Court upholds Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of prosecutor with ‘militant agenda’

A federal judge has moved to dismiss former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s case against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who suspended Warren from office in 2022 over neglect of duty and incompetence.

Last August, DeSantis suspended Warren via executive order for ‘neglect of duty,’ after the prosecutor declared he would not prosecute anyone who violates state abortion restrictions, nor would he prosecute those who violate prohibitions against certain types of gender-transition treatment for minors.

U.S. Judge Robert Hinkle’s ruling Friday found that DeSantis’ decision to suspend Warren violated the U.S. Constitution and the Florida state Constitution, but the judge still upheld the suspension.

‘The suspension also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation did affect the outcome. But the 11th Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law,’ the judge’s filing stated. 

‘The plaintiff Andrew H. Warren’s claims against the defendant Ron DeSantis arising under state law are dismissed without prejudice based on the 11th Amendment. Mr. Warren’s claims against Mr. DeSantis arising under federal law are dismissed on the merits with prejudice. The clerk must close the file,’ the filing continued.

After the ruling was announced, DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske issued a statement, saying, ‘Today the court upheld the governor’s decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for neglect of duty and incompetence.’

Following DeSantis’ suspension of Warren last year, the governor told Fox News at the time: ‘I do think that some of these prosecutors that have very militant agenda in terms of ideology have been able to get away with a lot in other states.… We’ve had prosecutors around this country that think they can pick and choose which laws to enforce.’

Warren sued DeSantis after he was suspended last year, claiming that the suspension was retaliation for opposing the governor’s policies and positions.

‘Of course, DeSantis is free to express his views and his disagreements with Warren as often as he likes. Indeed, the Federal Constitution ensures that he is,’ the complaint said at the time, adding that ‘DeSantis went too far.’

Warren had signed a declaration last June stating that ‘[b]ills that criminalize safe and crucial medical treatments or the mere public existence of trans people do not promote public safety, community trust, or fiscal responsibility,’ and as such the signers pledged ‘to use our settled discretion and limited resources on enforcement of laws that will not erode the safety and well-being of our community.’

The governor’s executive order said that ‘the Florida legislature has not enacted such criminal laws,‘ but that ‘these statements prove that Warren thinks he has authority to defy the Florida Legislature and nullify in his jurisdiction criminal laws with which he disagrees[.]’

DeSantis stated that while a prosecutor is free to exercise discretion on a case-by-case basis, a ‘blanket refusal’ to enforce the law is different. 

‘[A] state attorney who contends that prosecutorial discretion may be used to disregard entire criminal laws demonstrates incompetence and gross ignorance of a state attorney’s official duty to exercise discretion only on a ‘case-by-case’ and ‘individualized’ basis,’ the order said.

DeSantis, as part of his suspension order, appointed Hillsborough County Court Judge Susan Lopez to replace Warren.

Fox News’ Ronn Blitzer and Matt Leach, as well as The Associated Press, contributed to this article.

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