TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing back against ousted Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren’s claim that the governor violated his free speech rights when he suspended Warren last month.
“Mr. Warren had no First Amendment right, as a public official, to declare that he would not perform his duties under Florida law,” DeSantis said in a motion filed late Friday attempting to dismiss Warren’s bid to get his job back.
On Aug. 4, Warren was escorted from his Tampa offices by an armed sheriff’s deputy. DeSantis accused the twice-elected state attorney of incompetence and neglect of duty, pointing to two joint statements Warren signed alongside prosecutors across the country. One pledged not to criminalize gender-affirming healthcare or transgender people, and the other to refrain from prosecuting those who seek, provide or support abortions.
DeSantis also cited Warren’s office policies on not prosecuting certain low-level crimes, including trespassing at a business and disorderly conduct, or pursuing cases that stemmed from an officer stopping a pedestrian or bicyclist — locally known as “biking while Black.” DeSantis said state attorneys can’t “pick and choose” laws.
Warren contended that Florida has no law on transgender care for him to have ruled on, and he has had no abortion-related cases to consider. In his federal suit to get his job back, he said office policies were subject to prosecutors’ discretion and not absolute.
Democrat Warren called his suspension a political stunt by a Republican governor with whom he had clashed, and said he had engaged in protected speech under the First Amendment..
In response, DeSantis’ attorneys said Friday that Warren “ignores that his speech as a government official was unprotected.” Warren, the motion said, wasn’t suspended for his views but for “conduct he announced.”
The motion also argues against federal court “intervention” in the matter, pointing to the removal or reinstatement proceedings that take place in the state Senate.
The lawyers are scheduled to present their arguments to Senior U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle in Tallahassee Sept. 19.
“The governor’s opposition is unsurprising,” Warren’s attorney David Singer said Friday. “We remain confident in the merits of our claims and we are looking forward to filing our reply and to appearing in front of Judge Hinkle in short order.”
The judge agreed to allow the submission of friend-of-the-court briefs, which include dozens of legal scholars and former justices, judges, prosecutors, heads of law enforcement and others who support his cause.