TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — An elected Florida prosecutor who was faraway from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis due to his positions on abortion and transgender rights filed suit Wednesday to get his job back, saying the Republican leader violated his First Amendment rights.
DeSantis said he suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren this month for signing a national pledge to not prosecute women and doctors for violating state abortion laws or families in search of treatments for transgender minors.
“If the governor’s allowed to do that, what’s left of democracy? If the governor’s allowed to retaliate against me for speaking out, what’s left of the First Amendment,” Warren asked at a news conference in Tallahassee.
The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis didn’t discover any actual conduct involving criminal activity that will warrant a suspension and says the governor is punishing Warren for voicing positions that DeSantis opposes.
DeSantis, criticized by Democrats for signing abortion restrictions and bills seen as anti-LGBTQ into law, held a campaign-like event to announce Warren’s suspension where supporters cheered the choice. The governor’s office didn’t immediately reply to an email in search of comment Wednesday morning.
Now in search of re-election in November and positioning himself as a possible 2024 presidential candidate, the governor cited Warren’s “neglect of duty” and other alleged violations.
In his executive order, DeSantis cited Warren’s policy of not pursuing some lesser categories of crime, including “trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, and prostitution.”
This mixture of Aug. 4, 2022 photos shows Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, and Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren during separate news conferences in Tampa, Fla.
Douglas R. Clifford/Tampa Bay Times via AP
The suspension was backed by several law enforcement officers including Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who said Warren had been acting as a type of “supreme authority” to make a decision ”what crimes can be legal or illegal in our county.”
Similar uses of prosecutorial discretion by progressives elected across the country in recent times have prompted some pushback.
In San Francisco, voters in June recalled Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who was elected district attorney in 2019 on a criminal justice reform platform. Boudin faced criticism over rising crime after declining to prosecute most drug offenses. The same effort to recall the Los Angeles D.A. did not garner enough signatures this week.
Warren, who was elected in 2016 by Tampa-area voters and re-elected in 2020, said the governor is overturning the need of the individuals who put him in office.
“The governor has attacked our democracy and it should worry everyone,” Warren told reporters. “If the governor’s try to unilaterally overturn an election is allowed to face, it threatens to undermine the integrity and consequence of elections across our state for years to return.”
Warren described the pledge circulated by prosecutors across the country as “a price statement,” not a definitive decision on how he might handle any particular case. He also noted that Florida’s recent ban on abortions after 15 weeks of gestation has been ruled unconstitutional, and that the state doesn’t also have a law against hormone treatments for transgender minors.
Warren’s lawsuit says the suspension was retaliatory after he opposed the governor on quite a few issues, including DeSantis’ efforts to disclaim the restoration of voting rights for felons and create recent crimes for public protests in response to the Black Lives Matter movement in addition to the brand new abortion restrictions.
“After all, DeSantis is free to specific his views and his disagreements with Warren as often as he likes. Indeed, the Federal Structure ensures that he’s,” the suit says. “DeSantis went too far.”
The suit says Warren has an obligation to voters to say where he stands on such issues, and that as a prosecutor, he has the precise to make a decision how the limited resources he has must be used to prosecute crimes. That priority must be on public safety, it said.
“The First Amendment protects the precise of elected officials to talk out on matters of public controversy, and actually it does so since it’s so necessary that the voters who select these elected officials know where they stand on these issues,” Jean-Jacques Cabou, a lawyer for Warren, said in a phone interview.
Warren’s suspension is now a difficulty within the governor’s race as Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state’s only statewide-elected Democrat, and Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist enter the ultimate week of the first to see who will challenge DeSantis.
“For this governor to weaponize his office and take away a state attorney — a prosecutor — who has prosecutorial discretion over which cases he brings forward and which he doesn’t, that is the overreaching and overstepping of this governor,” Fried said at a campaign event Tuesday night. “It’s essentially the most dangerous thing to our democracy that we have now seen.”