Legal notables urge judge to rule against DeSantis over ousted state attorney

The friend-of-the-court brief was signed by former justices, judges and prosecutors from across the country.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren from office earlier this month.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, left, suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren from office earlier this month. [ Times ]
Published Aug. 26, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — More than 60 legal figures both local and national — from retired Florida Supreme Court justices to a former Solicitor General of the United States — signed on to a legal brief supporting ousted Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren in his battle to get his job back.

The friend-of-the-court brief was filed Friday in Warren’s federal lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who earlier this month removed Warren from office. The conservative Republican governor said that the state attorney, a progressive Democrat, was incompetent and neglected his duty because he signed joint statements indicating he would not pursue certain cases.

An “Amicus Curiae” brief involves a person or group that is not a party to the legal action but has a strong interest in it.

Supporters on the brief included three former Florida Supreme Court justices Harry Lee Anstead, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince — all appointed by Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles. It also included a former U.S. Attorney in Tampa, Lee Bentley, who was appointed by President Barack Obama, former 2nd District Court of Appeal Judge E.J. Salcines, another Chiles appointee, and former Hillsborough Chief Judge Manuel Menendez Jr., who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bob Graham. It lists former police chiefs, prosecutors and judges from across the country. Former Los Angeles County District Attorney Gil Garcetti and Seth Waxman, former Solicitor General with the U.S. Department of Justice — both Democrats — are also listed.

The brief argues that prosecutors have discretion and independent judgement in pursuing cases and must use their limited resources judiciously. It also argues that DeSantis’ order undermines the will of the voters who elected Warren twice and “erodes confidence in the administration of justice.” The brief urges the judge to find that the governor exceeded his authority and grant Warren’s request to be restored to office.

The governor’s office did not immediately respond to requests for comment from the Tampa Bay Times.

Warren had signed two joint statements with prosecutors across the country, one condemning laws that criminalize transgender health care, and another pledging to refrain from prosecuting people who seek or provide abortions. DeSantis said the state attorney was refusing to follow the law and usurping the role of the Legislature and suspended him without pay.

Warren said no such cases have ever come before him. His lawsuit claims a violation of his First Amendment rights.

Attorneys for Warren and DeSantis are expected to make their arguments before Senior U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee on Sept. 19 or 20.