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Suspended Hillsborough state attorney Andrew Warren says he's focused on reinstatement

Suspended state attorney Andrew Warren held a Zoom press conference on Monday to talk about his reinstatement case.
Florida Democratic Party
Suspended state attorney Andrew Warren held a Zoom press conference on Monday to talk about his reinstatement case.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren from his post in 2022, a move that the attorney characterizes as a political stunt. A recent court ruling sided with Warren, opening the door for his reinstatement.

The court battle between suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren and Gov. Ron DeSantis continues to play out.

On Monday morning, Warren hosted a Zoom press conference with Florida Democratic Party chairperson Nikki Fried.

While he said that he is focused on his case for reinstatement, he did not confirm if he’d run for reelection this November.

Warren was ousted from his position by DeSantis in 2022, after signing statements that opposed laws criminalizing abortion and gender-affirming care. He then filed a lawsuit, arguing that the removal violated his First Amendment rights.

Warren previously stated that he would not be seeking reelection on the grounds that the governor would simply suspend him again. But his announcement came before a recent court ruling that opened the door for his reinstatement.

Since then, Warren’s attorneys have indicated his run for reelection could hinge on the resolution of the case. Warren and his team have asked the federal appeals court to expedite returning the case to the North Florida district court.

However, state lawyers are calling on the federal appeals court to reconsider their decision to send Warren’s case back to trial. Their petition, filed last Thursday, calls for an “en banc” or a hearing before the full 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, rather than the three-judge panel which issued the first ruling. The process could delay the outcome even further.

“Obviously, there's a concern here because there's an election coming up,” said Warren. “And more importantly, it's been 18 months that the voters have been denied an elected official that they chose.”

Warren was elected as state attorney as a Democrat in 2016 and reelected in 2020. After suspending Warren in 2022, DeSantis appointed former county judge Suzy Lopez, a Republican, for the remainder of the term. Lopez is seeking a full term.

Andrew Warren speaking behind a podium with his name on it
Sky Lebron
WUSF Public Media
Suspended Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren addresses a federal judge's ruling that Gov. Ron DeSantis violated the First Amendment in suspending Warren during a news conference on Jan. 20, 2023.

“The disruption was caused when the elected state attorney in Hillsborough County on August 4, 2022, was illegally removed from office for a political stunt,” Warren said during the Zoom call. “And that's not my opinion. That's what two different federal courts have now found.”

Warren was referring to the initial ruling last January made by a North Florida district court judge who agreed that Warren’sfirst amendment rights were violated. However, U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle said that his court did “not have the power to reinstate Warren.”

The 11th Circuit, in the most recent ruling on Warren’s case, vacated that decision and found that the federal court does have the power to remedy federal violations of law.

The federal court “instructed Hinkle to hold further proceedings” in which DeSantis must show the suspension was based on Warren’s performance as a prosecutor and not his political advocacy.

Warren had also filed a case with the state's highest court last year, which rejected the petition, saying he had waited to long to file.

“I spent my career walking into court as a prosecutor fighting for victims, but for nearly 18 months now, I've been a plaintiff fighting for democracy, to make sure that elections still have meaning, to make sure that no one can steal the people's votes, or silence their voice, and to make sure that we don't need permission slips to exercise our constitutional rights,” said Warren.

nikki fried on zoom call
Florida Democratic Party Zoom Call
Florida Democratic Party chairperson Nikki Fried speaks at a virtual press conference about reinstating suspended Hillsborough state attorney Andrew Warren.

When asked if the Florida Democratic Party will push another candidate for state attorney, Fried replied that there was “no doubt” that a Democrat will win in November.

“We are waiting to see the outcome of this, but we will be mounting a strong Democratic candidate in that (2024) race,” said Fried.

“Obviously, my hope is that this comes through quickly and it is Andrew. But certainly we are not going to let the people of Hillsborough County not have a choice of who they vote for in November.”

As WUSF's general assignment reporter, I cover a variety of topics across the greater Tampa Bay region.