Gov. Ron DeSantis shocked Tampa Bay on Thursday when he removed Andrew Warren from his office as state attorney for Hillsborough County.
DeSantis said Warren, a Democrat and rising star in progressive law enforcement circles, had put himself “above the law” by promising not to enforce laws limiting abortion or the ability of children to seek certain gender dysphoria treatments. DeSantis used a suspension clause in the Florida Constitution that means Warren essentially has been fired.
Let’s take a closer look at Warren’s record, examining where he came from and how we got to Thursday’s decision.
1. Warren scored a major upset in 2016.
Andrew Warren was a relatively anonymous Democratic attorney until election night 2016, when he unseated Mark Ober, the Republican incumbent, in the race for Hillsborough County prosecutor. At the time, the Times called Warren’s victory a “stunning election-night upset.”
Warren, a former federal prosecutor, ran an aggressive campaign attacking his opponent for alleged absenteeism and a lack of sensitivity toward crime victims. (At the time, Ober said both characterizations were misleading.) Warren also pledged to rehabilitate those convicted of crimes, and enact policies that would stop criminals from becoming repeat offenders.
2. His office helped exonerate a wrongfully convicted man imprisoned for nearly four decades.
In 2018, Warren established a conviction review unit in the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office. Not long after, evidence submitted to the unit by the Innocence Project led a judge to throw out the conviction of Robert DuBoise, a man who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 37 years. DuBoise was convicted in the 1980s of murdering Barbara Grams.
The unit was one of many progressive initiatives by Warren. He has seldom sought the death penalty in capital murder cases. And he had steered his office away from charging people for driving with a suspended license if the suspension was due to a financial obligation, like an unpaid speeding ticket.
3. Warren has been a thorn in the side of conservatives.
Perhaps the highest profile flap of Warren’s tenure as prosecutor came during the worst of the coronavirus pandemic. In April 2020, the prosecutor supported the arrest of a megachurch pastor who had held church services in person. Then DeSantis signed an executive order allowing the in-person services to continue.
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In response, Warren called DeSantis’ move “weak” and “spineless.” The charges against the pastor were later dropped.
Warren also criticized some of DeSantis’ legislative priorities. He said 2021′s HB 1, the so-called “anti-riot” bill, was tantamount to “criminalizing peaceful protests.”
He declined to prosecute 67 people arrested during the 2020 summer of protests over police brutality, enraging some conservatives.
And following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the abortion precedent set by Roe v. Wade, Warren said he would not press charges against abortion patients. In a tweet, he reasoned that Florida’s Constitution has a clause protecting the right to privacy.
That proclamation was one of DeSantis’ justifications for suspending the prosecutor.
4. Warren has been accused of being funded by liberal out-of-state billionaires.
On Thursday, in response to a question about whether it was appropriate to remove an elected official, DeSantis alluded to Warren’s campaign support from wealthy progressives hoping to remake the criminal justice system.
“We can go back and look at some of these elections and all the money that’s coming in from people that do not live in Florida and are really trying to push an agenda on the people of Florida,” DeSantis said. (The governor has received tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions from out-of-state billionaires.)
Rumors of support for Warren from financiers such as George Soros date back to 2016.
According to a profile of Warren the Times published in 2020, Soros likely did help Warren’s campaign.
“We understand that he gave money to the state (Democratic) party,” Warren said then. “And the state party money ... went to support different candidates. And I have very little insight into the amount of money he gave, who it went to, etc.”
5. Tampa has seen more murders in recent years.
Tampa’s violent crime rate has spiked in recent years, with the city in 2021 recording the most murders it had seen since 1994, according to statistics from the Tampa Police Department compiled by the Times editorial board.
Although such crimes are up around the state and around the country, Tampa has seen somewhat more killings than most other cities in Florida, the editorial board said in April.