Governor Ron DeSantis State’s Attorney Andrew Warren, chief prosecutor for the 13th Judicial Circuit covering Hillsborough County, was suspended on Thursday after calling him “woke” and accusing him of refusing to properly enforce certain laws.
The governor cited positions Warren has taken on abortion laws, transgender medical treatment and other issues.
Warren is a Democrat who has been at the forefront of criminal justice reform issues. He is a member of the Florida Democratic Party’s Security and Justice Task Force.
Republicans have pushed back on these reforms, arguing that they lead to increased crime.
Much of the national attention has been focused on liberal cities such as San Francisco, where the district attorney was recently recalled. Now Tampa is squarely at the center of this debate.
“Over the past few years, individual prosecutors have taken it upon themselves to figure out which laws they like and will enforce, and which laws they don’t like and won’t enforce and the results of that in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco. have been abysmal,” DeSantis said.
While DeSantis called the issue a matter of respect for the rule of law, the suspension has partisan overtones, with a GOP governor impeaching a Democratic official who was elected twice by voters in his county.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to challenge DeSantis, called the governor’s action against Warren “a politically motivated attack on a democratically elected, universally respected state attorney.” to exercise prosecutorial discretion”.
“DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” she said in a statement. “He’s doing this because he wants to be a dictator, not governor of Florida.”
U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, who is running against Fried in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, said, “This action by Governor DeSantis is that of a budding dictator putting partisan politics first.”
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Warren was first elected to office in November 2016 and then re-elected in November 2020 with 53% of the vote, but DeSantis said, “I don’t think the people of Hillsborough County want to have a program that’s fundamentally woke. “
The governor said he conducted a statewide review of prosecutors and quickly focused on Warren, saying he was “publicly putting himself above the law.”
“The response we’ve received has been a lot of frustration from law enforcement for the criminals being released and the crimes not being prosecuted…I can tell you, it’s a very, very disturbing record,” he said. DeSantis said of Warren.
When asked if he had spoken to Warren before suspending him, DeSantis replied, “No, because I was looking at the actual facts that were provided to me…my office consulted with a lot of people.”
The governor criticized Warren for signing a letter in 2021 which states, “Bills that criminalize safe and crucial medical treatment or the mere public existence of trans people do not promote public safety, community trust or fiscal responsibility. They serve no legitimate purpose. thus, we are committed to using our established discretion and limited resources for law enforcement that will not erode the safety and well-being of our community.”
DeSantis also hit out at Warren for instituting “deemed non-enforcement policies” regarding certain laws, and said Warren signed a letter “stating that he will not enforce any laws relating to the protection of the right to life in the State of Florida”.
“We don’t elect people in one part of the state to have a veto over what the whole state decides on these important issues,” the governor said.
Following the United States Supreme Court’s decision in June to overturn Roe v. Wade, Warren joined dozens of state prosecutors nationwide in saying they would not pursue criminal charges against women seeking abortions.
“We don’t all agree personally or morally on the issue of abortion. But we remain united in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using the limited resources of the criminal justice system to criminalize personal medical decisions,” according to the June 24 letter.
State Senator Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, defended Warren’s position on the abortion law.
“Suspending it because it won’t criminalize women’s right to choose is unconscionable,” Cruz tweeted. “Shame on you Governor, that the women of this state are speaking out in November.”
Abortion opponents applauded DeSantis for ousting Warren.
“Governor DeSantis’ aggressive action sends the message to other rogue state prosecutors across Florida that they are obligated to enforce all Florida laws – and if they don’t, they will find themselves without job, just like Warren,” Florida said. Voice for unborn Executive Director Andrew Shirvell.
Warren had not publicly responded to his suspension early Thursday afternoon, and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
DeSantis made the announcement Thursday at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, where he was joined by law enforcement officers, Attorney General Ashley Moody and elected officials who complained about Warren’s performance.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, a Republican, accused Warren of being “intensely focused on empathy for criminals and less interested in getting justice for victims of crime.”
“For the past several years, State’s Attorney Warren has acted as … a sort of supreme authority in reducing charges, dropping cases, and single-handedly determining what crimes will be legal or illegal in our county,” Chronoster added.
Ultimately, the Florida Senate has sole responsibility for judging the merits of suspending a governor, under the state constitution. Warren’s fate will ultimately be decided by senators, who can impeach him or order his reinstatement, an action that will likely not happen until after the November election.
In the recent past, Florida governors have taken action against key state prosecutors and law enforcement officials in specific cases.
In 2016, then-Governor Rick Scott took action against an elected state attorney when he removed a state attorney from capital cases because she had sworn never to pursue the sentence of death in criminal cases.
Aramis Ayala, who had just been elected 9th Judicial Circuit prosecutor for Orange and Osceola counties, said racial inequities in the criminal justice system were behind her decision.
She challenged Scott’s action, but the Florida Supreme Court sided with Scott.
Ayala, who is currently running for the Democratic nomination for attorney general, chose not to seek re-election to her 2020 prosecutorial position. She was Florida’s first African-American prosecutor.
In 2019, DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his department’s failures in the mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School a year earlier.
A special master appointed by the state Senate to investigate the action concluded that DeSantis had failed to provide enough evidence to demand the impeachment of Israel for the failures of his deputies and urged that he be reinstated. But the Republican-controlled Senate sided with the governor and ousted Israel. DeSantis, during his 2018 campaign, vowed to remove Israel from office, if elected.
Israel was the most high-profile official to be removed from office by the Senate since 2005, when senators fired Broward County Supervisor of Elections Miriam Oliphant, who was suspended by the then-governor. Jeb Bush for a host of election issues.
DeSantis replaced Warren with Susan Lopez, a Hillsborough County judge who was appointed to the bench by DeSantis in 2021 and previously served as a prosecutor for 15 years in the 13th Judicial Circuit.
USA TODAY Network – Florida reporter John Kennedy contributed to this report. Follow Herald-Tribune political editor Zac Anderson on Twitter at @zacjanderson. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org