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Florida Supreme Court hears arguments in legal fight between DeSantis, Worrell

TALLAHASEE, Fla. — The fight between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and former Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell is now in the hands of the State Supreme Court.

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Seven justices on Florida’s high court heard arguments from both sides on Wednesday.

An attorney for the Governor argued that Worrell’s office had policies and practices in place that amounted to “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”

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Attorney Jeffrey DeSousa represented the Governor and argued that Worrell undercharged violent offenses and made the community less safe in the process.

DeSousa pointed to Worrell’s incarceration record and compared incarceration rates in the Ninth circuit to the rest of the state.

The Governor’s team, argued data provided by the Florida Department of Corrections showed the Ninth Circuit’s total prison admission rate was the lowest by far in the State and was less than half of the statewide average.

“That really is an abysmal record. If we had nothing else, she was not effective at prosecuting crime. And we think that should be enough,” said DeSousa.

Worrell’s attorney argued that it was unreasonable to rely on incarceration data since incarceration rates are not always a direct result of a State Attorney’s actions.

Attorney Laura Ferguson represented Worrell during oral arguments and claimed the data doesn’t prove Worrell had any policies in place that allowed people to avoid jail time.

According to Ferguson, those policies and practices never existed.

She argued Worrell was exercising prosecutorial discretion as an elected state attorney when deciding on charges.

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“Practices imply multiple examples, they can’t list a single instance where there’s been an abuse of discretion,” said Ferguson regarding DeSousa’s arguments.

The Governor’s team also argued the court had no business hearing the case in the first place. They claimed the question raised by Worrell comes down to a policy judgement and not a judicial policy.

Attorneys for the Governor believe it should remain up to the state senate to decide if the Governor’s executive order to suspend Worrell will result in an official removal.  It’s a point the justices raised in their questioning Wednesday.

Justice Jorge Labarga compared the Governor’s executive order suspending Worrell to an indictment that lays out allegations which are later proven through trial. According to Labarga, the facts of the case will ultimately need to be demonstrated to the senate.

“The senate will hear the evidence in the case, the senate will decide whether Ms. Worrell is guilty or not of those things,” said Labarga.

Other justices questioned each side on how they defined terms such as “neglect of duty” and “incompetence.”  They also narrowed in on the difference between prosecutorial discretion and policies.

Five of the Seven State Supreme Court Justices are Governor DeSantis appointees.

After arguments wrapped on Wednesday, reporters asked Worrell to reflect on her prospects.

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Worrell told our Eyewitness News crew that she’s hopeful the court will rule in her favor. However, Worrell did acknowledge some of the questions may hint towards a decision going the other way.

“Many of the questions today seemed very favorable to the Governor. It seemed that they understood the assignment and if I’m being transparent that is very concerning,” said Worrell.

While arguments wrapped Wednesday, it’ll likely be months before the court’s decision is made public.

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