Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution when he suspended a progressive Tampa-area state attorney, a federal judge ruled today, but the judge found he did not have the authority to reinstate the prosecutor.
U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Florida Robert Hinkle pilloried the DeSantis administration's flimsy justifications and partisan motivations for suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, one of the most prominent progressive prosecutors in the state.
"In short, the controlling motivations for the suspension were the interest in bringing down a reform prosecutor—a prosecutor whose performance did not match the Governor's law-and-order agenda—and the political benefit that would result," Hinkle wrote in his order. "The actual facts—whether Mr. Warren actually had any blanket nonprosecution policies—did not matter. All that was needed was a pretext to justify the suspension under the Florida Constitution."
However, although Hinkle found that the DeSantis administration's reasons for removing Warren were specious and included protected First Amendment speech—such as being affiliated with the Democratic Party progressive megadonor George Soros—DeSantis would have removed Warren anyway for unprotected conduct. Hinkle also ruled that as a federal judge, he had no authority under the 11th Amendment to grant Warren relief in a dispute against the state over a violation of state law. Hinkle dismissed the lawsuit.
During the September trial in Warren's lawsuit, it became clear that the DeSantis administration's investigation mostly consisted of asking Florida sheriffs and police chiefs which state attorney they disliked the most. The so-called nonprosecution policies that DeSantis cited, Hinkle found, were rather routine exercises of prosecutorial discretion.
"The record includes not a hint of misconduct by Mr. Warren. So far as this record reflects, he was diligently and competently performing the job he was elected to perform, very much in the way he told voters he would perform it," Hinkle wrote. "He had no blanket nonprosecution policies. Any minimally competent inquiry would have confirmed this. The assertion that Mr. Warren neglected his duty or was incompetent is incorrect. This factual issue is not close."