Govt. Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren, the chief prosecutor for the 13th Judicial Circuit covering Hillsborough County, 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 out front on criminal justice reform issues. He c the Florida Democratic Party’s Safety & Justice Task Force.
Republicans have pushed back against these reforms, arguing they are leading to an increase in crime.
Much of the focus nationally has been on liberal cities such as San Francisco, where the district attorney recently was recalled. Now Tampa is squarely at the center of that debate.
“Over the last few years individual prosecutors take it upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce, and which laws they don’t like and won’t enforce and the results of this in cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco have been catastrophic,” DeSantis said.
While DeSantis framed the issue as upholding the rule of law, the suspension has partisan overtones, with a GOP governor removing a Democratic official who twice was elected 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 universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”
“DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” she said in a statement. “He’s doing this because he wants to be dictator, not a governor of Florida.”
US Rep. Charlie Crist, who is running against Fried in the Democratic primary for governor, said: “This action by Governor DeSantis is that of a wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first.”
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Warren was first elected to the position 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 an agenda that is basically woke. “
The governor said he conducted a statewide review of prosecutors and quickly zeroed in on Warren, saying he “put himself publicly above the law.”
“The response that we got was a lot of frustration on the part of law enforcement for criminals being let go and crimes not being prosecuted… I can tell you it’s been a very, very troubling record,” DeSantis said of Warren.
Asked if he spoke to Warren before suspending him, DeSantis said: “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 that states: “Bills 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. They serve no legitimate purpose. As such, we pledge to use our settled discretion and limited resources on enforcement of laws that will not erode the safety and well-being of our community.”
DeSantis also knocked Warren for instituting “policies of quote ‘presumptive nonenforcement'” regarding certain laws, and said Warren signed a letter “saying he would not enforce any laws relating to protecting the right to life in the state of Florida.”
“We don’t elect people in one part of the state to have veto power over what the entire state decides on these important issues,” the governor said.
Following the US Supreme Court’s decision in June to undo Roe v. Wade, Warren joined dozens of state prosecutors nationwide in saying they would not pursue criminal charges against women seeking abortions.
“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion. But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions,” according to the June 24 letter.
State Sen. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, defended Warren’s position on abortion law.
“To suspend him because he won’t criminalize a women’s right to choose is unconscionable,” Cruz tweeted. “Shame on you Governor, may the women in this state speak out in November.”
Abortion opponents applauded DeSantis for ousting Warren.
“Governor DeSantis’ aggressive action sends the message to other rogue state attorneys throughout Florida that they are duty-bound to enforce all of Florida’s laws — and if they do not, they will find themselves out of a job just like Warren,” said Florida Voice for the Unborn Executive Director Andrew Shirvell.
Warren had not publicly responded to his suspension as of 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 “intently focused on empathy for criminals and less interested in pursuing justice for crime victims.”
“Over the last several years, State Attorney Warren has acted as … some type of supreme authority by reducing charges, dropping cases and single-handedly determining what crimes will be legal or illegal in our county,” Chronister added.
Ultimately, the Florida Senate has the exclusive responsibility to sit in judgment of the merits of a governor’s suspension, under the state constitution. Warren’s fate will ultimately be decided by senators, who can remove him or order his reinstatement, action not likely to occur until after the November elections.
In the recent past, Florida governors have taken action against top state prosecutors and law enforcement officials in specific cases.
In 2016, then Gov. Rick Scott took action against an elected state attorney when he removed a state prosecutor from capital cases because she vowed never to pursue the death penalty in criminal cases.
Aramis Ayala, who had just been elected the state attorney in the 9th Judicial Circuit 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 now running for the Democratic nomination for Attorney General, chose not to seek re-election to her state attorney post in 2020. She was Florida’s first African-American state attorney.
In 2019, DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for his department’s failings 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 failed to show enough evidence to require Israel’s removal for the failures of his deputies and urged that he be reinstated. But the Republican-controlled Senate went along and sided with the governor and removed Israel. DeSantis, while campaigning in 2018, had vowed to remove Israel from office, if elected.
Israel was the highest-profile official to be removed by the Senate since 2005, when senators tossed out Broward County Elections Supervisor Miriam Oliphant, suspended by then-Gov. Jeb Bush for a host of election problems.
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 reached at email@example.com