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Former State Attorney Warren lays out appeal against suspension ahead of May hearing

DeSantis suspended Warren last summer, citing what he said was neglect of duty.

ATLANTA, Georgia — Meeting a March 13 deadline, suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren filed his opening brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit as he fights to get reinstated after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended him for “neglect of duty” last summer.

“This case concerns the illegal attempt by Governor DeSantis to nullify the results of two elections and retaliate for core political speech in violation of the First Amendment,” the brief reads.

In the 50-plus page brief, Warren’s legal team argues that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida misapplied governing law when it ruled in favor of DeSantis in January. A previous judge ruled DeSantis overstepped his bounds when he suspended Warren but said he did not have the legal authority to give Warren his job back.

Attorneys for Warren also accused the governor in 2021 of instructing his staff "to find prosecutors who advocated ‘woke’ viewpoints." The brief reiterates accusations that DeSantis instructed aide Larry Keefe "to identify any prosecutors in Florida who 'had Soros support' for their campaigns and espoused ‘so-called progressive’ ideas."

The brief says the search ultimately landed on Warren in June 2022 when Keefe allegedly learned Warren signed a statement on abortion. 

"At that point, Keefe...began 'beating down [the] door' of the General Counsel's Office insisting that the Governor's lawyers move to suspend Mr. Warren," the brief reads. 

Lucas Fleming, a Pinellas County attorney not affiliated with the case, said the public discourse over DeSantis’ decision to remove Warren from office is important, although it may be difficult for Warren to be reinstated.

“Certainly, I think it's important to have these kind of legal arguments to determine what violations of the Constitution occurred, what motivations were behind…taking him out of office, whether or not a governor could or should do that to someone who's elected and whether or not…Warren did enough to have the governor take him out of office — a pretty big step,” Lucas said.

“What I think might happen ultimately is that, you know, this kind of drags on and elections going to be here in no time, what, 2024? And it may well be just, ‘hey, listen, do you want your job back and run for it and then see if the voters are going to put you back in,” Lucas continued. “That that may well be the end result of all of this.”

10 Investigates reached out to DeSantis’ office for comment on the opening brief. A spokesperson said the response would be contained in legal filings. DeSantis’ legal team has until April to respond.

Oral arguments are set for the first week in May.

Emerald Morrow is an investigative reporter with 10 Tampa Bay. Like her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter. You can also email her at emorrow@10tampabay.com.

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