news conference in February.

Ryan Newman, general counsel for DeSantis, demanded communication related to Moses from Worrell’s office. The letter outlined Moses’ legal record, citing charges such as battery, burglary, “multiple instances of resisting an officer” and aggravated battery with a deadly weapon without an intent to kill.

DeSantis’ team came to focus on one prior arrest they say was not properly prosecuted. Moses was arrested in November 2021 for possessing less than 20 grams of marijuana and was still on juvenile probation, a letter from DeSantis’ general counsel said.

Someone threw a gun from the car before the arrest, the sheriff’s office said, and deputies claim they saw Moses toss it, but the sheriff’s office did not initially send the gun for testing.

Worrell said her office did not pursue charges in that case against Moses because the evidence did not prove a crime occurred, especially without having more evidence about the gun.

DeSantis and other local officials used a “dog whistle” to attack her credibility as a prosecutor, she said.

“They used this as an opportunity to say I am responsible and it is my soft-on-crime policies that are responsible, but there was no validity to the argument at all,” Worrell told HuffPost.

“It is all to fit this narrative that I am allowing violent criminals to walk the streets. I think it is very clear that this is a current Republican talking point.”

Donna Patalano, a defense attorney and former general counsel in Suffolk County, Massachusetts, said DeSantis has used the system in his favor in order to further his political agenda.

“Gov. DeSantis has manipulated a procedure for his own political gain,” Patalano told HuffPost. “The fact that Florida does not respect the electorate in his own jurisdiction should be troubling to the people who are considering him for higher office,” Patalano said.

Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a former governor, followed up with a letter of his own to Worrell’s office in which he said, “In too many cities across America, we have seen soft-on-crime policies sold to the public on the lies that lighter punishment ... does more good than swift accountability.”

Scott blamed “radical” leftists for what he called a “failed philosophy.”

While Scott was governor, he removed Aramis Ayala, the former prosecutor in Orlando, from 30 murder cases after Ayala announced she would not pursue the death penalty in 2017.

Over the last few years, other conservatives have attempted to take action to remove other prosecutors considered progressive. In Philadelphia, District Attorney Larry Krasner faced an impeachment attempt from Republicans in the Pennsylvania state House, but their efforts failed.

Recently, the U.S. House Judiciary Committee has aggressively come after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg since the indictment of former President Donald Trump on felony charges of falsifying business records.

Gov. DeSantis has manipulated a procedure for his own political gain. The fact that Florida does not respect the electorate in his own jurisdiction should be troubling to the people who are considering him for higher office.Donna Patalano, former general counsel in Suffolk County, Massachusetts

Worrell’s office released crime statistics Thursday covering the first quarter of this year.

“Our prosecutors obtained a 90% conviction rate in the felony cases and a 77% conviction rate overall. Prosecutors earned convictions in all 11 felony cases tried in Osceola County, resulting in a 100% conviction rate,” Worrell’s office said.

Additionally, six homicide cases were tried, all of them resulting in guilty verdicts. Other major cases included sex crimes, drug trafficking and violent crimes.

But Worrell has a reform agenda as well. Last year, she introduced a 90-day Adult Civil Citation pilot program. The program would provide a civil citation as opposed to a misdemeanor criminal charge for offenses such as drug possession, misdemeanor assault, disorderly conduct, retail theft and trespass.

“We understand the injustices that lie in the criminal justice legal system. We challenge law enforcement on those things,” Worrell told HuffPost.

“This is just based on rhetoric and fear-mongering, because research shows when you make people feel afraid, then the pendulum will swing in the other direction. And they will be able to continue the mass incarceration that has plagued this country for decades, if not centuries.”