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The political charade behind the removal of Hillsborough’s progressive state attorney | Editorial
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ removal of Hillsborough’s Democratic prosecutor was all politics.
Suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks to reporters before a federal court hearing on Tuesday in Tallahassee.
Suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks to reporters before a federal court hearing on Tuesday in Tallahassee. [ Times ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Dec. 1, 2022

It didn’t take long Tuesday to expose Gov. Ron DeSantis’ ouster of Andrew Warren as the political hit job it was.

The Republican governor removed Warren in August, accusing Hillsborough’s twice-elected Democratic state attorney of refusing to prosecute cases involving abortion or transgender health care. Warren is suing DeSantis to reclaim his job, and the federal trial that opened in Tallahassee on Tuesday gave a disturbing look at how the removal came about.

While DeSantis claimed that the state did a “thorough review” to find rogue prosecutors, Larry Keefe, the governor’s safety czar, who conducted the search, said Tuesday that he “didn’t consider it to be an investigation.” He called a few in law enforcement — which regularly sides with Republicans, including DeSantis — and several influential Republicans in Tampa, including a lawyer who chaired Republican Pam Bondi’s successful campaign for Florida attorney general in 2010.

Sounds pretty thin. Worse yet, the governor’s team had no examples of Warren refusing to prosecute abortion-related crimes, and the state doesn’t have any crimes on the books related to gender-affirming care, as the Times’ Lawrence Mower reported. The governor maintains that Warren sent the signal that he wouldn’t prosecute those types of cases in two letters he signed. But Warren says those statements amount to protected speech. And they weren’t even the policy of his office.

The governor was “not particularly enthusiastic” about suspending Warren based on a pledge not to prosecute certain cases, his general counsel said, but was later won over. Records show his staff also drafted an extensive list of “benefits” and “drawbacks” for each of the governor’s options, such as whether to issue a statement or take no action at all. One of the three benefits of suspending Warren outright, they wrote, was “A leftist prosecutor is removed from a position of power.” A DeSantis attorney on Tuesday downplayed the memo, saying it was written by an “unpaid legal intern” and eventually dismissed.

Anyone with an open mind sees what happened here. DeSantis seized the opportunity to remove a progressive prosecutor. The intern got it right — and they certainly knew their audience.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.