TAMPA, FL (September 1, 2022) – State leaders who approved the section of the Florida Constitution used by Gov. Ron DeSantis to suspend State Attorney Andrew Warren have told the Court that the suspension is an illegal overreach that flies in the face of the limited power they intended.
Members of Florida’s 1997–98 Constitution Revision Commission explain, “the Governor’s allegations are nowhere near sufficient” to meet the high standard for suspending an elected official they laid out when they revised that portion of the state constitution 25 years ago.
The governor’s power is not “arbitrary”—it is “guarded by constitutional limitations which should be strictly followed,” they wrote, citing Florida Supreme Court precedent from 1934.
“If Governors were permitted to suspend State Attorneys because of their prosecutorial priorities and replace them with attorneys whose priorities mirror their own, Florida’s electoral process for the office of State Attorney—and potentially all elected state officers—would be virtually meaningless,” they added.
Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, former American Bar Association President Martha Barnett, and former Fair Districts Florida Chair Ellen Freidin are CRC members who joined with constitutional scholars to file an “amicus brief” with federal Judge Robert Hinkle. Amicus or “friend-of-the-court” briefs come from third parties that wish to offer a judge their unique perspective on a legal case.
Judge Hinkle is overseeing the legal challenge filed by Warren to overturn DeSantis’ suspension. Warren is the twice duly elected state attorney for Hillsborough County/Tampa, Florida; DeSantis issued an order suspending him on August 4 and Warren filed suit to reverse the illegal order on August 17. The response to the lawsuit from DeSantis’ legal team is due Friday.
This new amicus brief joins two others filed in the past week that outline additional reasons DeSantis’ act is illegal and dangerous.
More than 60 judges, prosecutors, and legal leaders—including three former Florida Supreme Court justices—convey in their brief that suspending Warren “erodes confidence in the administration of justice” by ousting the voters’ twice-elected choice and limiting his independent judgment to do the job he was elected to do.
They explain that DeSantis’ order creates the risk that any state attorney can be suspended if a governor disagrees with the priorities of the state attorney and the voters; it would have chilling effect on prosecutorial independence and “strip communities of their prerogative” to elect leaders who will exercise judgment in way communities want.
"Prosecutorial independence—the authority to decide whom and what to charge and how to use inherently limited resources—is a hallmark of our legal system and the pursuit of justice. No prosecutor has the resources to pursue every violation of the law, nor should they endeavor to do so. In carrying out those weighty decisions around the use of limited resources, elected prosecutors are ethically bound to pursue just results, protect fundamental rights, and serve as ministers of justice in their communities," they wrote.
They add that erosion of trust caused by the governor’s abuse of power endangers public safety by making it less likely people report crimes, cooperate as witnesses, and accept the authority of police and the judicial system.
A group of 115 legal scholars from across the country with expertise in legal ethics, professional responsibility, and criminal procedure filed an amicus brief of their own. They contend that Warren not only has a First Amendment right to speak out on important issues, but he has a responsibility to do so as an elected official.
While DeSantis cited Warren’s value statements on abortion and gender-affirming care as reasons to suspend him, the academics explain that those statements are “consistent with State Attorney Warren’s professional duty to actively participate in efforts which he believes stimulate reform or improvement of the criminal justice system.”
“Suspending State Attorney Warren for what can only be characterized as purely partisan reasons… runs counter to professional standards of conduct, usurps the will and power of the electorate, and eviscerates the carefully crafted separation of powers erected in the Florida Constitution,” they wrote.
To cover the costs of his court fight to reverse DeSantis' abuse of power, Warren has established a legal fund. Contributions can only be used for expenses directly connected with Warren’s legal case and are not tax deductible. Under Florida law, contributions above $100 will be reported on Warren’s quarterly gift disclosure form. Learn more about the Andrew Warren Legal Fund or contribute at AndrewWarrenFL.com.
Grayson Kamm | Media and Public Affairs Consultant
Catalyst Communications Group
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