Ron DeSantis Suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren

Federal Court To Expedite Andrew Warren’s Appeal In Lawsuit Against Florida Gov. DeSantis

In a ruling Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to expedite its review of suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s appeal in his federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren

In a ruling Wednesday, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed to expedite its review of suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s appeal in his federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The ruling sets oral arguments in the case for the week of May 1, 2023.

Warren asked the appeals court to move forward quickly because, as his legal team wrote in its request, “the public needs resolution at the earliest possible opportunity of whether the governor illegally removed the duly elected prosecutor in the state’s third most populous city.”

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DeSantis suspended Warren, the twice-elected state attorney for Hillsborough County/Tampa, on August 4, 2022.

In January, while finding that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren violated the law, a federal judge grudgingly ruled that he lacked the power to reinstate Warren.

Warren filed a lawsuit after DeSantis issued the suspension in an August executive order. In part, Warren argued that DeSantis violated First Amendment rights.

But in a 59-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle dismissed the case, while saying that DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution and the First Amendment.

“Disagreements about the proper prosecutorial approach are the stuff on which state-attorney elections properly turn. Disagreements like this are not the stuff on which suspensions properly turn,” Hinkle wrote.

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Hinkle found that DeSantis violated the First Amendment by considering the prosecutor’s speech “on matters of public concern … as motivating factors in the decision to suspend him.” But Hinkle said the governor also based the suspension on factors involving Warren’s conduct — not speech. As a result, Hinkle ruled he could not overturn the suspension based on the First Amendment.

The judge also ruled that a federal court could not act on a violation of the Florida Constitution.

DeSantis’ Aug. 4 executive order accused the prosecutor of “incompetence and willful defiance of his duties.” The order pointed to a letter Warren signed pledging to avoid enforcing a new law preventing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Also, the governor targeted a statement Warren joined condemning the criminalization of transgender people and gender-affirming care. In addition, DeSantis cited Warren policies that could limit prosecution of cases related to bicycle and pedestrian stops by police and certain low-level offenses.

In a sharply worded ruling, Hinkle challenged DeSantis to resolve the issue.

“If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension,” Hinkle wrote. “If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged nonprosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”

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Hinkle concluded that the governor and his aides targeted Warren because of the prosecutor’s left-leaning approach.

“In short, the controlling motivations for the suspension were the interest in bringing down a reform prosecutor — a prosecutor whose performance did not match the governor’s law-and-order agenda — and the political benefit that would result. The actual facts — whether Mr. Warren actually had any blanket nonprosecution policies — did not matter. All that was needed was a pretext to justify the suspension under the Florida Constitution,” Hinkle wrote.

Saying “the facts do matter,” Warren, in January, asked Gov. Ron DeSantis to rescind an executive order that ousted the prosecutor.

“Duty requires you to accept the court’s findings that the executive order is illegal, even if that finding is perhaps unwelcome,” Warren wrote.

The Columbia Law School graduate noted that, following “exhaustive discovery” and the trial, the governor now has more information than he did when he issued the suspension.

“The facts are now known, and the court’s findings are clear: I engaged in zero misconduct; the allegations in the executive order are false; and the suspension violates federal and state law,” Warren wrote.

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