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DeSantis booted a second Florida state attorney. How do the cases compare?

While Andrew Warren’s ouster was about political issues, a Central Florida prosecutor’s removal focuses on law and order.
 
Attorney Monique Worrell of the 9th Judicial Circuit, which serves Orange and Osceola counties, ends her press conference with a raised fist Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, outside her former office in the Orange County Courthouse complex in Orlando, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Worrell on Wednesday, again wielding his executive power over local government in taking on a contentious issue in the 2024 presidential race. Worrell vowed to seek reelection next year and said her removal was political and not about her performance. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via AP)
Attorney Monique Worrell of the 9th Judicial Circuit, which serves Orange and Osceola counties, ends her press conference with a raised fist Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2023, outside her former office in the Orange County Courthouse complex in Orlando, Fla. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Worrell on Wednesday, again wielding his executive power over local government in taking on a contentious issue in the 2024 presidential race. Worrell vowed to seek reelection next year and said her removal was political and not about her performance. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel via AP) [ RICARDO RAMIREZ BUXEDA | AP ]
Published Aug. 10, 2023|Updated Aug. 10, 2023

Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended two elected Florida state attorneys in the past year for what he called “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”

Their removals — first, Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren last August, and on Wednesday, Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell — have this in common: Both Warren and Worrell are Democrats who say their ouster is about a governor running for the Republican presidential nomination and out to score political points.

“We all know that this is not about policy or anything that I’ve actually done,” Worrell said Wednesday.

But there’s also a big difference in the two suspensions: DeSantis’ justification shifted from hot-button issues to meat-and-potatoes law and order — at a time when crime has become a key focus of his presidential campaign.

DeSantis said his ouster of Warren was driven partly by joint statements signed by the progressive state attorney and other prosecutors around the country. The statements indicated Warren wouldn’t prosecute certain cases related to abortion or transgender health care, wedge issues that regularly galvanize the conservative base. The governor also took issue with Warren’s nonprosecution of specific nonviolent misdemeanors, but it was the transgender and abortion statements that took center stage when DeSantis announced the suspension.

Ron DeSantis announces the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren during a news conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office administration building in Tampa in 2022.
Ron DeSantis announces the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren during a news conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office administration building in Tampa in 2022. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]

Worrell’s removal was more about specific criminal policies and cases cited by the governor’s office.

In his executive order, DeSantis accused Worrell of polices allowing “violent offenders, drug traffickers, serious juvenile offenders and pedophiles to evade incarceration.” He said Worrell avoided minimum mandatory sentences, failed to seek enhanced penalties and inappropriately asked for findings of guilt to be withheld. His order was packed with numbers intended to back up his assertions.

But while Worrell had signed the same pledge against “the criminalization of transgender people and gender-affirming healthcare” as Warren, it was nowhere to be found in DeSantis’ latest order.

Asked why via email, the governor’s press secretary sent the Tampa Bay Times documents that included summaries of criminal cases but did not respond directly to the question.

While DeSantis has prevailed in the courts against Warren’s bid to get his job back — with a last appeal pending at the 11th Circuit — a federal judge still found that the governor violated Warren’s free speech rights as well as the Florida Constitution.

Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren puts his suit jacket on as he prepares for a CNN interview Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee. Warren has filed a federal suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who suspended Warren two weeks ago.
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren puts his suit jacket on as he prepares for a CNN interview Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee. Warren has filed a federal suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who suspended Warren two weeks ago. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
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David B. Singer, a member of Warren’s legal team, said Wednesday the governor “awkwardly tried to retrofit today’s executive order after getting embarrassed by a federal judge’s opinion.”

Recent polls show Republican voters nationally and Republican caucus-goers in Iowa were more interested in messages about law and order and less interested in “woke” issues about left-wing ideology.

Also absent from the official explanation for Worrell’s removal: references to George Soros, the billionaire Democratic donor reviled by conservatives. Early drafts of the order to suspend Warren contained references to Soros. In presidential stump speeches, DeSantis refers to ousting Warren, telling the crowd at a kickoff in Iowa about Florida fighting back “against the plague of Soros-backed district attorneys.”

Though the New York Times reports that Worrell was among the prosecutors backed by groups supported by Soros, DeSantis made no mention of Soros this week in suspending her.

In both cases, DeSantis picked former prosecutors he had appointed to be judges to replace the suspended state attorneys. The manner in which they were removed differed: While Warren was escorted from his offices by a sheriff’s deputy, Worrell told reporters she got a phone call telling her not to come to work.

Warren has declined to say whether he will run to win his job back in 2024 while his court appeal is pending. Suzy Lopez, the judge DeSantis appointed to the post, has already declared her intent to run.

Worrell told reporters Wednesday her suspension won’t stop her from seeking reelection.