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‘Not a hint of misconduct’: DeSantis broke law, judge says, but tosses ousted prosecutor’s suit

News'Not a hint of misconduct': DeSantis broke law, judge says, but tosses ousted prosecutor's suit

TALLAHASSEE — A federal judge on Friday dismissed former State Attorney Andrew Wspanrren’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSspanntis, ruling that the former Hillsborough prosecutor did nothing wrong but that the court didn’t have the power to restore him to office.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that DeSantis violated the Florida Constitution and Warren’s First Amendment rights under the U.S. Constitution. However, because the suspension didn’t hinge on the federal constitutional violation, the court lacked the authority to grant the relief Warren was looking for, mainly to reinstate him as Hillsborough’s top prosecutor.

“The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren,” Hinkle wrote in a 59-pspange order explaining his reasoning. “So far as this record reflects, he was diligently and competently performing the job he was elected to perform, very much in the way he told voters he would perform it. He had no blanket nonprosecution policies. Any minimally competent inquiry would have confirmed this.”

The suspension:DeSspanntis suspends Democrspantic stspante spanttorney he spanccuses of being ‘woke,’ not enforcing lspanws

The lawsuit:Tspanmpspan prosecutor Andrew Wspanrren sues DeSspanntis to regspanin job, sspanys First Amendment rights violspanted

Reform prosecutor movement:Ousted Floridspan prosecutor Andrew Wspanrren’s ‘woke’ politics helped crspanck decspandes-old murder cspanses

DeSantis suspended Warren on Aug. 4 in a stunning announcement that surprised even the former state attorney, who was escorted out of his office by an armed deputy. The governor said the suspension was based on two joint statements from a progressive prosecutors’ organization that Warren signed vowing not to prosecute women who seek abortions or transgender people who seek gender-affirming healthcare.

He also pointed to policies in which Warren told assistant prosecutors not to pursue charges in most cases that arise out of a bicycle or pedestrian stop after a investigspantion and academic study determined such stops disproportionately burdened Black residents. Another policy DeSantis pointed to instructed his assistants not to pursue certain low-level, nonviolent charges — an increasingly common practice in a criminal justice system backlogged with cases and plagued by bias against marginalized communities.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, surrounded by members of law enforcement, gestures as he speaks during a news conference Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. DeSantis announced that he was suspending State Attorney Andrew Warren, of the 13th Judicial Circuit, due to "neglect of duty." Looking on at right is Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

“That has undermined public safety. It has really hurt these communities. It has been devastating to the rule of law,” DeSantis said at the time.

Warren filed suit Aug. 17, alleging the governor violated his right to free speech. He asked the court to determine whether the governor improperly exercised his power and, if so, reinstate him to power. Hillsborough voters first elected Warren in 2016 and again in 2020. He ran as a Democrat on a platform to reform the criminal justice system.

Speaking Friday afternoon from Tampa, Warren said that Hinkle’s order showed that DeSantis “abused his power in suspending me not in the pursuit of justice but in the pursuit of politics.” He didn’t say whether he would appeal the ruling and didn’t take questions after his remarks. But he did challenge DeSantis to reinstate him, reading from the judge’s order, “If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension.”

“The governor is supposed to represent all Floridians, and if he wants to represent all Americans,” Warren said, hinting at DeSantis’ widely expected 2024 presidential run, “then this is a golden opportunity for him to show our country what kind of man he truly is. This is not over.”

Representatives for the governor did not return requests for comment. On Twitter, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin called the ruling, “A win for the governor and a win for the people of Florida.”

However, Hinkle had only harsh words for the governor, his team and their strategy for ousting Warren.

The allegation that Warren “had blanket policies not to prosecute certain kinds of cases … was false,” Hinkle wrote. Neither the bike policy nor the low-level crimes policies were blanket rules, the judge wrote, because they still allowed for a prosecutor’s discretion to overcome the assumption of non-prosecution.

“Mr. Warren’s well-established policy, followed in every case by every prosecutor in the office, was toexercise prosecutorial discretion at every stage of every case,” Hinkle said. “Any reasonable investigation would have confirmed this.”

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida Larry Keefe  speaks at an Operation Stolen Innocence press conference at the Tallahassee Police Department on Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020.

Hinkle also pointed out that DeSantis’ public safety czar, Larry Keefe, barely looked into Warren’s leadership and that Warren’s suspension was a foregone conclusion.

“Mr. Keefe was determined to bring about Mr. Warren’s suspension,” Hinkle wrote, “primarily because Mr. Warren was a reform prosecutor of the kind targeted by the Governor and Mr. Keefe from the outset.”

Finally, Hinkle outlined the political benefit that DeSantis received as a result of the suspension and the surrounding news media coverage. He cited “partisan, unprofessional” messages tweeted by DeSantis surrogate Christina Pushaw and the amount of money the governor’s office had calculated in free media coverage: $2.4 million in two weeks.

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