- The Florida Supreme Court dismissed the case of Andrew Warren, the suspended State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida, citing an “unreasonable delay.”
- The Court stated that Warren’s delay in filing a petition with the state Supreme Court was too long and did not provide any explanation for the delay.
- The Court affirmed that the power to suspend state officers lies with the Governor, and the primary check on the Governor’s actions is the Senate, which can remove or reinstate suspended officials.
The Florida Supreme Court addressed the case of Andrew Warren, the elected State Attorney for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit of Florida on Thursday, who was suspended from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis last August, dismissing the case on grounds of an “unreasonable delay.”
The Court noted that Warren had filed a lawsuit in federal court shortly after his suspension, seeking a writ of quo warranto (a legal action to challenge someone’s right to hold office) based on the claim that the suspension order was insufficient under Florida law. However, the federal court dismissed Warren’s state-law claim because it was barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution, which prohibits certain lawsuits against states.
Following the ruling, Warren waited close to five months before filing the petition with the state Supreme Court, with Justices claiming they were not provided with any explanation for the delay. The court concluded that, considering the circumstances, it was too late for them to review the case.
“[Warren] waited almost five months before finally petitioning this Court and requesting our “expeditious review” of his state-law claim”, wrote Justice Charles Canady in his written opinion, released Thursday morning. ” [The] Petitioner offers no explanation for the delay. We conclude that, under the circumstances of this case, the time for our review has passed.”
The opinion further explained that the power to suspend state officers, like Warren, is granted to the Governor under Article IV, Section 7 of the Florida Constitution. While the courts have a limited role in reviewing suspension orders to ensure they state valid grounds, the Court stated, the primary check on the Governor’s actions is the Senate, which has the power to remove or reinstate suspended officials.
The Court then examined the grounds cited in the Executive Order for Warren’s suspension, which included two Joint Statements he had signed with other prosecutors and two policies he had implemented. The Executive Order claimed that Warren’s actions amounted to the neglect of duty and incompetence, which the Court subsequently found met the constitutional requirement of stating grounds for suspension and had a reasonable relation to the charges against Warren.
The court also discussed the federal district court proceedings that took place during the delay in Warren’s petition. They noted that the federal court dismissed Warren’s state-law claim but made various conclusions about the suspension’s propriety under Florida law, which was not within its jurisdiction. The court criticized the federal court’s comments and noted that the function of reviewing suspension evidence lies with the Florida Senate, not the courts.
“Indeed, we have previously said that the courts are not a “check upon any erroneous suspension action on the governor’s part,” including “any mere error of judgment, whether free from or attended by improper motive,” reads the opinion. “Our constitution has instead made the Senate the sole check upon any erroneous action on the governor’s part.”
In an interview with The Capitolist, Warren referred to his suspension as political retribution on behalf of DeSantis, who accused Warren of incompetence and abandonment of duty when he was dismissed from office on Aug. 4. The governor claimed that Warren pledged not to enforce the state’s recently-passed 15-week abortion law, as well as signing letters stating that he would not enforce laws prohibiting sex changes for minors.
“The governor’s suspension of me is purely political. Period,” Warren said. “This is a clear-cut case. The governor can’t suspend me or any other elected official because he doesn’t like what I said or how I’m doing my job. And let’s be clear, I’ve done extremely well, and most importantly, I’ve done it how the voters want me to do it. I work for the people of Hillsborough County, not the Governor of Florida.”
Upon his suspension, state leaders and sheriffs claimed that Warren repeatedly tried to install himself as an arbiter of what laws will and will not be enforced within his jurisdiction.
Warren, however, brought attention to the fact that he has not refused any abortion or gender-affirming-related cases to this point.
“The Governor hasn’t been able to cite one example where I’ve refused to enforce any law in Florida,” Warren said. “And the reason he hasn’t been able to cite any is that there aren’t any.”
Asked if his public refusal to enforce state law could have a chilling effect on law enforcement efforts by discouraging investigations in the first place, Warren characterized the signed pledge as an expression of his political opinion rather than an advisory to law enforcement agencies in his jurisdiction.
Warren disagreed with the assertion of a chilling effect, though, stating that his office would continue to handle each case that enters his office the same way each one before it has been.
“The premise of the argument is flawed. These were letters in which I voiced my opposition to the laws,” said Warren. “And let’s be clear, I’m being accused of not upholding laws that don’t actually validly exist. One of them has been ruled unconstitutional and the other hasn’t even been written. The only place these laws exist is in the Governor’s imagination.”