DeSantis suspends Hillsborough state’s attorney; politicians, lawyers react
TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Hillsborough State’s Attorney Andrew Warren was suspended, effective immediately, by Gov. Ron DeSantis Thursday morning. Citing Warren’s positions on prosecuting residents for seeking abortions or gender-affirming care for minors, DeSantis removed Warren from his position, temporarily for now.
Although Warren was not fired, DeSantis said his use of so-called prosecutorial discretion and the signing of two letters pledging not to prosecute in the 13th Judicial Circuit, prompted the governor to exercise his executive power and to expel him from office and suspend his salary. .
“Our government is a government of laws, not a government of men, and that means we govern ourselves based on a constitutional system and based on the rule of law,” DeSantis said. “What we’ve seen over the past few years is that individual prosecutors are taking it upon themselves to figure out which laws they like and will enforce, and which laws they don’t like and don’t enforce.”
DeSantis said it had “catastrophic” results in places like Los Angeles, Cali. and San Francisco, saying the policies have been “devastating to the rule of law”, in addition to harming communities and undermining public safety. He said that upon “seeing this happening” across the United States, he asked his staff to review prosecutors in Florida to see where it might be happening in the Sunshine State. Officials spoke with Florida prosecutors and law enforcement during the review process.
“It’s all back in this Hillsborough County 13th Judicial Circuit area,” DeSantis said. “The response we’ve received has been a lot of frustration, from law enforcement, as criminals are released and crimes go unprosecuted.”
The governor cited letters that Warren signed, which DeSantis said pledged “not to enforce any ban on sex reassignment for minors.” The governor said Warren’s position was “that whatever the legislature does in the state of Florida, he’s going to exercise a veto over that,” and have a “deemed non-enforcement” policy, which , according to DeSantis, was not compatible with the job a prosecutor is required to do. In June, after the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade by the Dobbs decision, DeSantis said Warren pledged not to enforce any “right to life” abortion laws in Florida.
As a result, DeSantis chose to suspend Warren, the state’s attorney and attorney, for “publicly putting himself above the law.” The governor said Warren had been suspended, with an end goal of impeachment or termination from office.
Reactions to the decision came from all aisles of politics and criminal justice, with area sheriffs praising the choice and some politicians and candidates attacking DeSantis for it.
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister was among the move’s supporters and was on hand for the announcement in Tampa. Chronister thanked the governor, praising his efforts on behalf of Florida.
“We are committed to apprehending the criminals who prey on the law-abiding citizens of our community, it is our duty and we hope that our criminal justice system, the state’s attorney and the public defender will rule on the circumstances. and will hold the culprits accountable,” Chronister said.
He said Warren’s suspension “isn’t political for me, it’s a matter of law and order” and making sure everyone’s loved ones are safe.
“For the past several years, State’s Attorney Warren has acted as the arbiter of all, as if he were some sort of supreme authority,” Chronister said. He said Warren “lowered the charges, dropped the cases, and single-handedly determined what crimes would be legal or illegal in our county.”
Chronister detailed a case in September 2021, where a suspect shot someone and then opened fire on a residence where the victim “sought refuge and protection.” Nearby, Chronister said another family was waiting in a vehicle. The suspect was identified and arrested, then released from prison. When the suspect was arrested again for burglary, Chronister said Warren refused to press charges.
“My point is, like too many cases, why was this violent offender not held accountable for the original shooting?” asked Chronoster. “The attorney general’s office’s explanation to our detective is that the depositions would have been too long and complicated.”
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd also spoke out in favor of the suspension.
“I can tell you that I’ve done this job all my adult life. I remember, Governor, when criminals owned Florida. It was in the 70s and 80s. I remember it well. I was one of the cops on the street when we couldn’t keep felons locked up, we couldn’t keep felons locked up,” Judd said. “And they attacked the community.”
He said they weren’t going after residents of gated communities, but “real workers”. Then the laws were changed so they could hold criminals accountable, Judd said.
“We have a dumpster fire in this country,” Judd said, sheriffs told him. “And you know who gets burned in that dumpster fire? The workers. Judd said it was areas like New Orleans, Louisiana, Los Angeles, California and Chicago, Illinois, among others, that had prosecutors who had signed the same pledges as Warren. Judd said these areas have the highest murder rates in the country and criminals are not held accountable.
However, while law enforcement officers meeting in Hillsborough with the governor supported the suspension, not all Floridians agree. There is an announced plan to hold a rally in Tampa on Thursday night in support of Warren. Several Democratic politicians, including both Democratic candidates for Florida governor, have already weighed in on the suspension, accusing DeSantis of overstepping his constitutional powers.
U.S. Representative and gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist said DeSantis was “a budding dictator” putting politics before the needs of average Florida residents. He noted in his statement on the suspension that Warren was elected twice by Florida voters “because of his commitment to safety and justice for all,” while DeSantis’ latest action against Warren was “a flagrant abuse of power”. Warren took office in 2016 and was re-elected in 2020.
Crist was not alone in his comments. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, another Democratic gubernatorial candidate, said the decision was “a politically motivated attack on a universally respected state attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.” , and called DeSantis a “pathetic bully” who “wants to be a dictator, not a governor of Florida.
Leaders of the organization Fair and Just Prosecution, who wrote the two letters Warren signed, also weighed in for WFLA.com in response to the suspension.
Governor DeSantis’ suspension of District Attorney Andrew Warren is an unprecedented and dangerous intrusion into the separation of powers and the will of voters. Since our nation’s founding, prosecutorial independence — and the autonomy to decide who and what to charge with inherently limited resources — has been a hallmark of the American criminal justice system.
Governors do not select elected prosecutors, the voters do. With this outrageous overspending, Governor DeSantis sends a clear message that the will of the people of Hillsborough County matters less than his own political agenda.
Prosecutors have a duty to uphold the interests of justice and use their limited resources to investigate and prosecute the crimes that cause the most harm to communities. No prosecutor can charge or prosecute all violations of the law, and for decades prosecutors have made those choices. Only now, as some seek to be smarter and focus on the most serious crimes, do we see some politicians launching fear-based attacks on prosecutorial discretion.
Miriam Aroni Krinsky, Founder and Executive Director, said in part
FJP’s statement went further, saying that DeSantis’ actions caused delays in Warren’s performance of duty, referring to a now-cancelled event related to the SAO’s Conviction Review Unit and the exoneration of a previously incarcerated suspected murderer. The cold case at the center of that exemption was due to have a briefing on new developments on Thursday afternoon, but the office said it had been cancelled.
“Using prosecutorial discretion and not pursuing unjust laws is not a dereliction of duty, but a fierce commitment to justice. We are proud to stand with SA Warren against the Governor’s blatant power grab,” Krinsky said, closing the statement to WFLA.com.