Florida

Litigation between ousted Hillsborough prosecutor and Florida governor begins

Suspended Hillsborough County Attorney Andrew Warren took the stand in Tallahassee, where he is fighting to get his job back.

His case against Florida Gov. Ron Desantis finally comes before a judge on Tuesday. The saga all began in August when DeSantis removed Warren from office for alleged “deprivation of duty,” but Warren argues he was unlawfully removed. Warren is suing to be reinstated as Hillsborough County’s attorney and now both sides will go to court on Tuesday.

During testimony, Warren testified that on Aug. 4 he received an email from the governor’s office that said, “You have been suspended.” Warren said he rushed back to his office and got his chief of staff over informed by email.

Minutes later there was a knock on his door. A man who introduced himself as Larry Keefe, the governor’s czar for public safety, and two deputies showed up to escort him from his office. Warren said he received a written order from the governor but didn’t give him time to read it.

During the opening statement, the DeSantis legal team informed the judge that Warren had been suspended for dereliction of duty and incompetence. Emails between DeSantis employees were also presented in court, including a celebratory post-suspension exchange for the free media it had collected, totaling over 2.4 million.

FROM AUGUST: Gov. DeSantis Suspends Hillsborough Prosecutor Andrew Warren For ‘Lesson Of Duty’

A video clip of Tucker Carlson and the DeSantis was later played to the judge. In the FOX interview, the governor refers to Warren as a “Sorros prosecutor” who chooses which laws to enforce. He’s referring to Democratic billionaire George Sorros, who is often a political target for conservatives.

Warren’s team also played the only television interview he gave after signing the abortion pledge to FOX 13 News. In the story, Warren pointed out that the pledge he signed was a “value” statement and not a blanket policy. He said each case will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis for facts and merits.

TIED TOGETHER: Hillsborough prosecutor promises no charges against abortion patients and doctors

District Court Judge Robert Hinkle is set to rule on the facts in a bank case that is expected to last throughout the week.

The decision to essentially fire the prosecutor came after Warren vowed not to press charges against women who have abortions or those in gender-affirming care. On the day his suspension was announced, DeSantis said Warren signed letters in 2021 saying he would not enforce laws banning underage gender reassignment surgery.

“The role of the prosecutor is to apply and enforce the law, not choose which laws you like and which laws you don’t like,” he said at the time. “This is a law and order state. We will not back down from this one inch. We will not allow the local elected people to veto what our state has enacted through our legislative process.”

But Warren argues that the governor never had reason to kick him out in the first place. The suspended prosecutor said he was fired for something he said, not something he did. No case involving these problems ever made it onto his desk.

He goes further and says he feels the governor was just trying to punish him for speaking up and violating his First Amendment rights.

TIED TOGETHER: Andrew Warren’s suspension process could be messy for Gov. DeSantis, state attorneys say

Experienced constitutional attorneys have said it will depend on the judge’s decision to ultimately determine the governor’s motive.

“The simple fact is that the governor is saying, ‘You will be removed.’ That’s a simple fact,” said Bruce Rogow, constitutional scholar and professor. “The more complicated fact is why did you remove it? If the answer is, ‘I removed it because I didn’t like what it said,’ well, that’s a violation of the First Amendment.”

“It’s quite an extraordinary thing for the governor to take matters into his own hands and decide that this person should not be in office after being elected twice,” he added.

MORE: ‘I’m Tough’: Meet the newly appointed Hillsborough prosecutor to replace ousted Andrew Warren

Warren said he believes the governor silenced the people of Hillsborough County, but the governor’s team believe Desantis had the right to make the decision he made.

Now, Warren’s attorneys have said they don’t plan to ask DeSantis to testify at trial, but it’s possible they might during a rebuttal. If this is the case, they must obtain the judge’s approval.

The case went before a judge in Tallahassee on Tuesday morning. The process should take all week.

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