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Decision in federal lawsuit challenging Andrew Warren ouster expected in coming days

'Democracy is on trial here,' Michael Adame, an attorney with the civil and human rights advocacy group the Public Rights Project, says
Posted at 6:45 PM, Dec 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-19 18:45:14-05

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A decision in the federal lawsuit challenging the governor's removal of State Attorney Andrew Warren is coming soon.

The suspended Hillsborough County prosecutor is seeking reinstatement to the elected post, saying Gov. Ron DeSantis exceeded his authority during the August suspension.

Just before gaveling out of the three-day trial on Dec. 1, Northern District Judge Robert Hinkle said he didn't have time to immediately review Warren's case. The President Bill Clinton-appointee expected his schedule would become clear after Dec. 19.

Warren's team said Monday it was expecting something in the next several days.

"We're holding our breath," Warren's spokesman said.

The trial, which began in late November, featured testimony from several high-ranking members of the governor's staff and Warren himself. It focused on whether DeSantis' August removal was justified as "neglect of duty."

In the governor's executive order, the Republican cited pledges Warren, a Democrat, signed vowing not to prosecute new restrictions on abortion and the criminalization of transgender health.

"When you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty," DeSantis said during the Aug. 4 news conference announcing the suspension. "You have neglected your duty, and you are displaying a lack of competence."

Warren has called the pledges free speech and nothing more than "values statements," not official policy. In court, he said he never rejected a case on either issue.

"Democracy is on trial here," Michael Adame, an attorney with the civil and human rights advocacy group the Public Rights Project, said.

Adame said the stakes were high and believed a win for Warren might be big enough to dissuade the governor from an appeal.

"I think he tried this for a media play," Adame said. "He's getting more pushback than he expected. I think he's a little embarrassed or surprised, and he may not want to risk an appellate decision slapping him down and saying, 'you can't suppress and attack the First Amendment that way.'"

The governor's office said Monday it didn't have anything new to offer to its previous statement about the Warren case.

"Governor DeSantis has a duty to hold Florida's elected officials to the standards of their oath of office," Press Secretary Bryan Griffin said Nov. 28. "Accordingly, Governor DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit due to his neglect of duty and incompetence. We maintain that the governor has the authority to suspend a state officer under Article IV, Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Florida."

Taking a loss and walking away would be quite a surprise for DeSantis. He has a history of pursuing appeals in many high-profile cases despite losses in lower courts.

His big tech "de-platforming" law is one of the most recent. In September, Florida's attorney general asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take a look after the law was found unconstitutional under the First Amendment.