TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn't seeking political retaliation when he removed a prosecutor over abortion and transgender views, but simply wanted to ensure state law would be enforced, the governor's attorney told a federal judge Thursday.
Lawyers for Andrew Warren, a Democrat suspended from his twice-elected post as state attorney in Hillsborough County, disagreed, saying it's clear DeSantis' action was based on what Warren said and believed and not on his competence as a prosecutor.
DeSantis suspended Warren in August over the prosecutor’s signing of statements that said he would not pursue criminal charges against seekers or providers of abortion or gender transition treatments, as well as his policies about not charging people with certain minor crimes. Warren is suing to be reinstated.
“The motivating focus ... is all about enforcement of the law,” said George Levesque, a private attorney representing DeSantis.
The issue arose after Florida passed a law banning abortions after 15 weeks. Florida doesn't have a law addressing gender-confirmation treatments.
Lawyers for Warren said the suspension was clearly motivated by politics considering DeSantis made his announcement at a campaign-like rally with cheering supporters during which he attacked “woke" ideology. They noted he made similar statements that night on Fox News.
“For Gov. DeSantis it was a chance to kill three political birds with one stone,” said David O'Neil, who represents Warren. He said the one act allowed DeSantis to score political points by opposing abortion, projecting a strong “law-and-order” stance and by attacking “woke” ideology.
The three-day trial over Warren's lawsuit against DeSantis concluded Thursday evening. U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said it will be at least two weeks before he rules.
“I don't know who's going to win,” Hinkle said.
Warren was elected in 2016 and 2020 as prosecutor of Hillsborough County, which includes Tampa. He has said DeSantis overturned the will of voters by removing him from office.
More than 90 district attorneys, state attorneys general and other elected prosecutors throughout the U.S. have signed a letter saying they don’t intend to prosecute people for seeking, providing or supporting abortions. Dozens of prosecutors and law enforcement leaders also signed the letter opposing the criminalization of gender-confirmation treatments.
Warren's suspension came as DeSantis, a potential 2024 GOP presidential candidate, joined a wave of Republican opposition to progressive prosecutors who exercise discretion over whether to charge people with what they deem to be low-level crimes.
In San Francisco, voters in June recalled Chesa Boudin, a former public defender who was elected district attorney in 2019 on a criminal justice reform platform. Boudin faced criticism over crime rates after declining to prosecute most drug offenses. A similar effort to recall the Los Angeles district attorney failed to garner enough signatures.