Warren asks that Gov. DeSantis reinstate him as Hillsborough prosecutor

Warren: “I engaged in zero misconduct’

By: - January 25, 2023 2:20 pm

Andrew Warren, suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis, holds a news conference in Tallahassee on Aug. 17, 2022. Flanking him is his attorney, J Cabou. Credit: Michael Moline

Andrew Warren wrote Wednesday to Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking reinstatement as state’s attorney for Hillsborough County, arguing that the governor is duty-bound to do so.

“The facts are now known and the court’s findings are clear: I engaged in zero misconduct; the allegations in the executive order are false; and the suspension violates federal and state law,” Warren wrote in the letter.

Although the federal ruling in the case is still subject to appellate review, Warren contended in his letter that U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle had demolished DeSantis’ arguments that Warren was a “woke” prosecutor who was undermining the rule of law through his policies.

“Though we may continue to disagree on matters of policy, let us show the nation, together, that you will honor your oath of office and that you believe what you said on the day you announced my suspension: that the state of Florida continues to be a government of laws, not a government of men,” Warren wrote.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announcing the suspension of elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren at the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa, Aug. 4, 2022. (Credit: Mitch Perry.)

Warren also issued a written statement that says in part: “When the governor and I were sworn in, we both put our hands on the Bible and swore to uphold the laws of Florida and the United States. Now a federal judge has ruled that I did my part, and that the governor broke his oath. This is the opportunity for the governor to do the right thing and show that his oath to uphold the law wasn’t just empty words.”

Executive order

The governor argued in an executive order removing Warren on Aug. 4 that the twice-elected prosecutor had signed statements opposing bringing charges in crimes involving abortion or transgender care and had enacted rebuttable presumptions against charging some low-level crimes. That, DeSantis and his aides contended, encourage law breaking.

But Hinkle ruled on Jan. 20 that the GOP governor’s action was purely political against the Democratic prosecutor and violated Warren’s rights under the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution, concluding, “The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren.”

Hinkle concluded that he lacked authority to order Warren’s reinstatement, but added: “If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension. If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged nonprosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension.”

Asked for a response to Warren’s letter, DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin released a written statement that included:

“Andrew Warren, of all people, should understand the distinction between legal dicta and the holding of a court’s decision,” it reads.

“The failures that motivated the suspension were Mr. Warren’s actual performance — not advocacy — as a reform prosecutor,” Griffin said.

Duty-bound

In a three-page letter dated Wednesday, Warren argued that, since his declared reasoning had dissolved under court scrutiny, DeSantis is duty-bound to reinstate him.

“In August of 2022, when you ordered my suspension, you and others in your office may not have known all the facts about how my office functioned. But now, in January of 2023, you know the facts. Exhaustive discovery, taken under oath and under penalty of perjury, was undertaken. A federal trial under the same oath and penalty was conducted,” Warren wrote.

“As Justice Clarence Thomas has observed, faithfully executing the law ‘speaks of duty, not power.’ It means executing the law with ‘fidelity to the law itself, not to policy preference,” he continued.

“Duty requires you to accept the court’s findings that the executive order is illegal, even if that finding is perhaps unwelcome.”

Griffin said there would be no reinstatement.

“Mr. Warren signed a statement refusing to prosecute the laws of the land. Thus, the governor removed Mr. Warren for neglect of duty and incompetence. Public prosecutors cannot pick and choose which laws to enforce.

“In its lengthy opinion, the court attempted to usurp the Florida Senate’s constitutional authority to make a determination on Mr. Warren’s neglect of duty and incompetence. It is the Florida Senate that is to rightly serve as the ultimate factfinder in this case.

“We do not agree with the court’s dicta, which are merely opinions, and need not address them since the court ultimately determined it lacked jurisdiction and thus ruled in favor of the governor. Mr. Warren remains suspended from the office he failed to serve.”

Warren has other options. He could appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit, but it has a Republican majority and has tended to favor DeSantis in legal appeals. Likewise, the U.S. Supreme Court is dominated by a conservative supermajority, as is the Florida Supreme Court should Warren try to sue in state court.

Then there’s the option of trial in the Florida Senate, which has the power to reinstate Warren. Again, Republicans hold a supermajority in that body.

Note: This story has been updated to include comments from the governor’s office.

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Michael Moline
Michael Moline

Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.

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