A federal judge has thrown out a lawsuit filed by a former state prosecutor in Florida who sued Gov. Ron DeSantis for suspending him last year.
US District Judge Robert Hinkle said in his opinion Friday that DeSantis’ suspension of Andrew Warren, the ousted Hillsborough County state’s attorney, violated the Florida Constitution, but as a federal judge, he could not find against a state official based solely on the violation of State Law.
The Republican governor abruptly ousted Warren, a twice-elected Democratic official, in August, alleging that the Tampa prosecutor had neglected the duties of office by pledging not to use his position to prosecute people who seek and provide abortions or against physicians who provide gender-affirming care to transgender people.
Warren’s suspension was a particularly prominent example of DeSantis making aggressive use of his governor’s powers to escalate culture battles and raise his profile on the national stage. A state attorney is a democratically elected position, and critics of the governor say his decision to suspend Warren undermined the will of Tampa-area voters who chose him as their top local prosecutor.
Warren, in his lawsuit, asked the judge to reinstate him to office.
But Hinkle rejected Warren’s arguments that DeSantis’s actions violated the US Constitution’s free speech protections in a way that warranted federal court intervention. Warren had argued that he had been suspended for protected speech and, specifically, for public statements he made in support of abortion and LGBTQ rights. While those statements and other factors that led to Warren’s suspension were protected speech, DeSantis “would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things,” Hinkle concluded, noting Warren’s approach as a “fiscal reformer.” .
“The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and therefore do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action,” Hinkle said. “The suspension also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation affected the outcome. But the 11th Amendment prohibits a federal court from granting injunctive or declaratory relief of the type in question against a state official based solely on a violation of state law.”
Evidence presented at trial showed that the governor’s office was considering the political benefits of removing Warren. The trial record also showed that a DeSantis ally was tasked with finding reform prosecutors whose approach was at odds with the governor’s views on law enforcement.
In a statement to CNN following Hinkle’s ruling, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fenske said, “Today, the court upheld the Governor’s decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for dereliction of duty and incompetence.” However, Hinkle’s ruling, which spanned 59 pages, often criticized the governor’s action and did not conclude that Warren had chosen his duty or seemed incompetent.
Hinkle said in his opinion that “there was not a single hint of misconduct on the part of Mr. Warren” in the trial record and that “the assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect.”
A spokesman for Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This headline has been updated.