Ousted Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel Thursday filed a petition for writ of quo warranto, challenging Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ authority to remove him from office.
The filing alleges DeSantis improperly used his gubernatorial authority to suspend Israel from the Broward Sheriff’s Office through an executive order issued Jan. 11.
“Governor DeSantis exceeded his constitutional authority in suspending Sheriff Israel for political reasons not within the scope of the constitutional suspension prerogative,” the motion said. “Absent compliance with the strict limits of the suspension authority, the governor’s suspension of an elected official is an affront to the Florida Constitution and the fundamental right of voters to choose their elected officials.”
The lawsuit argues DeSantis’ grounds for stripping Israel of his post fall outside the constraints of Article IV, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution, which outlines the conditions by which a Florida governor can remove a public official.
“The governor may only suspend an elected official for acts or omissions that objectively — not subjectively or politically — demonstrate the official committed malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence or demonstrated permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony,” the suit said.
The executive order removing Israel from his post cited the “demonstrated neglect of duty and incompetence” shown in the Broward Sheriff Office’s response to the mass shootings at Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport in January 2017 and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018.
DeSantis’ communications director Helen Aguirre Ferré echoed the executive order in a statement Thursday.
“In accordance with his Florida constitutional authority, Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Sheriff Scott Israel for neglect of duty and incompetence in executing his statutory duties as sheriff of Broward County,” Aguirre Ferré said. “It is lamentable that Scott Israel refuses to be held accountable for his actions and continues to hold disregard for the law.”
Israel’s lawsuit describes DeSantis’ order as “abjectly political” and claims it represents the fulfillment of a campaign promise, as well as ”the governor’s dissatisfaction with policy decisions of the Broward Sheriff’s Office, and operational actions with which the governor disagrees.”
“The executive order … offers no objective factual predicate for concluding Sheriff Israel neglected a ‘duty’ of office or incompetently performed an identified duty,” the complaint said. “Sheriff Israel cannot be suspended from office as a political ploy because the governor deems the suspension of the democratically elected sheriff to be a convenient fulfillment of a campaign promise and to satisfy the National Rifle Association.”
Read the petition:
The petition asks the Broward Circuit Court to require DeSantis “to demonstrate both his authority and the jurisdictional basis” for his contentious order.
“The Florida judiciary is well-equipped to test the very foundation for a governor’s exercise of the limited constitutional suspension authority,” the suit said.
The filing adds that gubernatorial suspensions usually prompt action from the Florida Senate to gauge whether a public official’s removal is proper.
“That process, however, is a political one, not bound by any considerations of fairness or due process, resulting in the ability of the governor, in tandem with a legislature of the same political majority, to truncate the term of a good-serving public official for political reasons, all without even a modicum of judicial review,” the suit said.
The lawsuit contends Israel is “entitled to reinstatement as Broward County Sheriff” and asks the court to award fees and costs. Israel’s attorney, Miami civil litigator Benedict “Ben” Kuehne, said Thursday, “voters of Broward County are entitled to decide who their sheriff is by election.”
“Because the governor’s suspension order was made for blatantly political and partisan reasons, as shown by the governor’s comments during his State of the State speech, it is apparent there is no constitutional basis for Sheriff Israel’s suspension,” he said.
Kuehne characterized DeSantis’ order as an “illegal use of power he does not possess” and maintained “voters have spoken overwhelmingly in Sheriff Israel’s favor.”
Israel is not the first to take legal action over DeSantis’ executive orders removing Florida officials. On Friday, Mary Beth Jackson, the former superintendent of schools for Okaloosa County, filed an emergency petition for writ of quo warranto with the Florida Supreme Court. The high court issued an order on Tuesday requiring DeSantis to respond by March 20.