Jan 23, 2023 - News

What's next after federal judge dismisses Andrew Warren's lawsuit

side by side photos of Ron DeSantis and Andrew Warren

Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) and Andrew Warren. Photos: Matias J. Ocner/Miami Herald/Tribune News Service via Getty Images; Chris O'Meara/AP Photo

A federal judge dismissed suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren's lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis Friday, but he ruled that DeSantis violated Warren's free speech rights when he sent the prosecutor packing.

Driving the news: U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle, a Bill Clinton appointee, ruled Friday that he didn't have the power to return Warren to office, but found that DeSantis' suspension of the twice-elected Democrat violated the First Amendment and the Florida Constitution.

Why it matters: Warren remains out of office, and the issue could now be settled by the GOP-controlled Florida Senate, Politico reports.

Catch up fast: DeSantis suspended Warren from office in August, saying the state attorney had neglected his duties to enforce the law by pledging with other reform prosecutors to refrain from prosecuting cases involving abortion or transgender health care.

  • Warren sued to get his job back, arguing he was entitled to free speech and that he judged each case on its merits.
  • Hinkle wrote in his ruling that he couldn't find any misconduct and ruled that Warren's pledges didn't amount to total refusals to prosecute certain crimes.
  • The judge said that evidence showed DeSantis punished Warren for his political leanings and that doing so violated Warren's free speech rights.

The rub: The 11th Amendment bars federal courts from hearing certain lawsuits against states.

What they're saying: "If the facts matter, the governor can simply rescind the suspension," Hinkle wrote in his ruling. "If he does not do so, it will be doubly clear that the alleged non-prosecution policies were not the real motivation for the suspension."

  • DeSantis' office did not respond to Axios' request for comment.

What's next: "It's not over," Warren told reporters after the ruling, though he didn't say what his next steps would be.

  • To settle it in court, Warren could appeal to Atlanta's U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, go directly to the Florida Supreme Court, or ask Hinkle to reconsider within 28 days of his ruling, per the Tampa Bay Times.
  • Or he could let the people decide and run in 2024 against his replacement.
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