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Florida officials react to the Andrew Warren v. DeSantis ruling

Some officials were cautious in their responses, while others opined on whether the federal judge was correct.
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren takes a moment just prior to a CNN interview Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee. Warren has filed a federal suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who suspended Warren.
Suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren takes a moment just prior to a CNN interview Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022 in Tallahassee. Warren has filed a federal suit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis who suspended Warren. [ CHRIS URSO | Times ]
Published Jan. 20|Updated Jan. 20

A federal judge delivered his long-awaited ruling on Friday in the lawsuit over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ suspension of Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a case that involved major questions of political motivations and the limits of executive power.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle determined that when DeSantis ousted Warren last year, he violated both the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution — but for several reasons, Hinkle said he does not have the authority to reinstate Warren. Thus, the decision was a win, albeit a backhanded one, for DeSantis.

Related: Judge says DeSantis was wrong, but declines to restore Andrew Warren to office

As officials in Tampa and statewide parsed through the 59-page decision, they began to offer their thoughts.

Gov. DeSantis

The governor had yet to issue a formal statement as of Friday afternoon. But Bryan Griffin, a spokesperson for his office, tweeted: “A win for the governor and a win for the people of Florida.”

Suspended state attorney Warren

In a news conference Friday afternoon, Warren highlighted several direct quotes from the ruling in which the judge said the governor’s office had no sound basis for ousting him.

“This suspension was always a political stunt, a cheap trick to add one more misleading lie to the governor’s stump speech,” Warren said. “Although a judge said he couldn’t put me back into the office to which I was twice elected, a federal judge confirmed the suspension was illegal.

“Let’s see if the governor actually believes in the rule of law,” Warren added, referencing an assertion by the judge that DeSantis should reinstate Warren himself. He concluded by saying: “This is not over,” and did not take questions.

Related: 4 takeaways from the Ron DeSantis-Andrew Warren ruling

Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister

Chronister was deeply involved with DeSantis’ suspension of Warren. He mailed a packet of documents, including copies of policies from Warren’s office, to the governor’s office, helping them build their case for suspension. He also spoke at the news conference in which DeSantis announced Warren’s removal.

Friday, he said in a statement: “We respect the result of the Court in favor of the Governor’s suspension decision.”

Former Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan

“The judge’s ruling shows that Andy Warren doesn’t know the difference between state court and federal court,” Dugan, who stood alongside DeSantis during the initial news conference announcing the suspension, said in a text message.

One of the reasons the judge said he couldn’t reinstate Warren was because any violations of the Florida Constitution must be handled by state courts, not federal ones.

“The people of Hillsborough County are much safer with Suzy Lopez on the job,” Dugan added.

Hillsborough State Attorney Susan Lopez

Lopez was appointed by DeSantis to replace Warren, and thus will continue to serve as Hillsborough’s top prosecutor in light of this ruling.

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In a statement, she said: “We have reviewed the Order from Judge Hinkle and briefed our agency on this ruling. Each one of us, including myself, has been hard at work meeting this agency’s public safety mission and will continue to do so.”

Chief of Staff Gary Weisman

Weisman, chief of staff to Lopez and previously to Warren, was a key part of the trial in this case, and his testimony undercut one of Warren’s central arguments.

In an internal email he sent out within the state attorney’s office on Friday, Weisman wrote, in part: “Over the last several months each of you has responded as professionals while litigation went on about the Governor’s suspension of Andrew Warren. You have done your jobs, dedicated yourself to our mission, and not let anything serve as a distraction. ... What I think (the ruling) means is simple — we will continue to do our jobs. We will prosecute, will take depositions, we will try cases, we will resolve cases, and we will continue to help keep this community safe. ... Many people will want to talk about the suspension, the lawsuit, and the ruling. We will instead continue to focus on the work of the agency.”

Florida Rep. Fentrice Driskell

Driskell, D-Tampa, is the Democrats’ leader in the state House.

“Obviously, this is disappointing for the people of Hillsborough County because we’ve been robbed of the state attorney we elected in 2016 and again in 2020,” she said in a statement. “While the judge didn’t reverse the Governor’s suspension, you cannot ignore that Ron DeSantis violated State Attorney Warren’s right to free speech, or how the Governor’s office brazenly used this political stunt to earn free media coverage and even went so far as to calculate how much attention they thought the Governor could get. Only this governor could celebrate a ruling that declared he violated Andrew Warren’s First Amendment rights. This partisan witch-hunt was always about politics, not public safety.”

U.S. Rep. Maxwell Alejandro Frost

Frost, a Democrat from the Orlando area, is a new member of Congress. He said the ruling lays the potential groundwork for the state Senate to reinstate Warren.

“A United States Federal Judge has now made it clear that Gov. Ron DeSantis violated not only the Florida Constitution, but Andrew Warren’s First Amendment rights when he unlawfully suspended State Attorney Warren last August. As self-proclaimed fierce defenders of the Constitution, I am calling on the Republican-controlled Florida Senate to put partisanship aside and do the right thing by following the letter of the law and reviewing State Attorney Warren’s suspension, and immediately reinstating him to his duly elected position. No one is above the law, and Governor DeSantis’s suspension of Warren was unconstitutional, plain and simple. DeSantis’ abuse of power must be checked before it goes even further.”

Related: DeSantis prevailed over Andrew Warren. Other lawsuits show what might come next

Florida Senate President Kathleen Passidomo

In a memo distributed to all state senators, Passidomo, R-Naples, reminded them that the legality of Warren’s suspension could still be ultimately decided by the Florida Senate. Once Warren exhausts all avenues through the courts, the Senate could then take up his case, as has happened in past instances.

Her memo reads, in part: “Since we are tasked to sit in judgment of the merits of an executive suspension order, Senators should refrain from speaking publicly about the merits or substance of any suspension order prior to final action by the Senate. I will continue to keep you posted on any developments. Thank you for your attention to this important constitutional responsibility of the Senate.”

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Romy Ellenbogen and Times staff writer Tony Marrero contributed to this report, which may be updated.