A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed by the former Florida state attorney who sued Gov. Ron DeSantis for his suspension last year.
US District Judge Robert Hinkle said in his opinion Friday that DeSantis’ suspension of Andrew Warren, the state’s attorney removed from Hillsborough County, violates the Florida constitution, but that as a federal judge, he cannot rule against a state official based on a violation of state law.
The Republican governor abruptly fired Warren, a twice-elected Democratic official, in August, alleging that the Tampa attorney general had neglected the duties of the office by vowing not to use his office to prosecute people who seek to provide abortions or against doctors who provide abortion services. Gender affirmation sponsorship for transgender people.
Warren’s comment was a particularly notable example of DeSantis aggressively using his governors’ powers to escalate culture battles and raise his profile on the national stage. The state’s attorney general is a democratically elected position, and critics of the governor say his move to suspend Warren undermined the will of the Tampa-area voters who elected him as their top local attorney.
Warren, in his lawsuit, was asking the judge to reinstate him in the role.
But Hinkel rejected Warren’s arguments that DeSantis’ actions violated free speech protections in the US Constitution in a way that warrants the intervention of a federal court. Warren argued that he was suspended for protected speech — specifically, public statements he made in support of abortion and LGBT rights. While these statements, and the other factors leading to Warren’s suspension, were protected speech, DeSantis “would have made the same decision anyway, without even considering these matters,” Hinkel concluded, referring to Warren’s approach as a “plaintiff.” a reformer.”
“Violations of the First Amendment were not necessary to the outcome, and therefore Mr. Warren is not entitled to relief in this proceeding,” Hinkle said. “The comment also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation did affect the outcome. But the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory damages or an injunction of the kind 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 weighing the political benefits of firing Warren. The trial record also showed that an ally of DeSantis was tasked with finding correctional prosecutors whose approach conflicted with the governor’s views on law enforcement.
In a statement to CNN following Hinkle’s ruling, DeSantis spokeswoman Taryn Fensky said, “Today the court upheld the governor’s decision to suspend Andrew Warren from office for dereliction of duty and incompetence.” However, Hinkel’s ruling, which ran over 59 pages, was often critical of the governor’s action and did not conclude that Warren had elected his duty or appeared incompetent.
Hinkle said in his opinion that “there was no hint of misconduct on the part of Mr. Warren” in the trial record and that “the assertion that Mr. Warren had neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect”.
A spokesperson for Warren did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
This address has been updated.