A Florida prosecutor suspended by Ron DeSantis for defying a new 15-week abortion law says a federal judge’s decision to send his reinstatement appeal to trial means a reckoning is coming for the state’s Republican governor.
Andrew Warren, a Democrat, was removed as Hillsborough county state attorney on 4 August after saying he would not enforce the abortion ban or prosecute providers of gender transition treatment for young people.
DeSantis cited Warren’s alleged “woke agenda” in reasons for his decision.
At a hearing in Tallahassee on Monday, Judge Robert Hinkle denied motions from DeSantis to dismiss Warren’s lawsuit, and another by Warren seeking an immediate return to office, instead requesting their differences be settled at a trial in the coming weeks.
“The governor now has to answer it to a court of law where facts matter and where you have to tell the truth,” Warren said in an interview with the Guardian.
“It’s a victory for the truth. A federal judge has ruled that the governor has to come into court to explain the reasons behind my suspension, to show that it wasn’t political, to show that it wasn’t in violation of my free speech rights, to show that it wasn’t in violation of the voters’ rights to have the state attorney of their choice.”
The closely watched case is expected to give clarity to DeSantis’s power to purge elected officials who disagree with him. In recent weeks, the governor has also removed four members of a school board in Broward county that defied him over Covid-19 mask mandates.
“The governor is entrusted by the people of Florida to utilize his constitutional powers and may suspend elected officials in Florida who refuse to enforce the law,” DeSantis’s office said in a statement following Monday’s hearing.
Critics, however, have accused the governor of selective application of the principle. The Orlando Sentinel noted that DeSantis has taken no action against so-called “constitutional” sheriffs who say they won’t enforce certain gun laws.
But he did act in 2019, suspending the Broward county sheriff, Scott Israel, a Democrat, for “neglect of duty”.
Warren said he believed a trial, which could begin as early as next month, would cut through any political posturing.
“This has always been a fight for democracy, and rule of law, and for elections,” he said.
“This is our fight for the truth. And now the people will get the truth because the governor is being forced to explain himself.
“Ultimately, he may be called to testify in court. The court was pretty clear that it wants to hear from the governor in terms of the explanations about the suspension to make sure that the reasons why I was suspended are consistent with Florida law, and with federal law.”
Warren said his reinstatement was not the sole objective of his lawsuit.
“I would have liked to be back in office already but there’s more at stake than just my job,” he said.
“Regardless of what party you belong to, or who you vote for, yours always matters. No elected official has the right to throw out anyone’s vote. And the governor here has tried to throw out the votes of hundreds of thousands of Floridians and overturn an election.
“If he gets away with it, what’s left of our democracy? What’s the point of having elections?”
Warren ran as a progressive when he unseated long-term incumbent Republican Mark Ober as Hillsborough county state attorney in 2016, and was re-elected with 53% of the vote four years later.
He immediately set about enacting policies that upset conservatives, the Tampa Bay Times reported, including a pledge to introduce programs to rehabilitate convicts and prevent recidivism.
According to Tampa’s Fox13, Susan Lopez, whom DeSantis appointed in Warren’s place, has already reversed several of his policies, including the reinstatement of a controversial law enforcement “bike-stop” measure that critics say unfairly targets minorities.