Florida Supreme Court Nixes Warren Lawsuit

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an attempt by suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren to get his job back, ruling that the twice-elected Democrat waited too long to bring the case.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren on Aug. 4, accusing the prosecutor of “incompetence” and “neglect of duty.”

Warren filed a federal lawsuit in September challenging his removal from office, and U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle in January ruled that the suspension violated the Florida Constitution and the U.S. Constitution. Hinkle, however, said he lacked the authority to reinstate the prosecutor. The Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments in Warren’s appeal but has not issued a ruling.

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Warren, in February, also asked the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate him, arguing that the governor “exceeded his powers” in the suspension.

Thursday’s 6-1 ruling, authored by Justice Charles Canady, said the Supreme Court has limited power to curb executive suspensions. But the decision, which derided some of Hinkle’s findings, focused on how long it took Warren to seek the Supreme Court’s review of his removal, rather than the merits of his suspension.

DeSantis appointed all of the justices who concurred with Canady’s opinion: Chief Justice Carlos Muniz and Justices John Couriel, Jamie Grosshans, Meredith Sasso and Renatha Francis, who also wrote a concurring opinion. Justice Jorge Labarga, who was appointed in 2009 by then-Gov. Charlie Crist, wrote a dissenting opinion.

“Almost one month after the federal district court issued its merits order — extraneous comments and all — and more than six months after his suspension, petitioner (Warren) finally knocked on this (Supreme) Court’s door and requested our ‘expeditious review,’” the majority opinion said.

Warren’s federal lawsuit, filed on Aug. 17, sought what is known as a “writ of quo warranto” challenging the “facial sufficiency” of his suspension. His lawsuit also alleged that the suspension violated his First Amendment speech rights. Hinkle quickly rejected the request for a writ of quo warranto but allowed the First Amendment challenge to proceed. The First Amendment issue resulted in the January ruling.

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Canady said Warren should have known that the federal court could not decide the facial-sufficiency issue and any relief would have to be sought in state court.

“Yet petitioner, who was ready to challenge the facial sufficiency of the suspension order within two weeks of his suspension, then waited almost five more months before bringing that claim in state court, all but ensuring that the 2023 regular session of the Florida Senate would come and go without any opportunity for that legislative body to potentially review the suspension,” Canady said.

Warren, who was first elected in 2016 and re-elected in 2020, said in a statement Thursday that the issue of his suspension is “crucial for democracy in Florida.”

“Rather than addressing the substance of the governor’s illegal action, the court cited a technicality and avoided a ruling on the merits of the case. We are extremely disappointed by today’s decision,” Warren said.

Labarga’s dissent took issue with the decision to reject Warren’s case, noting that the prosecutor would still have about 18 months left in his term if reinstated.

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