While saying Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution, a federal judge Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed against the governor by suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that a federal court could not act on the violation of the Florida Constitution and that, while DeSantis violated the First Amendment, the governor also based the suspension on factors involving Warren’s conduct — not speech.
Warren, a Democrat, filed the lawsuit after DeSantis issued an August executive order that suspended the twice-elected prosecutor and accused him of “incompetence and willful defiance of his duties.”
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The order pointed, in part, 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’s policies that could limit the prosecution of cases related to bicycle and pedestrian stops by police and certain low-level offenses.
Hinkle’s 59-page ruling was highly critical of DeSantis’ ouster of Warren, writing that “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.”
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But Hinkle ruled that he could not overturn DeSantis’ decision based on the First Amendment. “Mr. Warren was indeed a reform prosecutor, exactly as he told voters he would be,” Hinkle wrote.
“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. Even so, in this context Mr. Warren’s actual performance as a reform prosecutor was conduct, not speech protected by the First Amendment.”