It was going to be a good day for justice in Hillsborough County, Florida.
I was in my downtown Tampa office Thursday morning preparing for an important victory for our conviction-review unit. Its painstaking work had earlier freed a person wrongfully convicted of murder— and found new evidence to identify the real killers who were to be indicted that afternoon.
Then two men from the sheriff’s office and the governor’s office showed up. They handed me a document, told me Gov. Ron DeSantis had suspended me from office and ordered me to leave immediately. There was no warning, no moment allowed to read the governor’s executive order, no time to speak to my 300 team members.
Get out. Now.
I followed their directions as they escorted me out of my office and down the elevator. But I intend to return soon to keep doing the important work voters elected me to do: Ensure our community is safe and justice is served.
The governor’s illegal action is unwarranted and unconstitutional. It is a blatant abuse of power by a Republican governor intent on gaining national attention from the most extreme members of his own party as he looks to run for president in 2024. For DeSantis, this is all political theater — let’s look tough and kick out of office a prosecutor who is a Democrat and who has embraced effective criminal-justice policies he doesn’t like.
This circus stunt is about much more than DeSantis’ blind political ambition.
First, this governor has unleashed still another serious attack on democracy. I have been elected state attorney twice by Hillsborough County voters. No governor — and as we have seen, no president — is so all powerful they can set aside the results of fair elections. If voters determine I am not doing my job, they have a remedy. They can vote to replace me.
Second, DeSantis fundamentally and selectively ignores the discretion prosecutors have in setting priorities, deciding whom to prosecute for which crimes and ensuring equal justice for all. The prosecutors in my office make thousands of case-related decisions every day. The criminal-justice system would grind to a halt if independently elected state attorneys in Florida had no discretion in deciding how to best protect their communities and address the most pressing criminal issues.
Third, such a unilateral political attack without one shred of evidence that I have done anything wrong should send chills through every elected official and public servant. Will DeSantis arbitrarily remove elected school board members, law enforcement officers, firefighters or teachers who don’t share his political views? Will he remove an elected county property appraiser who sets home values too high for his liking? Or a Democratic state legislator who votes against one of his priorities?
DeSantis has fabricated these allegations of “neglect of duty’’ and “incompetence’’ based on what he is predicting I will do in the future rather than on my record. He cites statements I signed along with other prosecutors from around the country regarding gender-affirming care and restrictions on abortion rights — two of his pet political wedge issues.
These are value statements, where I expressed my opposition to laws that violate people’s constitutional rights. In fact, not one single case dealing with either of those issues has reached my desk — ever.
Here’s another fact: I took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Florida Constitution. I signed the statement regarding abortion rights when Roe v. Wade was still the law of the land. The Florida Constitution also has a privacy clause, and the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1989 that the privacy clause protects abortion rights. The new abortion restrictions that DeSantis signed into law clearly violate the Florida Constitution, and a court has already has found them unconstitutional. Ultimately, the fate of these new restrictions will be decided by the state Supreme Court.
As DeSantis plays presidential politics, he is playing with fire in undermining democracy in Florida by trampling over constitutional rights and the will of the voters. I will pursue every possible avenue to overturn his indefensible decision to remove me from the office. I will remain focused on delivering on the promises I made to Hillsborough voters: fighting violent crime, reducing recidivism and investing in safety through rehabilitation and prevention.
If DeSantis wants to set different priorities, he should give up his obsession with the White House and run for state attorney.
Andrew Warren was elected Hillsborough County state attorney in both 2016 and 2020.