Republican Florida Gov, Ron DeSantis won one round in a court fight with suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, but the next round’s fate is uncertain.
On Monday, Judge Robert Hinkle of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida refused to reinstate Warren, an elected official who was suspended in August by DeSantis, according to WFLA-TV. Warren claims his First Amendment rights were violated by DeSantis.
The order focused on Warren’s policies not to prosecute “certain criminal violations, including trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication and prostitution,” DeSantis said in the executive order.
Warren has made no secret of his intentions to make his own decisions about the law, regardless of what state legislators might pass.
In June, after the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision putting abortion policy back in the hands of the states, he signed a statement with other prosecutors openly declaring that their interpretation of the public good superseded the judgment of those who are actually elected to enact laws.
“Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal healthcare decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people,” the statement said.
In his lawsuit, Warren claimed DeSantis staged a political stunt in suspending him, and he wants his job back on the grounds that DeSantis does not have the power to remove him from office.
Hinkle refused to reinstate Warren but said he had questions that needed to be resolved. He said the possibility of putting Warren back on the job only to have that overturned at the appellate level weighed upon his mind Monday.
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“The public isn’t served by yo-yoing this office,” Hinkle said, according to the Miami Herald.
Hinkle called for a trial date within four months to settle the matter “once and for all.”
DeSantis’s office issued a statement with its reaction.
“We are pleased that the court denied Andrew Warren’s request for a preliminary injunction. 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,” the statement said.
“We look forward to a trial on the merits,” Warren said after the hearing. “We look forward to, as the judge said, the governor having the opportunity to come in here to justify what he did.”
Florida Solicitor General Henry Whitaker, representing DeSantis and the state, said refusing to prosecute crimes is not protected by the First Amendment.
“Andrew Warren has no First Amendment right to say he will not do his job,” Whitaker said, according to WKMG in Orlando.
Whitaker also said DeSantis was well within his rights to take the action he did, according to the Miami Herald.
“The governor absolutely supervises state attorneys,” Whitaker said.
One expert said the case will be a landmark.
Jeff Brown, a legal expert and former prosecutor for Pinellas and Pasco counties said the issue of a governor’s authority over state attorneys is unclear, according to WTVT-TV.
“I think it’s going to set a precedent from here on out as to how much power does the governor have to be able to do this,” Brown told the station.
“I think what really got Andrew Warren into all this problem was you’re announcing a policy decision and saying what you won’t do before any of those factual cases are before you and I think that’s also one of the issues that are going here … And I think the governor is justified on [his criticism of] that.”