Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspends Tampa state attorney for 'woke' approach to social justice and abortion

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures as he speaks during a news conference Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa, Florida. DeSantis announced that he was suspending State Attorney Andrew Warren, of the 13th Judicial Circuit, due to "neglect of duty."
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.Chris O'Meara/AP Photo
  • Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended a state attorney on Thursday.

  • The state attorney, Andrew Warren, recently said he wouldn't enforce Florida's 15-week abortion ban.

  • Warren has also supported progressive criminal-justice reforms.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he was immediately suspending a Democratic state attorney for refusing to enforce some of Florida laws, including the state's new abortion ban.

The prosecutor, Andrew Warren, was elected twice since 2016 to represent Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa Bay. During his time in office, he has implemented progressive criminal-justice reforms, including prioritizing violent crime and decreasing the number of people arrested and incarcerated for first-time, nonviolent offenses.

The Florida Politics website called Warren a "social justice warrior" after he opposed expanding Florida's anti-riot laws and refused to prosecute people who were protesting racism and police brutality following George Floyd's murder by Minneapolis police.

DeSantis, a Republican, accused Warren of selectively picking which laws to enforce during his tenure. The order from the governor's office cited a letter Warren signed saying he would not enforce laws that prohibit transgender care for minors.

"We don't elect people in one part of the state to have veto power over what the entire state decides on these important issues," DeSantis said at a press event flanked by Tampa sheriffs.

Florida does not have a ban on transgender care for minors, though the state health department discourages it. State legislators may eventually pursue a restriction, DeSantis said, adding, "You are going to say presumptively you can't do it?"

Warren called DeSantis' actions an "illegal overreach" in a statement issued Thursday afternoon, accusing the governor of a "dangerous pattern" of "using his office to further his own political ambition." Hillsborough County voters had the right to elect local officials representing their views, he said.

 

Warren won't receive pay during his suspension and it's not clear how long it will last. The state Senate can hold hearings or an investigation, and has the power to either remove Warren from office or exonerate him.

DeSantis said he did not have a discussion with Warren before making his decision, but spoke with other state officers. Other areas of Florida didn't have the same complaints, he said.

"I don't think the people of Hillsborough County want to have an agenda that is basically woke when your view of social justice is that certain laws shouldn't be enforced," he said.

The Warren suspension was for "neglect of duty," according to a release from the governor's office. Judge Susan Lopez of Hillsborough County will serve as state attorney during Warren's suspension.

"We really believe this is a law-and-order state," DeSantis said. "We are not going to back down from that one inch."

Chad Chronister, the Hillsborough County sheriff, said at the press conference that law-enforcement officers were frustrated with Warren. He called Warren "intently focused on empathy for criminals and less interested in pursuing justice for crime victims."

Brian Dugan, a former Tampa police chief, called Warren a "fraud."

"We should not be here," Dugan said. "We should have someone who did their job."

But Democrats came to Warren's defense. Nikki Fried, Florida's agriculture commissioner who is running for the Democratic nomination for governor, blasted DeSantis in a statement. 

"This is a politically motivated attack on a universally respected state attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion," she said. "Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully. He's doing this because he wants to be dictator, not a governor of Florida." 

Rep. Charlie Crist, who is also running for governor as a Democrat, called DeSantis a "wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first" and called his actions "a flagrant abuse of power."

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, right, speaks during a news conference Monday, June 15, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. Warren announced his decision not to prosecute dozens of protesters arrested on charges of unlawful assembly during a Black Lives Matter march on June 2. Looking on is visionary leader Bishop Thomas Scott.
Andrew Warren, the Hillsborough County state attorney, was suspended by DeSantis on Thursday for refusing to enforce some Florida laws.Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

Florida passed a 15-week abortion ban

Warren said in June that he wouldn't enforce Florida's anti-abortion laws. Florida's newest abortion ban makes it illegal to terminate a pregnancy after 15 weeks, including in cases of rape or incest. The law is currently in place, though it is being contested in court.

Warren was among 83 prosecutors who signed a letter this summer promising not to prosecute abortion bans. The letter came in response to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationally. The Supreme Court overturned the ruling in June, turning decisions on abortion laws over to the states.

"Not criminalizing a decision that mothers make with her families, with her doctors, enforcing arbitrary bans on abortion, enforcing a law that doesn't actually promote public safety, is something that prosecutors should not be doing," Warren said, according to Fox 13.

Florida's Democratic Party chair, Manny Diaz, said in a statement that Warren is an "exceptional public servant" who's "following the letter of the law" on abortion because Florida's constitution includes the right to privacy. He called DeSantis' actions an "offensive power grab." Warren also chairs the state Democratic Party's Safety and Justice Task Force.

DeSantis singled out Warren's opposition to the abortion law but said the state attorney refused to enforce other laws. Warren criticized DeSantis in January when he proposed creating a new election-crimes agency, which the state legislature passed in March.

"When you say you are not going to enforce laws you don't like, that's a neglect of duty," DeSantis said. The governor's office said the state's constitution gives DeSantis authority to suspend Warren, pointing to language saying the governor can suspend "any county officer" for "malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony."

DeSantis is up for reelection in November, and anti-abortion advocates tend to side with Republicans. Rumors have swirled that DeSantis will run for president in 2024, largely due to his high-profile clashes with the Biden administration, massive campaign war chest, and frequent national headlines.   

This story has been updated to include comments from Andrew Warren as well as additional details about the suspension. 

Read the original article on Business Insider