Former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren filed a federal civil rights lawsuit today against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) to try and retain his job after DeSantis ousted the prosecutor for alleged neglect of duty.
DeSantis announced in an August 4 press conference, flanked by local law enforcement, that he was suspending Warren after the state attorney signed letters saying he would not enforce state laws restricting abortion or transition-related medical care to transgender minors.
"Our government is a government of laws not a government of men and what that means is that we govern ourselves based on a constitutional system and based on the rule of law," DeSantis said at the press conference. "But yet we've seen across this county over the last few years individual prosecutors take it upon themselves to determine which laws they like and will enforce and which laws they don't like and then don't enforce."
Warren's lawsuit says the ouster violated his First and 14th Amendment rights and that he filed the suit to confirm "that the Constitution of the State of Florida means what the courts say it means, not whatever DeSantis needs it to mean to silence his critics, promote his loyalists, and subvert the will of the voters."
The suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, seeks to have DeSantis' order rescinded, Warren reinstated, and a permanent injunction issued against DeSantis from retaliating further. The lawsuit notes that the letters Warren signed did not reference any specific Florida laws, nor were there any such cases pending before Warren.
Warren was elected twice by Tampa-area voters as Hillsborough County State Attorney for the 13th Judicial District, where he carved out a reputation as a progressive prosecutor. He started a conviction integrity unit to root out and overturn sloppy convictions. He also announced his office would no longer pursue "resisting without violence" charges, an offense that had become derisively known as "biking while black" because it was overwhelmingly applied against black bicyclists. The move came after the Justice Department released a 2016 report that found that 75 percent of bicyclists stopped by Tampa police were black.
Warren's replacement, Susan Lopez, announced in an office memo that she was rescinding that policy and resuming enforcement, outraging the local chapter of the NAACP.
"Why would you go back to such a policy that continues to institutionalize and continues to perpetuate systemic racism?" NAACP Hillsborough chapter president Yvette Lewis said. "It takes us way back. Erases all of the conversations that we had."
As a practical matter, prosecutors decide every day which laws to enforce, which statutes to apply, and which charges to drop in exchange for plea deals. However, progressive prosecutors around the country have faced retaliation and challenges from state legislatures and local law enforcement after categorically refusing to to charge some crimes, such as possession of trace amounts of drugs or other low-level crimes.
It is interesting to note which law enforcement leaders were flanking DeSantis at his Aug. 4 press conference, eager to play their part in front of the cameras to paint Warren as soft on crime. One of those officers was Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who started a "predictive policing" program that is now the subject of both a Justice Department probe and a federal civil rights lawsuit after a Tampa Bay Times investigation found police endlessly harassed residents who ended up on the sheriff's list.
DeSantis was also flanked by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, who once said on Fox News that marijuana is "killing people every day." As Radley Balko noted in The Washington Post, murders have surged in Judd's district, much more than in Warren's, despite Judd's decidedly un-woke politics.
The Florida Senate will ultimately have the power to remove or retain Warren, but the Republican-controlled chamber often moves in lockstep with DeSantis.