“Americans don’t need permission slips to exercise their constitutional rights.’’
By Kurt Loft
Andrew Warren had it rough last year, and life hasn’t gotten much easier since he received a nasty call from the governor’s office. As you know, Ron DeSantis fired him as State Attorney for Florida’s 13th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses all of Hillsborough County. Then came the threats to his family – an alarming sign of how low people can sink into the mire of far-right politics.
“DeSantis broke state and federal law in removing a twice-elected official from office,’’ Warren told listeners at a recent meeting of the Pinellas Democratic Party in Clearwater. “But the threats to my children were personal.’’
Warren told the story of his removal by the governor, and afterward took questions about the future of democracy in America. In August of 2022, the governor dumped the 46-year-old democrat for not prosecuting abortion and gender-affirming cases and accused him of neglect of duty. DeSantis appointed Suzy Lopez to take over the office.
“The morning it happened I was sitting in the grand jury, and we were indicting two heinous rape and murder cases that had gone unsolved for 39 years,’’ Warren said. “These were cold cases of two murdered women, and I promised their families I would be there and report back to them when charges had finally been brought.’’
Those families were left in limbo. And the callousness of the governor’s decision − which Warren appealed − will continue to resonate, he said.
“This isn’t about me; it’s an attack on our democracy,’’ he added. “It’s about freedom of speech. The governor simply didn’t like what I said. What’s important is that Americans don’t need permission slips to exercise their constitutional rights.’’
Warren sued in federal court, and while the judge found DeSantis had violated the state constitution, the court lacked the authority to reinstate Warren as state attorney. Then in August, a similar incident occurred. DeSantis fired State Attorney Monique Worrell of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Court in Orlando just as she was about to prosecute a group of Florida police deputies on a wide-ranging coverup involving false documents.
Worrell, also a democrat, petitioned that DeSantis did not have a legal basis for the suspension and said he was targeting policy choices. She also warned about potential far-reaching implications of the governor’s actions.
"The order, if left intact, would create the risk that any state attorney can be suspended whenever a governor disagrees with their - and, necessarily, the voters' - policy priorities," said the brief filed by legal officials from across the country. "The order will thus have a chilling effect on the exercise of independent lawful discretion by all state attorneys and also strip communities of their voting rights and prerogative to select prosecutorial leaders who make judgment calls and exercise discretion in a manner they support."
During the Clearwater gathering, Warren fielded questions about a growing shadow of authoritarianism in America, and how more and more far-right Republican politicians are illegally tightening their grip on power. Just as important, the increasing partisanship and political differences are really a fight over the soul of democracy.
“Florida’s governor doesn’t believe in the rule of law – full stop,’’ he said. “When he was told he broke the law, he simply shrugged. He’s made it clear where his priorities are: in promoting his political brand.’’