Gov. Ron DeSantis had suspended Andrew Warren, the former Hillsborough State Attorney. Still, a federal judge determined on Friday that he lacks the authority to reinstate the prosecutor while finding that the prosecutor’s removal was unlawful under the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution.
Federal law forbids U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle from restoring elected prosecutor Andrew Warren to office in a case focused on state law, he said in an order dismissing the case.
In response to the elected prosecutor’s signing of declarations that he would not press charges against those who seek or offer gender transition therapies or abortions, as well as statements about not prosecuting people for some minor offenses, DeSantis suspended Warren last year.
Warren — a twice-elected, Democratic state attorney in Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa — sued the governor in federal court to get his job back.
Warren said this was not over in her first statement following the decision on Friday afternoon.
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“The judge concluded that the Governor violated federal and state law,” said Warren. “He violated my First Amendment rights under the US Constitution by suspending me for speaking out on issues of public importance. He violated my First Amendment rights by suspending me because I’m a Democrat. He violated the Florida Constitution by suspending me not because I’d done anything wrong, but because my vision as State Attorney doesn’t fit his political agenda.”
Warren said during his testimony that his suspension stemmed from his political views on transgender and abortion issues. According to him, his office used prosecutorial discretion to file charges in each case, considering the public’s safety and other factors.
Warren’s views are mainly supported by Judge Hinkle‘s opinion, which concludes that the dispute is a state matter and cannot be decided by a federal judge.
“Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended elected State Attorney Andrew H. Warren, ostensibly on the ground that Mr. Warren had blanket policies not to prosecute certain kinds of cases. The allegation was false,” Hinkle wrote. “Mr. Warren’s well-established policy, followed in every case by every prosecutor in the office, was to exercise prosecutorial discretion at every stage of every case.”
He added: “But the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law.”
In his executive order, the governor cited the prosecutor’s failure to bring charges for crimes such as “trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, and prostitution.” He accused him of being incompetent and negligent in his duties.
DeSantis, a prospective GOP presidential candidate in 2024, was thrust into the forefront of a surge of Republican opposition to progressive prosecutors who have discretion over whether to charge individuals with what they view as minor infractions as a result of the suspension.
Louis Virelli, a law professor at Stetson University College of Law, discussed the case. Regarding the following actions, Virelli believes Warren has a few options.
“One is to appeal this decision to the next level of federal court, and the challenge there would be no, the First Amendment was DeSantis’ primary violation. It was the most important thing he did wrong; therefore, it should have been remedied by the federal courts. He can also bring his Florida constitutional claim in state court because it was dismissed without prejudice.”
From Judge Hinkle’s ruling:
“The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s speech on matters of public concern—the four FJP policies save one sentence—as motivating factors in the decision to suspend him.
The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s association with the Democratic Party and alleged association with Mr. Soros as motivating factors in the decision. But the Governor would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things. The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and so do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action.
The suspension also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation did affect the outcome. But the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law.”
Following the announcement of the decision, the governor’s office issued the following statement.
“Today the judge upheld his decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for neglect of duty and incompetence. Another win for Governor DeSantis and the people of Hillsborough County.”
After Warren’s suspension, Susan Lopez, appointed Acting State Attorney, released the following statement.
“We have reviewed the Order from Judge Hinkle and briefed our agency on this ruling. Each one of us, including myself, has been hard at work meeting this agency’s public safety mission and will continue to do so.”
Michael Adame, a staff attorney for Public Rights Project, an organization that supports state and local prosecutors to enforce human and civil rights, has been working along Warren’s legal team on the case, also made a statement on Friday.
“Today, the court found what we’ve known all along: Ron Desantis violated the U.S. and Florida constitutions and abused his power when he fired Andrew Warren because of what Warren said and what he stood for – which represented the will of his constituents. Prosecutors cannot be removed from office for prioritizing and protecting the rights of the communities they serve. Voters twice elected Warren to use his prosecutorial discretion in representing them. Attacking local prosecutors for doing their job is the same as attacking the people who elected them.
The implications of this case go beyond just Florida. DeSantis’s decision to remove Warren is part of a troubling and growing trend of states seeking to override the will of the people to elect leaders who represent their values when it comes to civil rights, workers rights, and public safety. DeSantis and other state officials across the country are trying to make playing with our rights part of their standard playbook. We must continue to challenge anyone who abuses their power and prioritizes cheap political wins over addressing the needs of their communities.
DeSantis should not get away with breaking the law. Today’s decision has laid the groundwork for a state court to reinstate Warren and conclude that DeSantis abused his power and violated the Constitution. We stand ready to support Andrew Warren and his team in this fight.”