Florida Supreme Court rules against former Democratic state attorney ousted by DeSantis

Florida Supreme Court rules against former Democratic state attorney ousted by DeSantis



CNN

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday dismissed a lawsuit filed by Andrew Warren, a state attorney who was ousted by Gov. Ron DeSantis last year, citing an “unreasonable delay” in filing a challenge to the Republican governor’s authority to suspend him.

Warren, a twice-elected Democrat, drew DeSantis’ ire last summer by pledging not to prosecute those who seek or perform abortions or those who provide gender-affirming treatments to transgender people in opposition to state laws backed by DeSantis. The governor then announced he was suspending Warren for “neglect of duty” and “incompetence” as prosecutor for Hillsborough County, home to Tampa.

In its opinion Thursday, the court wrote that Warren “was ready to challenge the facial sufficiency of the suspension order within two weeks of his suspension, then waited almost five more months before bringing that claim in state court, all but ensuring that the 2023 regular session of the Florida Senate would come and go without any opportunity for that legislative body to potentially review the suspension.”

In a statement, Warren said his case was “crucial for democracy in Florida.”

“Rather than addressing the substance of the governor’s illegal action, the court cited a technicality and avoided a ruling on the merits of the case. We are extremely disappointed by today’s decision,” Warren said.

In January, US District Judge Robert Hinkle said DeSantis’ suspension of Warren violated Florida’s Constitution but, as a federal judge, he could not rule against a state official based only on a violation of state law.

There was “not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren” in the trial record, Hinkle said at the time, adding that the “assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect.”

Under Florida law, a governor can remove “any county officer” for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony. The Florida Senate has the power to reinstate a suspended official or remove that person from office.

The suspension of Warren was a particularly prominent example of DeSantis, now a 2024 Republican presidential hopeful, making aggressive use of his gubernatorial powers to escalate cultural fights and elevate his profile on the national stage.

DeSantis said the decision to suspend Warren came after he directed staff to review whether any state attorneys in Florida had taken it “upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce,” after watching prosecutors in other states decline to press charges for certain crimes . That review led them to Warren, who had become a vocal advocate for a criminal justice overhaul and overturning wrongful convictions.

Warren has a history of confronting the country’s political divide over transgender and abortion care. In 2021, he joined dozens of local and state prosecutors who signed on to a letter authored by the progressive organization Fair and Just Prosecution that denounced laws that criminalize doctors who provide gender-affirming care for transgender people. Warren also signed on to another letter from Fair and Just Prosecution promising to use discretion not to use “limited criminal legal system resources” to prosecute those who seek, provide or support abortions following the US Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

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