(WASHINGTON) — The Florida state attorney who was suspended by Gov. Ron DeSantis this month sued the governor on Wednesday, claiming his removal from office violated his First Amendment rights.
The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges the Republican governor retaliated against Andrew Warren, the Hillsborough County state attorney, for siding with progressive prosecutors who vowed not to prosecute crimes related to abortion and gender-transition treatments for children.
Warren, a Democrat, has called the suspension “political theater” and has claimed DeSantis suspended him to advance his own career.
Warren’s legal team filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. They hope a judge will rule to reinstate the twice-elected state attorney, who is the top prosecutor in the Tampa Bay area.
“I have the same first amendment right that everybody else in Florida does,” Warren said at a press conference in Tallahassee on Wednesday morning, adding that the governor’s decision amounted to an abuse of power.
Jean Jaques Cabou, a lawyer for Warren, said at the press conference that the governor had no grounds to oust Warren. He said DeSantis took his client out of office “because of policy differences [and] because the governor would like to do his job differently than Mr. Warren wants to do his job.”
“Those are not bases for which the governor can suspend Warren,” Cabou added.
DeSantis did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the lawsuit. After he suspended Warren on Aug. 4, the governor said in a statement that “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.”
The governor also touted his decision to remove Warren from office while on the campaign trail this week.
“Out of 20 elected prosecutors, we found one who decided to put himself above the law, saying he didn’t have to enforce laws that he disagreed with,” he said during a speech in Carlsbad, New Mexico, on Sunday.
Warren has signed two joint statements pledging not to prosecute crimes related to abortion and gender-transition treatments for children. By doing so, DeSantis claims, Warren has neglected his duty and demonstrated incompetence.
DeSantis signed a law in April that bans abortions in Florida after a 15-week gestation period. The law went into effect on July 1, a week after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
Florida health care providers last week filed a notice of appeal with the state Supreme Court challenging the abortion law. The plaintiffs argue the law violates the state constitution.
There is currently no law in Florida that criminalizes gender-related treatment for minors, although some state legislators have pushed for one. The state’s Agency for Health Care Administration recently passed a rule barring transgender residents from using Medicaid to pay for gender-affirming care.
The governor says Warren’s decision to sign the joint statements, coupled with other decisions Warren has made in his two terms as a state attorney, are sufficient under the Florida Constitution for suspension.
Cabou argues that it’s up to the court to decide whether Warren’s statements meet the criteria for a suspension.
“Just because the governor calls something neglect of duty or the government calls something incompetence doesn’t make it true,” he said.
Scott Stephens, a Florida constitutional law professor and former Hillsborough County circuit judge, told ABC News the court will decide whether Warren’s decision to sign the two letters can be used as evidence that he neglected his duty or is incompetent.
Under Florida law, Warren has the right to a hearing before the state senate to decide whether his suspension was constitutional.
Debbie Brown, the secretary of the Republican-controlled body, sent Warren a letter on Monday to initiate the process for a hearing.
This process is now on hold due to Wednesday’s filing.
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