Ron DeSantis’s Ousting of Elected Official Sets a Dangerous Precedent

Florida Governor. Ron DeSantis made a shocking announcement: He was suddenly Andrew Warren suspendeda Hillsborough County (Tampa) elected chief prosecutor and outspoken critic to the governor. Warren was not given any warning and was escorted out of his office by an armed deputy.

The accompanying executive order, DeSantis accused Warren of “incompetence and willful defiance of his duties.” Although county prosecutors in Florida are elected and do not answer to the governor, DeSantis pointed to a statute in the Florida State Constitution that allows a governor to suspend elected officials “for reasons of misfeasance, malfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.” Historically, this power has almost exclusively been usedTo remove officials who have been convicted of felonies.

The governor cited two statements that Warren and other prosecutors in the country signed as evidence to support his claims: a June 2022 pledge not to use their offices’ “limited resources” to prosecute those who seek or provide abortion care, and a 2021 pledge not to criminalize transgender people or gender-affirming health care. DeSantis also mentioned Warren’s policy against bringing charges in cases arising from police stops of cyclists or pedestrians. This was to end the high number. “biking while Black” bike-stop chargesTampa

All three of Warren’s opinions cited by DeSantis — his support for access to legal abortion, the right to gender-affirming care and reducing unnecessary and racist policing — stand in direct opposition to the governor’s political goals. These and other issues have been a source of conflict between the two public officials over the years.

DeSantis removed Warren from his elected office and immediately appointed Susan Lopez his replacement. Lopez is a conservative Hillsborough County judge who is a member of the Federalist Society. This conservative legal organization believes in a literal interpretation and has six Republicans as members. Lopez has already repealed some of Warren’s reforms, including the bike-stop policy.

Warren is not going down easily. He is currently suing federal court for his reinstatement. He claims that his suspension violated his First Amendment rights and exceeded the powers granted to DeSantis by the Florida Constitution. The lawsuit has now been confined to the First Amendment question, which is within federal court’s jurisdiction. A trial is scheduled for November 29.

Warren states in his complaint that DeSantis hasn’t identified any case that he refused to prosecute. His office had not received any cases relating to abortion and Florida doesn’t currently criminalize transgender medical treatment.

Warren also claims that his demotion violates the will and aspirations of Tampa voters who elected Warren in 2016/2020. These voters were further marginalized when DeSantis handpicked his replacement, who lost Hillsborough County by nine points in the last gubernatorial elections.

“If DeSantis can arbitrarily suspend an elected official without one shred of evidence they have done anything wrong, how far will he go to punish anyone else who disagrees with him?” Warren wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times. “This abuse of power should shock every business owner, teacher, doctor, public servant — and every voter.”

Warren has received a favorable ruling thus far.

Meanwhile, the Florida State Senate, which is responsible for deciding whether to reinstate or permanently remove suspended officials, has halted hearings regarding Warren’s case, citing the ongoing lawsuit.

DeSantis uses his power to suppress Dissent

“It’s a very unusual case. And it’s a problematic case,” Bruce Green, director of the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics at Fordham University School of Law, told Truthout. Green is a signatory lead on one of many amicus briefs filed in support of Warren. Green’s brief was signed by 115 legal scholars whose work focuses on legal ethics, professional responsibility and criminal procedure.

“The concern is that prosecutors are going to have trouble, at least in Florida, exercising the independent, professional judgment and discretion that they were elected to exercise,” said Green. “Because they have a governor who is looking over their shoulder, and is potentially going to remove them from office if he doesn’t like the way they’re making decisions. And it certainly chills them from being candid with their electorates and with the public about how they view things.”

The brief warns that Warren’s suspension “runs counter to professional standards of conduct … usurps the will and power of the electorate, and eviscerates the carefully crafted separation of powers erected in the Florida Constitution.”

A group of scholars of Florida’s State Constitution filed an amicus brief in support Warren. They note the dangerous precedent that Warren’s removal could set for voting rights if allowed to stand, warning: “If Governors were permitted to suspend State Attorneys because of their prosecutorial priorities and replace them with attorneys whose priorities mirror their own, Florida’s electoral process for the office of State Attorney — and potentially all elected state officers — would be virtually meaningless.”

That brief’s signatories include members of a committee that approved revisions to the state constitution in 1997-1998, including the constitutional statute DeSantis used to justify the suspension. They note that none of DeSantis’s claims meet the legal definition of “neglect of duty” or “incompetence.”

Warren claims that his competency and performance of his duties had nothing to do in his suspension. DeSantis, however, has accused Warren of repeatedly removing him because of his partisan performance. DeSantis was allegedly removing him as a partisan performance. statement, the ousted prosecutor wrote: “Today’s political stunt is an illegal overreach that continues a dangerous pattern by Ron DeSantis of using his office to further his own political ambition.”

Interview with Boltsmagazine, Florida Rep. Anna Eskamani a Democrat, agreed. calling Warren’s suspension “a fascist approach to governing, if you can even call it governing.”

