ORLANDO, Fla. – The woman who could be Orange-Osceola’s next top prosecutor spoke about criminal justice reform, her children and the Black Lives Matter movement during a wide-ranging interview with News 6.
Monique Worrell beat out three democratic candidates to win the Aug. 18 primary election for state attorney in what was considered a crowded field with 42% of the vote.
Her campaign was helped by a last minute influx of cash.
She says she learned from news reports that a donor was linked to billionaire George Soros. The hedge fund tycoon and philanthropist has donated to democratic campaigns in the past, including in Central Florida.
“I never brokered any relationship,” Worrell said. “I was not told do this and I’ll give you this.”
Worrell says when a large donation came into a political action committee that supported her, it was also news to her. She said she has never met Soros.
“I don’t know him. Never had a conversation with him,” Worrell said.
The influx of cash flooded television stations with ads of Worrell and her message.
Asked if that handed her the primary election win, she said the momentum began well before those commercials aired.
“I did win by large margin on Election Day, and I think the election day vote was the one that was most impacted by those commercials. You will see that i was successful even prior to that,” Worrell said.
Worrell also had some big name endorsements like Sen. Bernie Sanders, Democratic Vice-Presidential nominee Kamala Harris and even singer John Legend.
But the campaign wasn’t all smooth sailing. Worrell caught flack when one of her ads called her a former prosecutor.
“To split hairs over the fact that the add referred to me as a prosecutor, even though I hadn’t prosecuted a case,” Worrell said. “I was sworn in as an Assistant State Attorney. I carried a badge in the same way that all other Assistant State Attorney’s did.”
Worrell also had the endorsement of the current 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala.
Ayala first endorsed her second-in-command at the time, Deborah Barra--but then changed course.
Ayala’s campaign also benefited from donations from Soros, and shortly after being sworn in in 2017, Ayala announced she would not seek the death penalty, creating shock waves amid the high profile murder of an Orlando police officer.
Right off the bat, Worrell addressed that topic.
“I am personally opposed to the death penalty,” Worrell said. “The state of Florida has exonerated 29 people off of death row. That means that we have admitted on at least 29 occasions that we got it wrong. That’s’ the highest error rate in the country.”
Worrell worked at the State Attorney’s Office as head of the Conviction Integrity Unit, but says as state attorney she would seek the death penalty if the situation arises.
“The death penalty is the law in the State of Florida and as a prosecutor, I don’t have the right to change the law or override the law, but I do have a responsibility to ensure that if the death penalty is sought it is sought with the gravity that it deserves,” Worrell said.
Black Lives Matter
Monique Worrell says she started marching in the Black Lives Matter protests after Trayvon Martin was killed.
This year she marched for George Floyd and others--
Worrell says as a mother with three black sons ages 3, 7, and 14, she has already had “the talk” with her two oldest sons about being Black in America.
“My 14 year-old wanted to walk to the 7-11 at the front of our subdivision, one evening with a neighborhood kid, and I told him he couldn’t,” Worrell said.
“He was really disappointed and wanted to know why, I said ’because Trayvon Martin,’” Worrell said.
Worrell’s platform for state attorney is about criminal justice reform, including what she calls the “school to prison pipeline,” and “criminalizing childhood.”
“Our research shows us that when you arrest a child, when you send a child to jail, you increase the chance that they will recidivate,” Worrell said.
“You increase the chance that will not be their last time there,” Worrell said.
Worrell points to an incident in September of 2019 when an Orlando police officer arrested a 6-year-old for throwing a temper tantrum at school.
The officer was fired, but Worrell says children are arrested far too often.
“I think that we should not arrest children under 16, unless there is a violent offense being committed,” Worrell said.
When asked how a state attorney could ensure that law enforcement officers in Orange and Osceola Counties would abide by that policy, Worrell said she hopes to work on that with local law enforcement leaders.
“That’s a really good point, because its not my decision to make,” Worrell said. “But I do hope to build relationships with the law enforcement agency chiefs and we can come to some agreement on what is an appropriate age.”
Worrell worked in the state attorneys office as the Director of the Conviction Integrity Unit and already has ideas about what works in the office and what doesn’t.
If elected, Worrell explained what’s needed most is a wide spread change in the culture of criminal justice.
“The culture of prosecution,” Worrell said. “I think we focus far too heavily on incarceration as a first instead of a last resort.
After the primary election Ayala eliminated the position of Chief Assistant State Attorney which Barra held. Barra ran in the primary but was defeated by Worrell.
Worrell says she intends to have a Chief Assistant, but said she has not given any thought into who will fill the position.
Worrell still has to face Independent candidate Jose Torroella in November.