DeSantis taps county judge to replace elected Democrat as Tampa-area prosecutor

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended the elected state prosecutor of Tampa on Thursday for pledging not to enforce the state’s new 15-week abortion ban and for supporting gender transition treatments for minors.

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The Republican governor announced the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren at a news conference in the county’s sheriff’s office, teased a day before by DeSantis’s press secretary as likely to cause a meltdown among the mainstream media.

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“When you flagrantly violate your oath of office, when you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty, you have neglected your duty and you are displaying a lack of competence to be able to perform those duties,” DeSantis said to cheers among those assembled.

The suspension — tantamount to a firing, the Tampa Bay Times observed — comes as DeSantis runs for re-election in Florida and builds his national profile as a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate through near constant criticism of liberal policies on abortion, policing and other culture-war issues.

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Warren, a Democrat, was elected as state attorney by Hillsborough County voters in 2016 and in 2020. In a statement, Warren said “the people have the right to elect their own leaders — not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and again he feels accountable to no one.”

“The governor is trying to overthrow the results of a fair and free election, two of them actually,” he said later Thursday at a news conference. “People need to understand. This isn’t the governor trying to suspend one elected official. This is the governor trying to overthrow democracy here in Hillsborough County.”

Warren added that no cases regarding violations of the state’s new abortion law have been brought to his office.

As Warren’s replacement, DeSantis appointed a county judge, Susan Lopez, a former county prosecutor whom, the Tampa Bay Times noted, DeSantis named to the bench last year. She is a Federalist Society member, the Miami Herald reported,

In an executive order formally suspending Warren, DeSantis focused heavily on Warren’s signing of statements in which prosecutors from across the country said they won’t use their offices to pursue criminal cases against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments.

, ‘I’m not going to mince words: This is a shocking political attack on an elected official serving the people of Hillsborough County.’ ,

— Florida state Rep. Fentrice Driskel

More than 90 district attorneys, state attorneys general and other elected prosecutors across the US have signed the letter saying they don’t intend to prosecute people for seeking, providing or supporting abortions.

Some are in states with few or no restrictions on abortions. But others are in law enforcement in places where there are bans or deep restrictions — including the counties that include Birmingham, Ala., and Jackson, Miss., along with several of Texas’s biggest cities. In some cases, there might not be much to enforce because many clinics have either stopped offering abortions or have closed entirely.

Besides the statements from prosecutors, city councils in places including Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; and Boise, Idaho, have introduced or adopted measures telling law enforcement agencies to make abortion-related cases low priorities.

Florida’s new abortion restriction became effective July 1. It prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, with exceptions if the procedure is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life, prevent serious injury or if the fetus has a fatal abnormality. It does not allow exemptions in cases where pregnancies were caused by rape, incest or human trafficking.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks during a July press conference at the Tampa Police Department.

Lauren Witte/Tampa Bay Times/AP

Violators could face up to five years in prison. Physicians and other medical professionals could lose their licenses and face administrative fines of $10,000 for each violation.

Florida has not enacted laws criminalizing gender transition treatments for minors but “these statements prove that Warren thinks he has the authority to defy the Florida Legislature and nullify in his jurisdiction criminal laws with which he disagrees,” the executive order reads.

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The executive order also accuses Warren of having a “flawed and lawless understanding of his duties as a state attorney” in his “presumptive non-enforcement for certain criminal violations, including trespassing at a business location, disorderly conduct, disorderly intoxication, and prostitution. “

“The governor’s suspension of State Attorney Warren is not political to me. It’s about law and order. It’s about ensuring our loved ones are safe. It’s about the victims and their voices,” said Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. He said Warren has been acting as a kind of “supreme authority by reducing charges, dropping cases and singlehandedly determining what crimes will be legal or illegal in our county.”

Asked whether he’s overriding the will of the voters by suspending their choice for prosecutor, DeSantis said Warren’s conduct has fallen “below the standard of the Florida Constitution” and that he’s neglected his duty to state law.

“I don’t think the people of Hillsborough County want to have an agenda that is basically woke, where you’re deciding that your view of social justice means certain laws shouldn’t be enforced,” the governor said.

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Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and leader-designate of the Florida House Democratic Caucus, said Warren has been using his prosecutorial discretion appropriately.

“I’m not going to mince words: This is a shocking political attack on an elected official serving the people of Hillsborough County,” she said. “Andrew Warren is being removed because he assured our community that he will not be a foot soldier in Ron DeSantis’ extremist agenda.”

Said DeSantis-appointed replacement Lopez: “I have the utmost respect for our state laws and I understand the important role that the state attorney plays in ensuring the safety of our community and the enforcement of our laws,” Lopez said.

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