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Few barriers stand in DeSantis’ way to remove state attorney

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Gov. DeSantis may deny the existence of a campaign to remove another liberal state attorney from office, but the reality is few barriers stand in his way should he eventually choose to make the move.

The attorney in question, Monique Worrell, serves as the top prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties, one of the few Democratic strongholds in the Sunshine State. Worrell ran as a reformist after a long career that included roles as an activist, and the Constitution gave her wide latitude to implement policies as she saw fit.

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DeSantis and his allies saw an opportunity to place a target on Worrell in the wake of the mass shooting in Pine Hills in February. The accused killer, Keith Moses, was known to have a history of convictions as a juvenile.

Critics of Worrell zeroed in on his most recent arrest for marijuana possession in 2021, asking why Moses was allowed to be roaming the streets. Worrell maintained no one would be locked up for a significant amount of time for marijuana possession in Florida – that being his only adult charge – and law enforcement should be scrutinized for not testing a stolen gun thrown from the car he was riding in.

Read: Orange-Osceola state attorney still on the job after rumblings DeSantis would remove her from office

“How could we ever look at a juvenile who has committed a car burglary and anticipate that they would one day perpetrate a mass murder?” she asked during a recent interview. “There’s just no crystal ball.”

To conservatives, though, it was a signal Worrell was soft on crime.

Worrell has since put up an aggressive defense of her office, pointing to the fact that crime was lower than previous years and her office scored a 90% conviction rate for felonies in the first quarter of 2023.

Read: Orange-Osceola State Attorney says governor may suspend her

Though her repeated refrain has been “facts matter,” they may not matter as much should the governor wish to remove her.

Florida’s constitution lays out the grounds DeSantis has for removing another elected official from office but provides only one check. He can say Worrell neglected her duty, but the State Senate, after holding a hearing, must decide if the allegation is true.

Florida Republicans have a supermajority in the legislature, and while some lawmakers privately grumble about the governor’s weaponization of his powers, he is unlikely to find much resistance when Worrell’s future comes to a vote.

Watch: Central Florida Spotlight: Monique Worrell

Legal analysts say Florida’s constitution has never been tested in this manner. Former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren took his case to federal court, where a judge ruled Warren’s removal was unconstitutional, but the judge didn’t have the power to reinstate him.

Two-thirds of the Florida Supreme Court is seated by DeSantis appointees whose impartiality is routinely questioned by the governor’s opponents.

The state government that speaks often about the will of the voters may ultimately be undermined by that very thing. Worrell’s aggressive PR campaign has expanded her name recognition. She already announced she will run for re-election in 2024.

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