Protesters in Tampa call DeSantis’ removal of Hillsborough state attorney ‘authoritarian’

Protesters in Tampa call DeSantis’ removal of Hillsborough state attorney ‘authoritarian’
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Protesters weathered a thunderstorm in Tampa Thursday night to protest Gov. Ron DeSantis’ removal of the county’s state attorney, Andrew Warren.

More than 40 people sheltered from the downpour under the concrete overhang of the Hillsborough County courthouse in downtown Tampa. As they waited to begin, a white pickup truck parked on the corner, its tires partially submerged, blared music and recordings of Warren’s campaign ads that were occasionally interrupted by the rattle of thunder.

The protesters’ numbers swelled as the clouds broke and speakers passed around the microphone. Supporters of both U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried — the frontrunners in the Democratic gubernatorial primary — attended.

DeSantis issued an executive order Thursday morning to oust Warren, effectively firing him. The order claimed Warren neglected his duties by signing letters pledging not to enforce laws that limit abortion or ban gender-affirming care for minors.

Speakers, including local leaders and representatives from the Hillsborough County Democratic Party, described DeSantis’ move as “authoritarian” and an abuse of his power. They argued the decision represented an attempt to remove a democratically elected political opponent, and that Warren had acted lawfully.

“We have a governor who is running over his political opponents,” Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell, the incoming leader of the Florida House Democrats, told those gathered at the rally. “Gov. DeSantis is an attorney. He knows better. We’re all trained in criminal law, and we know that our prosecutors have broad discretion.”

Warren, a Democrat, has been a sharp critic of DeSantis and his policies.

DeSantis’ order alleged Warren’s statements regarding abortion and gender-affirming care amount to blanket refusals to enforce state law, whereas prosecutorial discretion — the lawful right of prosecutors to decide when to bring charges — must be exercised on a case-by-case basis. Judge Susan Lopez, a former county prosecutor DeSantis named to the bench last year, will replace Warren.

Christie Hattersley, a member of the Fierce Tampa Warriors Facebook group, which helped organize the protest, said Warren was right to not prosecute abortion cases while questions remain about the ban’s legality under the state constitution. Florida Supreme Court precedent holds that abortion is protected under the state constitution’s guarantee of privacy.

Barring a brief injunction, the ban has been in effect since July 1, but it continues to face legal challenges.

“It’s a gross overreach of power,” Hattersley said in an interview with the Times. “If we let this happen, we’re giving him permission to go and do this across the state.”

Those comments echoed remarks Warren made at a news conference earlier in the afternoon. At that conference, Warren said the governor’s order is “pure conjecture and lies” and is an attempt to overturn the will of the voters who elected him Hillsborough’s state attorney.

Warren’s fate will fall to the Florida Senate, which will decide whether to remove him from office or reinstate him.