DeSantis sued by Florida prosecutor he removed over abortion

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Aug 18, 2022, 1:39:54 AM8/18/22
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — An elected Florida prosecutor who was removed
from office by Gov. Ron DeSantis because of his positions on abortion and
transgender rights filed suit Wednesday to get his job back, saying the
Republican leader violated his First Amendment rights.

DeSantis said he suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew
Warren this month for signing a national pledge to not prosecute women and
doctors for violating state abortion laws or families seeking treatments
for transgender minors.

“If the governor's allowed to do this, what's left of democracy? If the
governor's allowed to retaliate against me for speaking out, what's left
of the First Amendment,” Warren asked at a news conference in Tallahassee.

The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis did not identify any actual conduct
involving criminal activity that would warrant a suspension and says the
governor is punishing Warren for voicing positions that DeSantis opposes.

DeSantis, criticized by Democrats for signing abortion restrictions and
bills seen as anti-LGBTQ into law, held a campaign-like event to announce
Warren's suspension where supporters cheered the decision. The governor's
office did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment Wednesday

Now seeking re-election in November and positioning himself as a potential
2024 presidential candidate, the governor cited Warren's “neglect of duty”
and other alleged violations.

In his executive order, DeSantis cited Warren’s policy of not pursuing
some lesser categories of crime, including “trespassing at a business
location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, and prostitution.”

The suspension was backed by several law enforcement officers including
Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who said Warren had been
acting as a kind of “supreme authority” to decide ”what crimes will be
legal or illegal in our county.”

Similar uses of prosecutorial discretion by progressives elected around
the country in recent years have prompted some pushback.

In San Francisco, voters in June recalled Chesa Boudin, a former public
defender who was elected district attorney in 2019 on a criminal justice
reform platform. Boudin faced criticism over rising crime after declining
to prosecute most drug offenses. A similar effort to recall the Los
Angeles D.A. failed to garner enough signatures this week.

Warren, who was elected in 2016 by Tampa-area voters and re-elected in
2020, said the governor is overturning the will of the people who put him
in office.

“The governor has attacked our democracy and it should worry everyone,"
Warren told reporters. "If the governor's attempt to unilaterally overturn
an election is allowed to stand, it threatens to undermine the integrity
and outcome of elections across our state for years to come.”

Warren described the pledge circulated by prosecutors around the country
as “a value statement," not a definitive decision on how he might handle
any particular case. He also noted that Florida's new ban on abortions
after 15 weeks of gestation has been ruled unconstitutional, and that the
state doesn't even have a law against hormone treatments for transgender

Warren's lawsuit says the suspension was retaliatory after he opposed the
governor on a number of issues, including DeSantis' efforts to deny the
restoration of voting rights for felons and create new crimes for public
protests in response to the Black Lives Matter movement as well as the new
abortion restrictions.

“Of course, DeSantis is free to express his views and his disagreements
with Warren as often as he likes. Indeed, the Federal Constitution ensures
that he is,” the suit says. “DeSantis went too far.”

The suit says Warren has an obligation to voters to say where he stands on
such issues, and that as a prosecutor, he has the right to decide how the
limited resources he has should be used to prosecute crimes. That priority
should be on public safety, it said.

“The First Amendment protects the right of elected officials to speak out
on matters of public controversy, and in fact it does so because it's so
important that the voters who choose these elected officials know where
they stand on these issues,” Jean-Jacques Cabou, a lawyer for Warren, said
in a phone interview.

Warren's suspension is now an issue in the governor's race as Agriculture
Commissioner Nikki Fried, the state's only statewide-elected Democrat, and
Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist enter the final week of the primary to
see who will challenge DeSantis.

“For this governor to weaponize his office and remove a state attorney — a
prosecutor — who has prosecutorial discretion over which cases he brings
forward and which he doesn't, this is the overreaching and overstepping of
this governor," Fried said at a campaign event Tuesday night. "It is the
most dangerous thing to our democracy that we have seen.”

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