Suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren says he answers to residents of Hillsborough County, not Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Warren, a rising Democrat who DeSantis suspended last month as the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit, filed his rebuttal in federal court Friday against DeSantis’ justification for the suspension. Warren’s reply notes he is an elected official, meaning DeSantis must follow the Florida Constitution’s outline to suspend him. The Republican Governor did not do that, he says.
“As I’ve said from the beginning, there is so much more at stake here than my job,” Warren said in a video posted to Twitter on Friday. “This is about making sure that the people choose their elected officials. It’s about making sure that the Governor doesn’t just get to throw out people’s votes because he doesn’t like the outcome of an election.”
Warren contends DeSantis overstepped his authority and violated Warren’s First Amendment right to speak his mind on public policy by suspending him as the State Attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit.
DeSantis suspended Warren for his statement that he wouldn’t prosecute women who seek abortions or doctors who furnish them in the wake of the Dobbs decision from the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. But Warren, who has been elected and re-elected in Hillsborough County, argues that he answers to his constituents, not the Governor.
“DeSantis cannot justify retaliating against Warren for Warren’s speech because Warren is not his employee and because courts, not the Governor, define the standards for suspension under the Florida Constitution,” Warren’s lawyers wrote in the court filing. “Nor can DeSantis avoid answering in court for his illegal actions by hiding beneath the cloak of sovereign immunity because Florida — not DeSantis — is the sovereign.”
Additionally, Warren’s stance is that DeSantis is conflating Warren’s role as an elected official with that of a public employee.
“(DeSantis) demonstrates that he misunderstands not only the office to which he was elected but also the office to which Warren was twice elected,” Warren’s lawyers wrote.
In the dismissal request, DeSantis and the state argue Warren cannot claim First Amendment protection for his comments, including his refusal to enforce bans on abortion and gender-affirming surgery. The Florida Constitution allows the Governor to suspend public officials for “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”
“Mr. Warren had no First Amendment right, as a public official, to declare that he would not perform his duties under Florida law,” state Solicitor General Henry Whitaker wrote in the 39-page filing for DeSantis.
The state notes that Warren hasn’t had an opportunity to “neglect” his duties yet, and Warren’s lawyers argue he expressed his views, which doesn’t constitute incompetence.
Warren’s lawyers also argue he asked his office to “exercise discretion,” not “categorically” decide against prosecuting certain crimes.
“Warren advised his prosecutors to do precisely what Florida law requires: to exercise prosecutorial discretion in charging decisions,” Warren’s lawyers wrote. “And because that is what the law requires, neither policy creates, as a matter of law, grounds for either ‘incompetence’ or ‘neglect of duty.’”
Warren’s reply, filed before U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee, arrived one week after the Republican Governor asked the court to dismiss Warren’s request for reinstatement.
Oral arguments are set for Sept. 19 at the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee.