A twice elected State Attorney is firing back at Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who suspended him last week.
DeSantis made the announcement Thursday in Tampa, FL, that he suspended Andrew Warren, the State Attorney, for the 13th Judicial Circuit, for neglect of duty.
"This is a dangerous precedent. This is a gross abuse of power that violates one the most important fundamental principles of our democracy, that your vote matters," Warren said.
Warren told Newsy he was overseeing a grand jury process in the prosecution of two cold cases when he was blindsided. He said an armed deputy told him to leave the building immediately, with no time to read the order. Warren said there hadn't been any communication from the governor's office.
"I was looking at the actual facts that were provided to me. We were able to, my office consulted with a lot of people. This was a statewide review to make sure that we were not going down the road of San Francisco, Los Angeles and like 95% of it was all right here in Hillsborough," DeSantis said during a press conference at the Hillsborough County Sheriff's office Thursday.
DeSantis said Warren put himself "publicly above the law."
"We are not going to allow this pathogen that's been around the country of ignoring the law, we are not gonna let that get a foothold here in the state of Florida. We're going to make sure that our laws are enforced and that no individual prosecutor puts himself above the law," said DeSantis.
The executive order cited policies of "presumptive non-enforcement." In response, Warren defends how the office handled cases citing its conviction rate and filing rate for felonies and misdemeanors.
The order also cited Warren signing on to a statement "in support of gender-transition treatments for children and bathroom usage based on gender identity." The letter took a stance against "the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare or transgender people."
It also cited a statement Warren signed on to on abortion. It was signed by dozens of prosecutors across the country after the Supreme Court's decision to overturn Roe v Wade. It stated in part, "we decline to use our offices resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide or support abortions."
Florida passed a 15-week abortion ban in the spring, which has faced legal challenges.
"Let me be clear, this isn't about anything that I did as State Attorney. This is about what I said. This was me signing on to statements voicing my opposition, value statements expressing concern about laws that were violating people's constitutional rights. One of those laws has been held unconstitutional. The other law isn't even on the books yet. They're punishing me for not enforcing a law that doesn't even exist," said Warren, noting no case related to the two statements he signed on to have come across his desk.
The executive order states "a state attorney's 'blanket refusal' to enforce a criminal law is not an exercise of prosecutorial discretion but is "tantamount to a 'functional veto' of state law."
"When you're saying you're not going to enforce certain laws you don't like that's a neglect of duty. That quite frankly is incompetence as defined in Florida law. And Florida courts have been very clear that saying you're not going to enforce the law is by definition a dereliction of duty," DeSantis said last week.
A suspension like this is rare.
"The prosecutors in Florida have prosecutorial discretion. But Mr. Warren didn't refuse to prosecute an active case, there wasn't a case where someone had violated the 15 week Florida abortion ban. Rather, he signed a letter that said that he wouldn't prosecute such cases. So firing him or suspending him, as the governor has done is arguably a violation of the prosecutor's freedom of expression of free speech. And even the governor of Florida is bound by the first amendment's protection of freedom of speech," said Stetson University College of Law Professor, Ciara Torres-Spelliscy.
"The value statements that I signed were talking about opposition to laws that were being considered one of those laws wasn't even passed at the time. One of those laws still hasn't been passed. I mean, this is not about cases that have come in front of me, this is about me freely expressing my opinion, as I should and as I have the duty to do is State Attorney about issues that concern criminal justice in Hillsborough County," said Warren.
Under Florida's law, the governor can suspend a state officer not subject to impeachment "for malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony."
Warren has not specified what avenues he will take in response, but has vowed to fight back.
"This is the crumbling of democracy. If the governor can just throw anybody out of office who speaks out in a way that he disapproves of, what's the point of having elections?" Warren said.
The governor's office said "the governor stands by the legal and factual basis for this suspension, which was thoroughly laid out in the executive order."