TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Attorneys for Gov. Ron DeSantis late Monday urged the Florida Supreme Court to toss out an attempt by suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to get reinstated, arguing the issue should be decided by the state Senate.
In a 56-page document, the attorneys wrote that a petition filed by Warren at the Supreme Court “presents quintessential political questions.” It also pointed to part of the Florida Constitution that gives the governor authority to suspend officials and the Senate power to remove them.
“This (Supreme) Court should now make clear what it has often implied: the validity of a suspension and removal is a non-justiciable political question,” the document said.
Warren filed the petition Feb. 15 at the Supreme Court, more than six months after DeSantis suspended him for alleged “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”
DeSantis pointed, in part, to a letter the twice-elected Democrat signed pledging to avoid enforcing a new law preventing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. Also, for example, DeSantis cited Warren's policies that could limit the prosecution of cases related to bicycle and pedestrian stops by police.
Before going to the Supreme Court, Warren filed a federal lawsuit challenging his ouster. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled that the suspension violated the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution, but Hinkle said he lacked the authority to reinstate the prosecutor. Warren has appealed Hinkle’s decision to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
In the Supreme Court petition, Warren’s lawyers argued that DeSantis overstepped his authority in issuing the suspension.
“This (Supreme) Court’s final determination that the governor exceeded his power under Florida’s Constitution by issuing the executive order is necessary for the proper function of Florida’s government both now and in the future,” Warren’s lawyers wrote.
But in addition to arguing that the issue should be resolved by the Senate, attorneys for DeSantis contended in Monday’s response to the petition that the suspension was justified.
“The governor suspended Mr. Warren because of non-prosecution policies that simultaneously revealed Mr. Warren’s neglect of duty and incompetence and reduced the deterrent effect of the criminal law in the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (the Hillsborough County circuit),” the document said.
In his Jan. 20 decision, Hinkle criticized DeSantis and the governor’s aides for failing to conduct a thorough investigation before ousting Warren.
“The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. This factual issue is not close … The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren,” Hinkle wrote.
But attorneys for DeSantis argued in Monday’s document that the Supreme Court should disregard Hinkle’s views.
“(The) federal court’s gratuitous assertions — including its remarkable choice to opine on whether the governor violated Florida law, despite appreciating full well that it lacked jurisdiction to adjudicate that issue — were not essential to its judgment and have no preclusive effect,” attorneys for DeSantis wrote.
The Senate has put its consideration of the suspension on hold while the legal wrangling continues.