DeSantis announces suspension of Tampa Bay area State Attorney Andrew Warren. Here’s why

Warren displayed ‘neglect of duty,’ governor says

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced the immediate suspension of Circuit 13 State Attorney Andrew Warren at a news conference in the District II Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa.

TAMPA, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced the immediate suspension of 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren during a news conference at the District II Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Tampa.

Warren’s suspension was due to his “neglect of duty,” the governor’s office said in a news release, adding he would be replaced for the period of suspension by Hillsborough County Judge Susan S. Lopez, who DeSantis appointed in 2021.

[TRENDING: Become a News 6 Insider (it’s free!)]

“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 in a statement.

DeSantis suspended Warren with an executive order, which can be read here. At the conference, DeSantis said Warren “put himself publicly above the law.”

“He signed a letter saying that he would not enforce any prohibitions on sex change operations for minors... it doesn’t matter what the legislature does in the state of Florida, he’s going to exercise a veto over that,” DeSantis said.

According to DeSantis, Warren’s actions on what he called “presumptive non-enforcement” also greatly contributed to the suspension.

“Yes, you can exercise discretion on an individual case, but that discretion has to be individualized and case-specific. You can’t just say you’re not going to do certain offenses,” DeSantis said.

Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, right, speaks during a news conference Monday, June 15, 2020, in Tampa, Fla. Warren announced his decision not to prosecute dozens of protesters arrested on charges of unlawful assembly during a Black Lives Matter march on June 2. Looking on is visionary leader Bishop Thomas Scott. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

After the governor’s news conference, Warren issued the following statement:

He also addressed the suspension following a cold case murder investigation news conference held in Tampa on Thursday afternoon.

“I was shocked at the blatant violation of one of the most fundamental principles of our democracy—that the people, the voters, get to elect elected officials,” Warren said after the cold case update. “I was doing the work I was elected to do a state attorney. I was focused on delivering (the) justice Linda and her family (who the cold case investigation centered around)... have been waiting 39 years to get. I was making sure that everything went as it was supposed to today with charging these cases and I was overseeing the office of 300 people... I’m the one whose upholding the law and keeping the community safe.”

Warren more recently signed a letter following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S. Supreme Court, which said he “would not enforce any laws relating to protecting the right to life” in Florida, DeSantis said.

“It’s not for him to put himself above that and say that he is not going to enforce the laws. We don’t elect people in one part of the state that have veto power over what the entire state decides on these important issues,” DeSantis said. “The constitution of Florida has vested the veto power in the governor, not in individual state attorneys, and so 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 and so today we are suspending State Attorney Andrew Warren effective immediately.”

That letter, which can be read here, was originally dated June 24 and sent by an organization called Fair and Just Prosecution.

As News 6 uncovered in 2017, members of that same special interest group instructed former 9th Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala on what to say when questioned about her controversial decision to not seek the death penalty in any case.

In response to Ayala’s ban on seeking the death penalty, former Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed executive orders removing more than two dozen first-degree murder cases from Ayala and reassigning them to a neighboring prosecutor’s office.

Among the cases reassigned by the governor was that of Markeith Loyd, who was later sentenced to death for the 2017 murder of Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton.

Ayala unsuccessfully challenged Scott’s actions in a lawsuit heard by the Florida Supreme Court.

Besides ruling that the governor had the legal authority to remove death penalty cases from Ayala’s office, a majority of the state supreme court wrote in its opinion that Ayala’s “blanket refusal to seek the death penalty… does not reflect an exercise of prosecutorial discretion; it embodies, at best, a misunderstanding of Florida law.”

In a dissenting opinion, former Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara J. Pariente wrote, “(the) fact that the Governor is charged to faithfully execute the laws does not supplant the constitutional authority of the independently elected State Attorney to prosecute crimes and to exercise his or her discretion in deciding what punishment to seek within the confines of the applicable laws.”

Similar to the court’s majority opinion concerning Ayala, DeSantis in his statements Thursday described Warren’s decisions as “blanket statements.”

Fair and Just Prosecution sent the following statement to News 6 after DeSantis’ announcement:

Get today’s headlines in minutes with Your Florida Daily:

About the Authors:

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.