Florida has seen various governors remove elected officials who haven’t been criminally charged — including the controversial, high-profile suspensions of two successive Broward supervisors of elections.
Here are the highest-profile such suspensions in the past two decades:
On Aug. 26, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Patricia Good, Donna Korn, Ann Murray and Laurie Rich Levinson from the Broward School Board, one week after the public release of a statewide grand jury cited incompetence, neglect of duty and misuse of authority.
They weren’t criminally charged, but DeSantis said he was removing them, writing in his order that “due to their malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, and incompetence, School Board Members Good, Korn, Murray, and Levinson can no longer demonstrate the qualifications necessary to meet their duties in office.”
He replaced the suspended School Board members, all Democrats, with Republicans.
“What country is this? What Governor DeSantis did is un-American and undemocratic. He doesn’t care about democracy and overturned the will of the voters,” Levinson said in a written statement. “This action is authoritarian-like and has no place in the United States of America where the voters decide who represents them.”
On Aug. 4, DeSantis suspended Andrew Warren as Hillsborough County state attorney for declaring he wouldn’t prosecute violators of the new Florida law banning almost all abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, his pledge of support for transgender youth who seek gender-transitioning treatment, and policies about not bringing charges for certain low-level crimes.
Ellen S. Podgor, a professor at Stetson University College of Law, said the suspension is highly unusual, both because it dealt with hypothetical actions that Warren talked about but hadn’t taken, and because prosecutors have broad discretion about how they handle cases.
“Andrew Warren is twice, not once, elected prosecutor. The people in that county voted for him,” Podgor said. “This looks very political. It doesn’t look like what is being claimed in the allegations of neglect.”
Announcing the suspension, DeSantis said Warren doesn’t get to decide which laws get enforced. “When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty. You have neglected your duty.”
The Warren suspension contrasts with the way then-Gov. Rick Scott approached a decision by then-Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala to not seek the death penalty in a high-profile case involving a man charged with murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police officer — or against anyone else.
Scott did not remove her from office for her actions; instead, he transferred capital cases from her to a different state attorney’s office.
Ayala, who did not seek a second term in 2020, is currently the Democratic nominee for state attorney general.
In January 2019, DeSantis suspended then-Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, saying he demonstrated incompetence and neglect of duty in connection with the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre, in which 17 people were killed, and the 2017 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shooting, in which five people were killed.
A special master who investigated the case for the Florida Senate found there weren’t grounds to remove Israel, but senators voting mostly on party lines upheld DeSantis’ decision in October 2019.
In May, Israel was hired as police chief in Opa-locka.
In January 2019, DeSantis suspended Okaloosa County school superintendent Mary Beth Jackson, who had been faulted in a grand jury report on child abuse in the district.
The report, though, did not recommend she be charged criminally.
In July 2019, DeSantis lifted the suspension and Jackson immediately resigned.
In January 2019, DeSantis suspended Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher. He said she failed to properly conduct three contentious statewide recounts for the 2018 midterm elections.
The state-mandated recounts of the Nov. 6 election weren’t completed until after Christmas, tarnishing the state’s image and making Florida a national embarrassment, DeSantis said. “Palm Beach County stands alone in that level of ineptitude,” DeSantis said. “They truly have been the keystone cops of election administration.”
Less than two weeks after the suspension, Bucher resigned from the post, writing in a public statement that her “only option for due process” was through the Senate. “Prior to my service as your supervisor [of elections], I was a very vocal member of the House Minority Party in Tallahassee. As such, I do not believe I can receive a fair hearing before a very partisan Senate.”
“Florida elected officials should not be afraid to express their views and stand strong for their constituents without fear of being removed from office through fabricated allegations which would not stand up in a court of law. There should be minimum standards for removal of elected officials by a governor so that political agendas are not the only reason,” Bucher wrote.
In November 2018, Scott suspended Broward Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes, in the aftermath of statewide election recounts. Citing missed deadlines, lost ballots and a lack of information, Scott said “it’s clear that there needs to be an immediate change in Broward County.”
Snipes had already submitted a resignation, 12 days earlier, effective Jan. 4. After the suspension, she withdrew her resignation and challenged the governor’s action in court. After DeSantis took office in January 2019, he and Snipes reached an agreement in which he withdrew the suspension and she resigned.
Snipes, a retired educator, got the elections job when Gov. Jeb Bush suspended the previous supervisor, Miriam Oliphant. Snipes was elected to full terms in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016.
In 2016, Scott suspended two members of the North Broward Hospital District, David Di Pietro and Darryl Wright. Both had been appointed by Scott to the board of the district, which levies taxes and operates hospitals under the brand name Broward Health.
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A Broward County judge ordered Di Pietro reinstated, saying she found no basis for the accusations of malfeasance that the governor leveled against him at the urging of the inspector general.
The judge wrote that the inspector general could not show a single, specific act of wrongdoing. Three days after prevailing in court, Di Pietro resigned, saying political interference by the governor had made it impossible for him to serve the hospital system.
In 2003, then-Gov. Jeb Bush suspended then-Broward supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, accusing her of incompetence and mismanagement and saying he had no faith she could properly run the 2004 elections.
Bush acted after a state task force concluded had done little to correct serious problems it uncovered in almost every aspect of her operations. Oliphant wasn’t charged criminally.
The Senate held a trial and upheld Oliphant’s suspension in 2005. By that time her term in office had already expired and Bush-appointed Snipes had been elected to a full term.
Information from the South Florida Sun Sentinel archives and the Associated Press was used in this report.