A Florida prosecutor has sued Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a bid to be reinstated after he was dismissed from his post for pledging he would not prosecute cases stemming from Florida’s 15-week abortion ban and potential bans on gender-affirming care.
Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren (D) argued his Aug. 4 suspension was unlawful on First Amendment grounds and characterized his removal as “retaliation” by DeSantis against a critic and political rival, according to a federal complaint filed Wednesday in the Northern District of Florida.
In a video message, Warren said that in addition to violating his free speech rights, DeSantis broke Florida law.
“He’s violated the Florida Constitution by removing me from office without any legal justification, throwing out the results of a fair and free election,” Warren said.
DeSantis’s office dismissed Warren’s federal complaint as “baseless.”
“It’s not surprising Warren, who was suspended for refusing to follow the law, would file a legally baseless lawsuit challenging his suspension. We look forward to responding in court,” a spokesperson for DeSantis said in a statement.
Warren has been in office since 2016 and was reelected in 2020 with more than 53 percent of the vote.
DeSantis suspending Warren and replacing him with a person of his choosing sets a concerning tone for democracy in Florida, Louis Virelli, professor of law at Stetson University College of Law, told The Washington Post.
“A small step from here is if I, as governor, don’t think a state attorney is being hard enough on a particular crime, I’m going to replace you with a person I prefer,” Virelli said. “It’s overriding voters’ choice.”
Virelli said the complaint is one of the few options available to Warren if he wants to keep his job.
Part of Warren’s argument in the complaint is that the Florida Constitution limits removal to true incompetence or inability to do the work and violation of a legal obligation.
“Warren is being punished for what he said and not what he did,” Virelli said.
Shortly after Warren’s suspension, his office’s chief communications officer was told she had to resign and be paid through the month — or be fired on the spot.
Melanie Snow-Waxler, who started her role in the state attorney’s office in May, was terminated Aug. 12.
“This illegal firing is part of a troubling pattern of retaliation,” her attorney, Ryan Barack, said in a statement this week.
DeSantis and Warren are ideological opposites who have publicly sparred over topics like abortion, covid restrictions, and criminal justice and transgender rights.
In June, the day that the Dobbs v. Jackson ruling was handed down, effectively ending the federal right to abortion access, Warren joined dozens of prosecutors around the country in signing a pledge that they would “refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.”
In 2021, Warren signed a similar joint statement with other elected prosecutors affirming that health-care decisions should be “private discretion” and said they would not use their office to “promote the criminalization of gender-affirming health care or transgender people.”
DeSantis’s administration has pursued aggressive policies to increasingly restrict medical treatments like puberty blockers and hormone therapy; just last week, the state barred people from using Medicare coverage to help pay for gender-affirming care.
Since Warren’s suspension, he and DeSantis have disagreed over the nature of the suspension. While Warren characterized his suspension as “temporary” in his filing, DeSantis’s office has said Warren is no longer the state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County after the governor appointed Susan Lopez, a Republican judge who backed Warren’s opponent in 2016.