“It’s purely political:” Andrew Warren sounds off on legal battle against DeSantis in interview

by | Sep 16, 2022

 

  • In an interview with The Capitolist, suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren referred to his removal as a political stunt, claiming that it’s being used to prop up Gov. Ron DeSantis’ alleged Presidential ambitions for 2024
  • DeSantis in August suspended Warren, citing a pledge he signed that states he would not prosecute cases involving the state’s recently-passed 15-week abortion law
  • Warren claims that no such cases have been brought before him. As a result, DeSantis cannot point to any laws that he has failed to enforce 
  • Warren subsequently filed a lawsuit against DeSantis, contending a violation of his First Amendment rights, as well as an abuse of power. Lawyers representing the two sides are scheduled to appear in court on Monday

Suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren spoke with The Capitolist in an interview on Friday, where he referred to his ongoing legal battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis as a political stunt used to prop up the governor’s alleged Presidential ambitions.

DeSantis accused Warren of incompetence and abandonment of duty when he was dismissed from office on Aug. 4. Notably, 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.

In response, Warren filed a lawsuit against DeSantis contending that the executive action is an abuse of power and a violation of his First Amendment rights.

“The governor’s suspension of me is purely political. Period,” Warren told The Capitolist.

DeSantis’ lawyers, however, state that as a public official, Warren does not possess the First Amendment right to declare that he would not perform his duties under state law.

The challenge goes on to allege that DeSantis’ decision is political payback for signing a petition promising not to prosecute abortion-related cases, also mentioning that Warren has not yet been given an abortion-related case to handle.

“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,” said Warren. “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.”

The governor’s office states that DeSantis holds the authority under the Florida Constitution to suspend state officials for reasons of misfeasance, malfeasance, or neglect of duty.

“State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said. “It is my duty to hold Florida’s elected officials to the highest standards for the people 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.”

Florida’s 15-week abortion is currently in effect, however, per the ruling of the state’s 1st District Court of Appeal.

When announcing his suspension, the governor cited statements Warren made with prosecutors around the country committing not to arrest those who seek, offer, or support abortions, as well as those who provide gender-affirming health care.

Warren now states that by signing such pledges, he was simply espousing his opposition to laws banning abortion care after fifteen weeks and gender-affirming care.

“The same way that State Attorneys and elected officials are not just encouraged to speak out on issues relevant to their job in order to be transparent to the community they serve, in many cases we have obligations to do so,” Warren said.

Warren criticized the timing of his suspension, saying it was predicated on what he views as DeSantis’s political ambition to run for president in 2024.

“The Governor has made clear that he is focused not on the needs of Floridians, not on the safety of our communities … but on running for President in 2024,” Warren continued. “That’s what this is about. A political stunt to further his political ambition.”

Lawyers representing Warren and DeSantis are slated to appear in court on Monday to begin hearings on Warren’s lawsuit.

In speaking with The Capitolist, Warren stated that he expects a legal victory and to be reinstated to his elected position.

“In a court of law, facts matter,” said Warren. “The evidence matters, and the truth matters. That’s why we’re fighting back. That’s why we’re confident we’re going to win and it’s important that we fight back to defend our democracy.”

A group of more than 60 judges and 115 legal scholars, as well as state leaders who helped craft the gubernatorial authority cited by DeSantis in Warren’s removal, have filed amicus briefs siding with Warren.

The briefs collectively reiterate Warren’s lawsuit, claiming that the suspension is an overreach of governmental authority, abuse of power, and a violation of free speech rights.

Meanwhile, the Florida Sheriffs Association filed a brief in support of DeSantis. The 25-page court filing asserts that the governor was entitled to remove Warren from his positions as a result of his failure to enforce the aforementioned laws.

“In the present case, Warren was not removed for exercising his prosecutorial discretion,” Robert Wayne Evans, an attorney for the Sheriffs Association said, as reported by the Tampa Bay Times. “Rather, he established policies indicating that his office would not prosecute certain classes of crime or that there would be a presumption of non-prosecution for a variety of offenses. These proclamations detrimentally impact a sheriff’s ability to effectively safeguard the public.”

DeSantis filed a motion to dismiss the case in early September and opined that Warren has no basis for introducing a free speech claim because he was taking official prosecutorial stances in his signed pledges.

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