TAMPA — As Andrew Warren’s legal team considers the next step in trying to get his job back, the suspended Hillsborough state attorney fired off a post-trial email to Gov. Ron DeSantis in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
Take back your suspension, Warren’s email said, like the federal judge suggested.
Warren’s three-page missive came days after U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle declined to reinstate him as state attorney and as his lawyers plot their next legal move. Among the possibilities: file a federal appeal, sue DeSantis in state court in Hillsborough or Leon counties, or take the case directly to the Florida Supreme Court.
“We’re still evaluating what the next best option is,” Warren said Wednesday.
But first, the email.
In his decision last week, the judge ruled that he did not have the power under the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to return Warren to state office. But the judge’s order was critical of DeSantis, who he said violated Warren’s free speech rights as well as the Florida Constitution.
The governor’s allegation that Warren had blanket policies against prosecuting certain cases was “false,” the judge wrote, and “any reasonable investigation would have confirmed this.”
In Warren’s trial to win his job back, the governor said Warren neglected his duties. But Warren, a progressive Democrat, called his removal “a political stunt, a cheap trick to add one more misleading line to the governor’s stump speech” in DeSantis’ expected run for president.
In his ruling, Hinkle said a governor “cannot properly suspend a state attorney based on policy differences” and issued a challenge to DeSantis — one that spurred Warren’s email.
“If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension,” the judge wrote. “If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged nonprosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”
In asking the governor to heed the judge’s words Wednesday, Warren said, “This is a chance for (DeSantis) to show his oath to follow the law isn’t just empty words.”
That message did not move the governor. In an emailed response to the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday, press secretary Bryan Griffin said “Mr. Warren remains suspended from the office he failed to serve.”
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“Mr. Warren signed a statement refusing to prosecute the laws of the land. Thus the governor removed Mr. Warren for neglect of duty and incompetence,” Griffin wrote. “Public prosecutors cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce.”
Warren was removed from office last August. The governor pointed to pledges Warren signed against pursuing cases involving abortion and transgender health care — neither of which had come before him.
The governor also took issue with Warren’s office policies against pursuing specified nonviolent misdemeanors as well as arrests stemming from police stopping bicyclists — a tactic that has been linked to racial disparities, as detailed in a 2015 Tampa Bay Times investigation, and that is known as biking while Black.
Warren has said prosecutors in his office made charging decisions on a case-by-case basis.
Despite the fact that the judge didn’t reinstate him, Warren called Hinkle’s decision “a near-complete win for free speech, for free elections and for the rule of law.”
“The court’s findings were crystal clear — I’d done my job extremely well without any hint of misconduct. The governor’s allegations were totally false and illegal,” Warren said. He suggested in his email to the governor that while DeSantis may not have understood how the state attorney’s office functioned under him, there was now a full record, including sworn testimony and the conclusions of a federal judge.
But Griffin said the judge, in his lengthy opinion, had attempted to usurp the Florida Senate’s constitutional authority to be the ultimate factfinder in the case against Warren. He said the governor’s office didn’t agree with the judge’s statements — “which are merely opinions” — and declined to address them since the judge found that he lacked jurisdiction and ruled for the governor.
Nearly six months have passed since Warren was suspended without pay. Since then, the family has relied on savings and his wife’s job as an attorney, with the expectation he would ultimately be paid the salary he was owed, Warren said. A fund set up to pay legal costs has collected “a few hundred thousand dollars,” he said.
According to purchase orders registered with the state, a Florida law firm has been paid $1.7 million in representing the governor in this case.
Local politicos have speculated about Warren running in 2024 for the job voters elected him to twice. Susan Lopez, appointed by DeSantis to replace him, has already said she intends to run.
“I’m focused on 2023 right now,” Warren said. “I was elected to serve a second term, and the people of Hillsborough County deserve to have me serve out a second term.”
Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.