Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced he’s taken the extraordinary step of suspending Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren for refusing to enforce some of the state’s laws—including the recent 15-week abortion ban.
In a news conference in front of Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office deputies, the Republican governor said Warren has “put himself publicly above the law” by stating he will not enforce some of Florida’s most controversial laws.
“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,” DeSantis said on Thursday. “It is my duty to hold Florida's elected officials to the highest standards for the people of Florida. I have the utmost trust that Judge Susan Lopez will lead the office through this transition and faithfully uphold the rule of law.”
In the executive order on Warren’s suspension, DeSantis claimed the chief prosecutor for the 13th Judicial Circuit was working to “nullify laws that were enacted by the people's representatives” and actively refusing to enforce some state laws.
DeSantis noted that Warren, a Democrat, has expressed “in writing that he will not prosecute individuals who provide abortions in violation of Florida’s criminal laws to protect the life of the unborn child.”
At the press conference, several other local leaders expressed their frustration with Warren’s decision not to prosecute certain cases, including Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister, who claimed the state attorney “seems intently focused on empathy for criminals and less interested in pursuing justice for crime victims.”
“We have a governor that will defend us,” Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco added.
The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, Florida’s first LGBTQ lawmaker, told The Daily Beast on Thursday that DeSantis’ decision to suspend Warren is “alarming.”
A vocal critic of the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Smith explained that “it says it a lot that DeSantis just suspended a state attorney who was twice elected by Floridians just because he is not willing to send women—and doctors—who get abortions in prison.”
“This is an abuse of power to punish and retaliate anyone who goes against his extreme agenda,” Smith said. “What we are seeing is this administration morphing into an authoritarian regime. They are taking our freedoms one group at a time and should scare every Floridian.”
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is vying for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination to run against DeSantis, called Warren’s suspension “a politically motivated attack on a universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion.”
“Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully,” Fried said in a Thursday statement.
Warren, who was re-elected to his position in 2020, has not been silent about his views on some of Florida’s most hot-button legal issues—from the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill to abortion after Roe v. Wade was overturned last month.
“I’m disgusted to see the passage of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill,” Warren said in a March statement. “At the time when our state needs to unite to solve important problems, this bill fosters prejudice and hatred—and our society already has enough of both.”
Last month, Warren was among a group of prosecutors nationwide who signed a statement declining to go after people “who seek, provide, or support abortions.” The move came after DeSantis signed a bill in April restricting most abortions in the state after 15 weeks unless the pregnant woman is in a life-threatening situation.
Florida’s abortion law, which went into effect in July, does not have exceptions for incest, human trafficking, or rape. Warren was the only Florida prosecutor to sign the letter, which was organized by the group Fair and Just Prosecution.
“As I said before, I put my hand on the Bible and swore to defend the US & Florida Constitutions. Florida’s Constitution has a privacy right that clearly covers abortion. While Tallahassee tries to circumvent the law, I will uphold the law and protect our freedom,” Warren said in a June 30 tweet.
While Warren serves his suspension for an indefinite period, DeSantis has appointed Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez to take his post. Lopez was previously the assistant state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit for over 15 years.
“I have the utmost respect for our state laws and I understand the important role that the State Attorney plays in ensuring the safety of our community and the enforcement of our laws,” Lopez said in a statement. “I want to thank the Governor for placing his trust in me, and I promise that I will faithfully execute the duties of this office.”
Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani said in a statement to The Daily Beast that Warren’s suspension is “a gross political attack on a duly elected State Attorney who has publicly stated that he would not follow along with Governor Ron DeSantis’ extreme anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ+ agenda.”
“It’s also important to stress that there are currently no laws in Florida punishing pregnant people or trans parents, so what the Governor said today during his announcement is sensational and inaccurate,” she added. “But good to know that DeSantis thinks women should be arrested for ending their own pregnancies—that’s an important point for the voters to know too.”