4 takeaways from the Ron DeSantis-Andrew Warren ruling

DeSantis won, but his office got taken to task by the judge anyway.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves during an inauguration ceremony at the Old Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis waves during an inauguration ceremony at the Old Capitol, Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2023, in Tallahassee, Fla. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky) [ LYNNE SLADKY | AP ]
Published Jan. 20, 2023|Updated Jan. 20, 2023

The ruling in Andrew Warren’s lawsuit about Gov. Ron DeSantis is finally here, and it’s a doozy.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle — a Bill Clinton appointee — found that DeSantis had the legal authority to suspend Warren, the Democratic state attorney twice elected by the people of Hillsborough county. But there’s so much more to the document.

Here are four quick takeaways.

1. DeSantis won...

Hinkle dismissed Warren’s lawsuit against DeSantis. That means DeSantis won.

DeSantis suspended Warren in part because the prosecutor had signed onto policy statements put out by a left-leaning group that criticized the prosecution of people seeking abortion or gender-affirming care. Warren sued DeSantis in federal court. He alleged, among other things, that by suspending him, the governor violated his constitutional right to free speech.

Hinkle found that DeSantis did violate Warren’s First Amendment rights by suspending him — but that DeSantis would have suspended Warren regardless of his speech.

“The Governor did what he had been looking to do,” Hinkle wrote. “He took down a reform prosecutor.”

It’s not legal under Florida law to suspend a prosecutor over political disagreements, Hinkle found. But the case was tried in federal court, not state court. Hinkle had no right to reinstate Warren based on a violation of Florida law, he wrote, so he ruled in favor of DeSantis.

Related: Who is Andrew Warren? Meet the Tampa prosecutor Ron DeSantis just suspended

2. ...But Hinkle still harshly criticized the suspension

The ruling savages DeSantis’ suspension of Warren.

In his order suspending Warren, DeSantis alleged that the state attorney had adopted a series of non-prosecution policies around abortion, gender-affirming care and other criminal laws.

Hinkle tore this argument apart: “Any minimally competent investigation would have shown that Mr. Warren did not have any blanket non-prosecution policy.”

The ruling cited the governor’s office’s own claim that it didn’t review Warren’s office policies.

Larry Keefe, a senior advisor who DeSantis has called his “public safety czar,” oversaw the Warren suspension project. He “did not speak to Mr. Warren or to anyone who worked in the office,” the ruling said.

3. DeSantis was looking to take out a liberal prosecutor

Hinkle’s ruling — and indeed the entire Warren trial — laid out how the governor’s office deals in political matters.

The Warren suspension began as an inquiry initiated by DeSantis into whether Florida had any reform-minded prosecutors similar to those in other states that have made headlines for lenient prosecution policies. He assigned Keefe to this project. Keefe found Warren to be his target.

Keefe ran what Hinkle describes as a less-than-rigorous inquiry — some conversations with local law enforcement and a Google Search — into Warren’s policies.

“Mr. Keefe did not look into these things because he already knew all he needed to know: Mr. Warren was the leading Florida reform prosecutor,” Hinkle wrote.

The judge laid out how an initial draft of the governor’s suspension order mentioned George Soros, the Democratic mega-donor who likely supported Warren in his initial run. The governor’s attorneys eventually scrubbed that reference.

An earlier draft of the suspension order also mentioned a statement Warren had given to Fox 13 News about how he planned to prosecute abortion cases based on the “facts and circumstances of every case,” Hinkle noted. That statement seemingly contradicted the governor’s argument that Warren’s pro-abortion rights statements constituted a blanket non-prosecution policy for those charged with abortion crimes.

“They knew about the Fox-13 interview but chose to ignore it,” Hinkle wrote in his opinion. “It did not fit the narrative.”

4. The judge suggested DeSantis should rescind his suspension

In perhaps the most brutal section of the opinion for DeSantis, Hinkle suggests that if DeSantis is telling the truth about his reasoning for Warren’s suspension, the governor should reinstate Warren himself.

DeSantis has argued he suspended Warren for his office’s non-prosecution policies. But none exist, Hinkle argued.

“After a full and fair trial, the evidence establishes without genuine dispute that Mr. Warren had no blanket non-prosecution policies,” Hinkle wrote. “If the facts matter, the Governor can simply rescind the suspension. If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged non-prosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”