Democracy on hold: Gov. Ron DeSantis' six most noteworthy suspensions of Florida elected officials

Florida law gives the governor some latitude in suspending other elected officials from office, besides just criminal charges being filed against them.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as departs the stage after delivering remarks at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority conference at the Washington Hilton on June 23, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Republican presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves as departs the stage after delivering remarks at the Faith and Freedom Road to Majority conference at the Washington Hilton on June 23, 2023 in Washington, D.C. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Orange-Osceola State Attorney Monique Worrell’s suspension is grabbing headlines, but it's far from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ only noteworthy action against an elected official.

DeSantis has suspended over 20 people from elected office since he first took office in 2019. Most of them were because of an elected official getting charged with a felony, but several were tied to policy decisions or other actions in office and courted criticism from the governor’s opponents. 

Under Florida law, a governor can suspend an elected official for wrongdoing that includes neglect of duty, incompetence, malfeasance, drunkenness or commission of a felony. After a suspension, a Senate trial must take place to confirm the removal. 

No one DeSantis has suspended has been acquitted by the Senate. And every one of those suspended from office were either Democrats or were in a nonpartisan post but clearly aligned with Democrats either through their political history or endorsements. 

Governors have used the suspension power often in the modern era. Former Gov. Rick Scott, for example, suspended then-Broward County Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes in 2018, which brought a wave of criticism his way. Going back to 2003, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended Miriam Oliphant, another Broward elections supervisor.

Here are six cases City & State identified where DeSantis suspended an official for non-criminal reasons:

Monique Worrell

The elected state attorney for Orange and Osceola counties was ousted by DeSantis in the midst of his presidential campaign, on Aug. 9. The governor’s reason was that she was too lenient with criminals and was endangering the public.

Worrell and others attacked the suspension as being politically motivated and meant as a boost for DeSantis’ presidential ambitions. “This is simply a smokescreen for Ron DeSantis’ failing and disastrous presidential campaign. He needed to get back in the media in some positive way that would be red meat for his base,” Worrell said in a press conference.

The suspension, though, was long anticipated. In March 2023, DeSantis’ administration requested documents about past cases in her office, prompting her to suspect he was looking to suspend her. DeSantis’ camp is arguing the suspension wasn’t political, but was because of her pursuing lenient sentences in several cases, providing examples from ten different cases, according to Politico Florida.

Andrew Warren

Perhaps the most notable member of this list, the Hillsborough state attorney’s suspension was announced Aug. 4, 2022. In the announcement and letter of suspension, DeSantis claimed Warren had enacted a policy that his office would not prosecute certain crimes, including abortion, transgender health care and certain misdemeanors. 

Among other things, DeSantis cited a 2021 “joint statement” Warren signed with other prosecutors “in support of gender-transition treatments for children and bathroom usage based on gender identity,” according to the suspension letter. In the months after that suspension, DeSantis-backed laws banning transgender people from using public restrooms they identify with and prohibitions on gender-affirming care were passed by the Florida Legislature.

Warren fought the suspension in court, first taking it to a federal judge that ruled the suspension was improper, but that it was not in his power to reinstate him. The Florida Supreme Court last week rejected a state-court appeal, claiming he waited too long to file. An appeal with the 11th Circuit is pending. 

Scott Israel

One of DeSantis’ first actions as governor was suspending Scott Israel, the former Broward County sheriff. The action came as a result of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school mass shooting in Broward County in 2018, in which 17 students and staff were killed.

That suspension charged Israel with incompetence and dereliction of duty for actions before and after the shooting. It criticized his office for failing to launch deeper investigations when complaints were levied against the shooter years before the incident, and for not having policies to engage active shooters.

A special master, a kind of hearing officer appointed by the Florida Senate, found that the governor and his lawyers didn't present evidence of institutional problems that could be attributed to Israel. The Senate still voted to uphold the suspension and removed Israel from office. (The suspension was one of the precedents cited in Warren’s suspension.)

Mary Beth Jackson

Issued on the same day as Israel, Mary Beth Jackson, the now-former superintendent of Okaloosa County, also got the boot from DeSantis. Her suspension, recommended by then-Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and two grand juries, came after her district did not discipline or report to the state a teacher who was abusing special-needs elementary school children.

At first, Jackson tried to fight the suspension, then reached an agreement with DeSantis’ team to be reinstated, and then resigned so she could still be eligible for a state pension. She racked up over $200,000 in legal fees, which she was left having to pay after a state court denied her attempts to get the state to pick up the tab.

Susan Bucher

A week after Israel’s suspension, DeSantis booted another South Florida elected official. This time, his sights were set on Susan Bucher, then the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections. 

The suspension order said she was “unable to comply with the laws of the state” after recounts in the county were delayed during the 2018 elections. She ran into other issues, like stationing a polling place inside a gated community; missing election reporting deadlines; preventing news outlets from reviewing recounts, and more.

Bucher, a Democrat who previously served in the Florida House of Representatives, declined to challenge the suspension and resigned, arguing that she did not believe she would get a fair hearing by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Broward County School Board members

The most people DeSantis put on the chopping block in one day, DeSantis suspended four members of the Broward County School board in one fell swoop on Aug. 26, 2022.

Democrat-aligned school board members Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich were all ousted. The suspensions came after a grand jury commissioned by DeSantis recommended their removal over the mishandling of a bond program that was meant to improve school safety four years before the Parkland shooting. The initiation of the bond program went over budget and long past deadline.

The suspensions gave DeSantis the ability to appoint a Republican majority to the district’s school board until the 2022 elections took place. The majority was the first group to bring up the ouster of then-Broward Superintendent Vickie Cartwright, who eventually was removed by the current elected board via a mutual separation agreement. Peter Licata was named as her replacement

Here are those who were suspended because of criminal charges:

Kathleen Berg - 

♦ Former City Commissioner for Crescent City. Suspended in April 2020 for exploitation of an elderly person.

Maurice Nelson Campbell - 

♦ Former Vice Mayor of Fort Meade. Suspended in February 2019 for aggravated stalking charges.

Darryl Daniels - 

♦ Former Sheriff of Clay County. Suspended in August 2020 for charges of tampering with physical evidence and making a false report to law enforcement.

Anthony DeFillipo - 

♦ Former Mayor of North Miami Beach. Suspended in June 2023 for felony election violations.

Kristen Tieshia Fitzgerald

♦ City Commissioner for Lake Wales. Was initially suspended for assault charges, but was reinstated when she was acquitted at trial.

Homer Bradley Harvey - 

♦ Former Property Appraiser of Wakulla County. Suspended in April 2020 for fraud charges.

Fred Hawkins - 

♦ Former Osceola county commissioner and state representative, now president of South Florida State College. Suspended in July 2020 for impersonating an officer.

Kyle Martin Hudson -  

♦ Former Holmes County Clerk of Court. Suspended in March 2019 for money laundering.

Jose Angel Martinez - 

♦ Former Miami-Dade Commissioner. Suspended in September 2022 for receiving bribes.

Dale Massad - 

♦ Former Port Richey Mayor. Suspended in February 2019 for attempted murder.

Prebble Ramswell - 

♦ Former Destin City Councilmember. Suspended in 2021 for official misconduct, battering a law enforcement officer and more.

Gary Search and Oren Miller - 

♦ Former Sumter County Commissioners. Suspended in January 2020 for perjury.

Ana Lilia Stefano - 

♦ Former Medley Councilmember. Suspended in November 2021 for fraud charges.

This post was originally published June 26, 2023 and was updated and republished on Aug. 9. Contact Tristan Wood at twood@cityandstatefl.com and follow him on Twitter: @TristanDWood

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