Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension and replacement of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren has drawn condemnation from the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which called the move “politically motivated” and “unlawful.”
In a scathing statement Friday, the Tallahassee-headquartered nonprofit slammed DeSantis for his “brutish attempt to force duly-elected prosecutors to bend to his bidding.”
“Instead of allowing constitutional officers to do their jobs, the Governor has chosen to usurp the will of voters by executive fiat in an alarming expansion of gubernatorial power,” the group wrote.
By suspending Warren, DeSantis is “exceeding his authority,” FACDL President Ernie Chang said in a statement, adding the Governor “should allow elected prosecutors to do their jobs and should respect the will of voters regarding the state attorneys they elect.”
“Under the Governor’s flawed logic, each of them should be removed from office if there are legitimate cases they decide not to prosecute, which happens daily across the state through specialty courts … to conserve resources and ensure the most egregious cases are prosecuted effectively,” he said.
The group also argued there is an illogical disconnect between DeSantis’ removal of Warren, whom voters twice elected to prosecute on their behalf in Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is “rooted in the legal premise that local voters should decide abortion issues.”
“Political subdivisions are either laboratories for Jeffersonian democracy or they’re not,” the group wrote. “Gov. DeSantis seems to want it both ways.”
GOVERNOR DESANTIS EXCEEDS AUTHORITY IN SUSPENDING ELECTED STATE ATTORNEY IN THIRTEENTH JUDICIAL CIRCUIT pic.twitter.com/GqtukriNAj
— FACDL (@FACDL) August 5, 2022
DeSantis suspended Warren Thursday and replaced him with County Judge Susan Lopez.
The Governor cited Warren’s refusal to enforce Florida’s new law banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and any future prohibition on gender-affirming surgery, decrying Warren’s position as symptomatic of a troubling national trend.
“This is something that I think is a very, very important issue across our country, that this movement would be allowed to take hold, where you basically elevate your own personal concept of … social justice over what the law requires of you,” DeSantis said. “I just think that to take a position that you have veto power over the laws of this state is untenable.”
Warren, a progressive prosecutor, pledged he would not enforce the abortion ban following the overturning of Roe v. Wade but claimed no case related to the ban had yet reached his desk.
During a press conference Thursday in which he revealed his office has identified the “serial killers” behind two 40-year-old cold cases, Warren derided his suspension as a “sideshow” whose effects are likely to be temporary.
The state constitution provides the Governor with powers to suspend local officials for “misfeasance, malfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”
On its own, however, the suspension is not a permanent removal from office, and Warren can dispute it. In such a case, the Senate would hold a trial on the issue and either reinstate Warren or uphold DeSantis’ suspension and remove him.
The last Senate trial was in 2019 and ended favorably for DeSantis, whose suspension of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting became permanent by a 25-15 vote.
DeSantis reinstated Jackson so she could retire. The others never reclaimed their jobs.