On Thursday, a federal judge pressured lawyers for Republican Florida governor Ron DeSantis to explain why the governor’s recent dismissal of a state attorney he deemed “awakened” was not an illegal and politically motivated violation of executive power.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said he will decide in the coming weeks whether the governor has the right to fire Democrat Andrew Warren, who was re-elected as attorney general in Tampa and surrounding Hillsborough County last year after competing on a platform. criminal justice reform.
“All this is filled with hostility [reform-minded] On the final day of the three-day trial in Tallahassee, Hinkle said: “Florida law does not allow a governor to dismiss a state attorney for disagreeing with a state attorney’s general approach.”
But DeSantis’ lawyers insisted in court that this was not why the governor suspended Warren, who was first elected to the post in 2016.
DeSantis’ attorney, George Levesque, told the judge, “There’s someone here who won’t enforce the law based on their own testimony.”
Under the executive order that suspended Warren in August, the state’s attorney demonstrated “incompetence and willfully disobeying his duties” by enforcing certain “hypothetical non-enforcement policies” and signing public statements about state law by a left-leaning advocacy group. criminalizes gender-affirming care and abortion.
“[We] “We are committed to using our built-in common sense and refrain from prosecuting anyone who seeks, provides or supports abortions,” said a statement signed by more than 80 elected local prosecutors from around the country on June 24, shortly after the US Supreme Court rejected it. Roe v. Wade leaves the abortion rights issue to the states.
Following his suspension, Warren filed a federal lawsuit in August, asking a judge to reassign him as state’s attorney. Hinkle, a Clinton appointee, decides the case without a jury.
At this week’s hearing, Hinkle said the outcome of the case depended on the “true reason” for Warren’s suspension: Was it about Warren’s conduct — a legal basis — or was it really about Warren’s speech that would violate his First Amendment rights? ?
Hinkle suggested that the text curated by the executive order alone “may not tell the whole story” as to what really led to Warren’s suspension.
Warren’s lawyer, David O’Neil, told Hinkle that Warren’s suspension was a “political assassination” targeting his free speech rights.
“Mr Warren was suspended from his post because of what he said and believed,” O’Neil said.
O’Neil said the statements, signed by Warren and supported by dozens of prosecutors from other parts of the country, were “purely symbolic, purely an expression of values.”
According to three days of witness testimony, DeSantis’ so-called “public security czar” Larry Keefe asked people he knew in the law enforcement community if there were any state attorneys who refused to enforce the law.
“All roads led to Mr Warren,” Keefe testified. A Republican sheriff in Warren’s own county even sent Keefe a package marking two of Warren’s policies that he found alarming. or public drunkenness under certain circumstances.
In his testimony, Keefe admitted that all but one of the people with whom he knew party affiliations were Republicans, with whom Warren had previously spoken.
Then, months later, the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade dismissed his lawsuit, while Warren signed the Fair and Just Prosecution group’s statement on abortion.
Pressing DeSantis’ lawyers, Hinkle said that “a possible view of the facts” was that DeSantis was “truly opposed” to “more tolerant”, liberal-minded prosecutors and that “it would be good policy to take someone down.” mentioned this to Keefe, who went to “search” them.
“He’ll find one,” said Hinkle. “He’s conducting a very one-sided investigation… [and then] she accidentally finds the abortion declaration. Bingo.”
But at least one senior attorney from DeSantis’ office who helped formulate Warren’s suspension stated that the abortion-related statement and other Fair and Fair Prosecution statement regarding transgender issues would not in itself lead to Warren recommending a suspension.
A key point of contention throughout the trial was whether Warren’s signature – and his official title – in his Fair and Fair Prosecution statements meant official policy.
Gary Weisman, Warren’s former chief of staff, said that signing the abortion statement was “an announcement that we will not prosecute cases under the law” and telling Hillsborough County prosecutors “what Mr. Warren wants from them”. court.
The governor’s attorney general, general counsel Ryan Newman, said any “reasonable person” would view the statements Warren signed as a “hostage”, saying he would not only guarantee Warren’s suspension but would make it legal under Florida state law.
Warren objected that the statements reflect any kind of policy or commitment, stating that he signed them because he “agreed with the general idea” behind them.
To emphasize this point, O’Neil noted that Warren never disseminated the statements he signed—as he would in an official policy—and that since no abortion-related case was referred to Warren’s court, the statements never affected a “single” case. The prosecution and the state of Florida don’t even have a gender-affirming healthcare law.
When DeSantis announced Warren’s suspension in August, he accused Warren of “basically supporting an awakening agenda,” elevating his own personal understanding of “social justice” above what the law requires of you.
In his testimony this week, Warren defended his time in office, saying his policies were about efficiency and “justice” in the criminal justice system and trying to “pull low-level criminals out of the system’s downward spiral.” “
Warren’s lawyer told the judge that approval of Warren’s suspension would have a “chilling” effect on the freedom of speech of other elected officials.
“Which other state’s attorney will speak on policy issues that the defendant disagrees with?” He asked.
However, prosecutors said Warren’s actions set him apart from other elected prosecutors in Florida.
“As if every [reform-minded] “The attorney is somehow on the joinery block,” Newman said.
DeSantis refused to testify in his own defense, O’Neil said. [the governor’s] case.”
Meanwhile, Judge Hinkle expressed concern that no DeSantis affiliate has contacted Warren or any of his employees to inquire about his office’s practices and policies.
“You know he didn’t get paid – they took his job,” the judge told Newman while on the bench. “Don’t you think you owe money? [Warren] Was there any legal process before suspending him for months? … At least pick up the phone and call him?”
Still, Hinkle has made it clear that he has not decided whether the suspension was unlawful, even though he was critical of how it happened.
“I don’t know who will win,” said the judge.