NATIONAL NEWS

Florida court won’t reinstate prosecutor removed by DeSantis for refusal to prosecute abortion cases

Jun 22, 2023, 11:20 AM

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday refused to reinstate a Florida prosecutor who was removed by Gov. Ron DeSantis after making comments opposing prosecutions for abortions or gender-affirming health care.

The state’s highest court ruled that Andrew Warren had waited too long to file a petition.

In a 6-1 decision, Florida’s highest court rejected the petition brought by Warren, a twice-elected state attorney for Florida’s Hillsborough County in the Tampa area. Warren claimed that DeSantis had misused his power.

Warren said that he was disappointed with the decision.

“This is an issue that is crucial for democracy in Florida,” Warren said in a statement. “Rather than addressing the substance of the governor’s illegal action, the Court cited a technicality and avoided a ruling on the merits of the case.”

The Republican governor last year suspended Warren, accusing him of neglect of duty and incompetence, after the Democratic state attorney signed statements, along with other prosecutors across the country, opposing criminal charges against abortion providers or women seeking abortions. He also said he wouldn’t prosecute people for providing gender-affirming health care, and his office’s policies didn’t charge people with some minor crimes.

Florida had a 15-week abortion ban at the time, and DeSantis earlier this year signed into law a ban on abortions after blocked portions of the new law.

DeSantis this spring launched a campaign for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.

Warren also challenged his removal in federal court, where he said that DeSantis punished him for being a dissenting voice, violating his constitutional right to free speech, and nullifying the election that brought Warren to office. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, in dismissing Warren’s lawsuit in January, wrote that federal law prevents him from returning the prosecutor to office. Warren has appealed that decision.

In its ruling, Florida’s highest court left open the possibility that the case could be reconsidered if a rehearing motion is filed and suggested that Warren could take his case before the Republican-dominated Senate.

But the ruling noted that Warren chose to take his case to federal court first instead of state court, and that there was a six-month gap between his suspension and when he filed his petition. The Florida Supreme Court could deny the petition not only based on the merits of the case but for other reasons, such as “a petitioner who unreasonably delays filing a petition,” the ruling said.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Jorge Labarga noted that Warren had been elected twice by voters in the Tampa area.

“Given that this case involves the suspension of a then-sitting elected official — for whom a substantial portion of the term yet remains — I am unpersuaded by the majority’s conclusion that Warren’s petition is properly denied on the ground of unreasonable delay,” Labarga wrote.

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