Federal Judge Rejects Former Prosecutor Andrew Warren’s Call for DeSantis to Testify in Suit
A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis will not have to testify over his decision to suspend Hillsborough County prosecutor Andrew Warren, who has since sued the Governor on First Amendment grounds, although the decision could be revisited during the trial set to start next week.
In August, DeSantis explained that he fired Warren because he “put himself publicly above the law” by refusing to enforce many of Florida’s laws, including limiting abortions and banning ‘sex-changes’ for children. DeSantis argued that this was a fundamental refusal by Warren to do his job and forced his hand.
“Our government is a government of laws, not a government of men. When you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty[…] We don’t elect people in one part of the state to have veto power over what the entire state decides on these important issues.”
Warren, however, sued, arguing the suspension was a politically motivated violation of his first amendment rights. The evidence? Initially, Warren pointed to the fact DeSantis cited Warren’s firing on the campaign trail as an example of his commitment to law and order, even in the face of ideology.
US Federal Judge Robert Hinkle rejected Warren’s initial petition to be reinstated while the suit worked through the court system but accelerated the process. Warren’s legal team also moved to require DeSantis or James Uthmeier, the Governor’s chief of staff, to appear, contending their testimony was necessary to ascertain their motives for firing Warren. The Governor’s legal team disagreed, arguing that there was plenty of evidence of DeSantis’s motivations that rendered testimony unnecessary.
During a pretrial telephone conference, Hinkle agreed with the Governor’s team. Warren’s lawyers said that while they had no plans to call the Governor, they may attempt to do so based on DeSantis’s team’s arguments. Hinkle acknowledged the comment but added, “I think it’s very unlikely the situation would change.”
In an ongoing call, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said Gov. DeSantis will not have to testify in the initial trial over his suspension of state attorney Andrew Warren.
"If the governor doesn't testify, then the governor won't testify. And I won't have his testimony."
— aaron navarro (@aaronlarnavarro) November 23, 2022
Exhibits filed in advance of the trial indicate that internal documents passed through DeSantis’ circle did consider the political “benefits” and “drawbacks of firing or keeping Warren on. While one drawback was increasing Warren’s “profile” and the apparent benefit was removing “a leftist prosecutor[…] from a position of power.” However, it is not obvious that the awareness, or even partial influence, of political optics over the decision rises to the level of a first amendment violation, as long as there was a legitimate rationale as well.
In a Tuesday filing, attorneys representing DeSantis argued that the rationale was all that was needed, asserting that Warren’s pledges as a governmental agent not to enforce specific laws are not protected speech.
“The governor reasonably construed Mr. Warren’s statements to be either blanket refusals to enforce Florida law or evidence that Mr. Warren was grossly ignorant of his official responsibilities.”
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