Advertisement

Judge mulls the possibilities of DeSantis not testifying in Warren lawsuit

At a hearing in Andrew Warren’s challenge to his suspension as state attorney, a judge urged both sides to carefully consider the implications
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren during a news conference. The question of whether DeSantis will testify about his decision to suspend Warren looms large in Warren's lawsuit challenging his ouster.
Gov. Ron DeSantis announces the removal of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren during a news conference. The question of whether DeSantis will testify about his decision to suspend Warren looms large in Warren's lawsuit challenging his ouster. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 19, 2022

The question of whether Gov. Ron DeSantis will testify about his decision to suspend Hillsborough County’s state attorney — and his motive for removing him — looms large in Andrew Warren’s federal lawsuit challenging his ouster.

The answer could well determine if Warren gets reinstated or his removal stands.

On Monday, the federal judge overseeing the case was talking about it.

In a court hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle told the governor’s lawyers that if they want to prevent him or members of his staff from testifying, they should file a formal request as soon as possible.

He also told them to think carefully.

“Motivation is a critical issue here,” Hinkle said. “And if you really want to not be able to provide the testimony from the people that know the most about why this was really done, think about how that affects your case.”

He also told Warren’s lawyers to think carefully about how to respond if the governor’s team takes “potentially their best witnesses off the table,” and whether they would want to try to force that testimony.

“I have no idea what’s the best strategic answer for each of the two sides,” the judge said. “That’s up to you. But think about it.”

Warren’s lawyers have made clear they plan to depose the governor and call him to the stand, and DeSantis’ lawyers have indicated in court records they will resist.

The judge’s comments came as attorneys prepare for the fast-approaching Nov. 29 trial date in a case that has made national headlines.

DeSantis suspended Warren from office Aug. 4, accusing the Hillsborough state attorney of failing to enforce state laws. The governor cited a pair of statements Warren signed with other elected prosecutors throughout the nation in which they pledged not to prosecute cases related to abortion or transgender health care. The governor also cited Warren’s policies against prosecuting some low-level misdemeanors.

Susan Lopez, a county court judge DeSantis put on the bench, was appointed to replace Warren.

Warren is suing DeSantis in federal court to get his job back. A progressive Democrat, he alleges that his suspension was political retaliation by the conservative Republican governor and a violation of his right to free speech.

In Monday’s hearing, the judge addressed issues related to the ongoing exchange of evidence in the case.

That included records from DeSantis’ then-spokesperson Christina Pushaw, who on the eve of Warren’s removal tweeted about an upcoming major announcement from DeSantis and predicted “the liberal media meltdown of the year.” Pushaw has gone on to become the rapid response director in DeSantis’ re-election campaign.

Pushaw was scheduled to sit for a deposition Tuesday. Larry Keefe, the governor’s public safety czar, is scheduled to be deposed Wednesday.

Spend your days with Hayes

Spend your days with Hayes

Subscribe to our free Stephinitely newsletter

Columnist Stephanie Hayes will share thoughts, feelings and funny business with you every Monday.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

As the pre-trial exchange of evidence continues, one item that has surfaced in the court file — perhaps to be used as evidence of political motive for the suspension — concerns a connection between Warren and billionaire philanthropist George Soros.

Emails dated the day before Warren’s suspension show the governor’s staff providing bullet points on Soros in a document dubbed the “The Soros Plan.” The document alleged that Soros’ efforts “led to a vast network of prosecutors going soft on crime.”

“For the front pocket of the binder,” a governor’s staffer noted in an email.

Soros has funneled money to progressive causes and has often been made the subject of right-wing criticism and conspiracy theories.

Asked in 2020 if Soros money helped him beat the Republican incumbent, Warren told the Tampa Bay Times: “We think so. We understand that he gave money to the state (Democratic) party. And the state party money ... went to support different candidates. And I have very little insight into the amount of money he gave, who it went to, etc.”

On Aug. 4, when DeSantis was asked whether it was appropriate to remove an elected official, he alluded to Warren’s campaign support from wealthy progressives hoping to change the criminal justice system.