A federal judge on Friday dismissed a lawsuit filed by an elected Florida state attorney who was ousted by Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) over the attorney’s commitment to not prosecute people seeking or providing abortions.
U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that DeSantis does not have to reinstate Andrew Warren (D), who the governor suspended for neglect of duty and incompetence in August after Warren pledged to not enforce bans on abortion and transgender surgery.
Hinkle criticized the suspension and found it violated the Florida Constitution, but he ruled that “relief cannot be awarded in this federal action based solely on a violation of state law.”
“He had no blanket nonprosecution policies,” Hinkle said of Warren. “Any minimally competent inquiry would have confirmed this. The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. This factual issue is not close.”
DeSantis in suspending Warren, the state attorney in Hillsborough County, cited statements the prosecutor signed indicating he would refuse to enforce “prohibitions on sex change operations for minors” and “any laws related to protecting the right to life.”
The statements in part took aim at a Florida law banning abortion at 15 weeks that took effect days after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
Warren sued DeSantis in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, demanding reinstatement and arguing his statements were protected speech under the First Amendment.
Hinkle ruled that the suspension was in part motivated by Warren’s protected speech but that DeSantis would have suspended Warren anyway based on other, unprotected factors related to his conduct as a prosecutor.
“Mr. Warren was indeed a reform prosecutor, exactly as he told voters he would be,” Hinkle wrote. “Disagreements about the proper prosecutorial approach are the stuff on which state-attorney elections properly turn. Disagreements like this are not the stuff on which suspensions properly turn.”
When reached for comment, DeSantis communications director Taryn Feske said, “today the court upheld the governor’s decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for neglect of duty and incompetence.”
The Hill has reached out to Warren’s attorney for comment.
Warren was first elected in 2016, when he defeated the Republican incumbent, and has been an outspoken voice for criminal justice reform.
“There’s so much more at stake here than my job,” Warren said in August after filing the suit.
“Ron DeSantis is hoping to get away with overturning a fair election, throwing out the votes of hundreds of thousands of Floridians,” he continued. “By challenging this illegal abuse of power, we can make sure that no governor can toss out the results of an election because he doesn’t like the outcome.”
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