Thu, Aug 4, 2022 12:59 PM
By Bethany Blankley, The Center Square
The Center Square) – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit citing "neglect of duty” for Warren's decision not to prosecute individuals who violate the state's 15-week abortion ban.
DeSantis announced at a news conference in Tampa that he appointed Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez to serve for the period of Warren’s suspension. The governor was joined by Attorney General Ashley Moody, Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd and in law enforcement.
The governor has the authority to suspend a state officer under Article IV, Section 7 of the state constitution and did so by issuing an executive order. State attorneys are state officers constitutionally elected to serve as prosecuting officers of all trial courts within each judicial circuit and are not subject to impeachment.
“State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said. “It is my duty to hold Florida’s elected officials to the highest standards for the people of Florida. I have the utmost trust that Judge Susan Lopez will lead the office through this transition and faithfully uphold the rule of law.”
After the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Dobbs overturning Roe v Wade, and after the state legislature passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, Warren publicly stated he wouldn’t prosecute individuals who performed abortions despite state law.
Warren signed a joint statement June 24 and 25 with other elected prosecutors, saying, “Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice; prosecutors should not be part of that.
“Enforcing abortion bans runs counter to the obligations and interests we are sworn to uphold.”
The prosecutors said they won’t use their offices’ resources “to criminalize reproductive health decisions and commit to exercise our well-settled discretion and refrain from prosecuting those who provide or support abortions. Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal healthcare decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people.”
But not prosecuting abortion crimes effectively “nullifies” Florida criminal laws in the 13th Judicial Court, DeSantis argues, “thereby eroding the rule of law, encouraging lawlessness, and usurping the exclusive role of the Florida Legislature to define criminal conduct.”
The order states that Warren is “incompetent,” citing “the neglect or failure on the part of a public officer to do and perform some duty or duties laid on him as such by virtue of his office or which is required of him by law” and “gross ignorance of official duties or gross carelessness in the discharge of them.”
The 10-page order includes several examples of what DeSantis describes as Warren’s inability to do his job and 18 pages of exhibits.
“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. “I promise that I will faithfully execute the duties of this office.”
Lopez was appointed by DeSantis to serve as a judge on the Hillsborough County Court in 2021. She previously served as assistant state attorney of the 13th Judicial Circuit for more than 15 years and as staff attorney of the Second District Court of Appeal. She received her bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College and her law degree from Suffolk University. She is a long-time resident of Tampa and has been involved in the Hillsborough community through a variety of organizations for many years.
Two Democrats running for governor issued statements in response to DeSantis’ announcement.
Former governor and U.S. Congressman Charlie Crist said, "The people of Hillsborough elected Andrew Warren not once, but twice, because of his commitment to safety and justice for all people. This action by Governor DeSantis is that of a wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first. He doesn't give a damn about women or average Floridians. It’s a flagrant abuse of power."
Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried said, “This is a politically motivated attack on a universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion. Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully. He’s doing this because he wants to be dictator, not a governor of Florida. That’s not how this works, though. This will backfire. We just saw it in Kansas. Florida is a pro-choice, pro-democracy state. If this stands, the people of Florida will put an end to it in November.”