The evening before the suspension, DeSantis’s press secretary, Christina Pushaw, teased the announcement in a tweet, suggesting that the real intent was to stir up controversy: “MAJOR announcement tomorrow morning from @GovRonDeSantis. Prepare for the worst liberal media meltdown of the entire year. Everyone get some rest tonight.”

In recent years, Warren has increasingly criticized or attempted to mitigate DeSantis’s policies at the local level.

Floridians approved a ballot initiative to restore voting rights to most felonies-convicted Floridians. The following year, the governor signed a bill harshly limiting the initiative’s scope by requiring people to pay all court fines and fees before voting. (DeSantis currently goes even further. Florida citizens wrongly voting are being prosecuted(Before they were eligible. In 2019, Warren’s office responded by setting up a processTo assist residents in applying to have their debts forgiven for voting purposes.

Warren brought a case against Warren in March 2020 and April 2020. Warren was suing an evangelical pastor for holding crowded megachurch services at Tampa. DeSantis intervened abruptly adding an exception for church services in the statewide “safer-at-home order,”Which superseded any local orders. Warren criticized the action as “weak and spineless.”

And in 2021, Warren spoke out against DeSantis’s so-called anti-rioting bill,” which created a new, broad, vague definition of riotingIt could be used more easily to punish nonviolent members. The bill denied bail for people arrested at a “riot,” gave drivers civil immunity for running over protesters, and made it more difficult for cities to reduce police funding. Warren responded. said the law “tears a couple corners off the Constitution.” The bill has also been criticized by the United Nations. (DeSantis signed the bill into legislation in August 2021. However, a federal judge stopped major parts of the bill, including the definition of rioting, earlier this year because a lawsuit is ongoing.

A recent article in The Orlando Sentinel pointed out yet another indication that Warren’s suspension was politically motivated: Elected sheriffs throughout the state have pledged not to enforce gun control measures, without receiving any criticism from DeSantis — let alone suspensions for “neglect of duty.”

And Warren’s ouster fits with DeSantis’s history of punishing people who disagree with his politics.

Just weeks after Warren’s suspension, DeSantis suspended and replaced four school board membersBroward County is home to the sixth-largest and second-largest school districts in the United States.

DeSantis was in this instance responding to the resultsHe had also initiated a grand jury investigation into school safety concerns following the 2018 Parkland shooting at Marjory stoneman Douglas High School. The grand jury recommended that the school board members be removed for “incompetence and neglect of duty.” But instead of allowing the vacated seats to go up for general election, DeSantis once again took the opportunity to replace the ousted members, all of whom were Democratic women, with four Republican men of his own choosing.

DeSantis has pursued those who disagree with him. In April, he met with GOP legislators. punished Disney for speaking out against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law banning discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. His department for health was also involved. suspended an Orange County health officer In January, he sent an email to his staff encouraging them to get vaccinated.

DeSantis suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (a Democrat) in 2019 for failings in his deputies’ response to the Parkland School shooting. Although a special master appointed by the State Senate concluded there was not enough evidence to support Israel’s suspension, the Republican-controlled State Senate confirmed his removal anyway.

Retaliation against Reform-Minded Prosecutors

Warren was elected to office in 2016, and has implemented policies that have reduced the number children tried as adults. He also gave judges more discretion to waive excessive fines, fees, and established mental health courts. The Conviction Integrity unit has overturned at minimum 18 wrongful convictions.

After you have completed the following: 2016 Department of Justice investigation found that Black people made up 26 percent of the Tampa population and 73 percent of cyclists stopped by Tampa police, Warren’s office stopped bringing charges for offenses that resulted from non-criminal bike and pedestrian stops (such as “resisting without violence” charges).

These policies seem to be popular in Hillsborough County. Warren easily defeated his challenger for reelection 2020.

But The Marshall Project outlined a concerning trend earlier this year, noting that “from VirginiaTo MissouriTo Texas, conservatives have backed bills allowing the state to take over cases local district attorneys choose not to pursue, undermining the ability of elected prosecutors to carry out reforms that led voters to support them in the first place.”

DeSantis took this attack to a new height by removing Warren directly. Susan Lopez, his appointed replacement, was elected. immediately began rolling back Warren’s reformsIncludes the bike-stop policy. She also reversed his decision not to pursue death penalty in a pending case of murder.

For now, Warren’s chances of reinstatement hang on the federal lawsuit. Other chief prosecutors and elected officials from Florida will be closely following.

“Governors do not have the authority to disregard the autonomy and independence of prosecutors, nor are they entitled to undermine the will of the voters,” argued dozens of dozens of former judges and law enforcement officials, including three retired Florida Supreme Court justices, in yet another amicus brief in support of Warren’s lawsuit.

“Allowing governors to do so would upset the careful balance of roles and responsibilities delegated to local as well as state actors by state constitution, delegitimize our justice system, and erode public confidence in the operation of government and the integrity of the election process.”