The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida courthouse in Tallahassee.
The federal trial wrapped up Thursday in suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, following three days of testimony and arguments in a federal courthouse in Tallahassee.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said he would rule “just as quickly as I can” but needs to absorb the voluminous case record and that might take two weeks.
Hinkle had expedited the proceedings in the interest of resolving Warren’s First Amendment claims as quickly as possible, which could mean Warren would return to his job — or not. Warren, a Democrat, had been elected twice before DeSantis suspended him on Aug. 4. The prosecutor argues the governor ousted him (pending a trial before the Florida Senate) not for his policies but because his politics did not match DeSantis’.
DeSantis, a Republican, cited Warren’s decision to sign two open letters circulated by a group of progressive prosecutors under the rubric of Free and Just Prosecutions promising not to push cases of alleged illegal abortions after the U.S. Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade or any targeting provision of transgender care.
He also raised Warren’s official rebuttable presumption against charging low-level quality of life crimes or cases arising out of police stops of bicycle riders or pedestrians after concluding they unfairly singled out Black people.
Hinkle asked pointed questions of each legal team and cautioned that they shouldn’t try to divine from them what his ruling would be. “I don’t know who’s going to win,” the judge said.
But he said one possible view of the facts is that DeSantis has long promoted “law and order” and disfavored Warren’s “woke” approach; had noted the recall of progressive prosecutors elsewhere in the country; and “would like there not to be that in Florida.”
“And, incidentally, it would be good politics to take one down,” Hinkle noted.
He added that the governor’s office conducted a “one-sided inquiry” into Warren, speaking “only to those who might be likely to support that side of the issue,” and then “bingo,” the abortion joint statement emerged.
Law enforcement officials surveyed by the governor’s aides hated Warren’s policies and, during the trial, attorneys representing DeSantis argued they violated the prosecutor’s obligation to exercise his charging discretion on a case-by-case basis.
“It all comes back to the concept we have someone here who is not going to enforce the law,” DeSantis attorney George Levesque told Hinkle during closing arguments.
Warren’s attorneys insisted that was pretext covering DeSantis’ desire to take down a progressive prosecutor, especially one who’d received campaign donations from philanthropist George Soros through the Democratic Party.
Evidence showed DeSantis aides inserted multiple dismissive references to Soros in materials involved in the suspension process, and DeSantis made similar comments during his press conference announcing Warren’s ouster and on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show that night.
Warren’s attorneys pointed to official policy in his office specifying that charging decisions should be made in line with the facts in each case. Additionally, the Tampa Bay Fox affiliate aired an interview in which Warren said he would take the same approach to abortion cases.
And, although the governor’s people reached out to sheriffs and police officials, they never sought clarification from Warren or his aides.
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