Gov. Ron DeSantis' suspension of Andrew Warren as state attorney for the 13th Judicial Circuit sent shockwaves throughout Florida, including in Warren's hometown.
Warren is a Gainesville native and Eastside High School graduate. He was first elected as state attorney in Hillsborough County in 2016 and reelected two years ago with more than 53% of the vote. But last week, DeSantis suspended him from office and put a county judge into the job in his place.
While DeSantis claimed that Warren was suspended for failing to enforce the law, it was really just another political stunt meant to help the governor get reelected and then run for president. DeSantis showed he will go so far as to overturn an election to achieve his ambitions.
"This is a very dangerous precedent that the governor has set," Warren said Friday in a conference call with journalists from across Florida. "He can do this to any elected official who says something he doesn't like, and that's not democracy, that is not America."
Politics are clearly the motive in the Republican governor suspending a Democratic state attorney. Warren signed statements with other prosecutors nationwide saying they would use their discretion in not pursuing criminal cases against people seeking or providing abortions, or for violating laws that criminalize health care for transgender people, but his office has not even received any cases on these issues.
"Let's be clear: This is not about what I've done. This is about what I've said," Warren said, noting that a judge held Florida's 15-week abortion ban unconstitutional and the state hasn't even passed a law regarding transgender care.
"This is Orwellian thought police: I'm being punished for not enforcing a law that doesn't even exist," Warren said.
Rod Smith, former state attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit that includes Alachua County, also views the precedent set by DeSantis as dangerous. Smith said the governor should only suspend an elected official for doing something illegal or unethical, not just for something the official said.
"This is a slippery slope we can never get off of," said Smith, who was also a state senator and Florida Democratic Party chairman.
But the current state attorney for the Eighth Judicial Circuit, Brian Kramer, said the governor's move does not affect him due to the way he pursues cases. Kramer, a Republican, wrote in an email that he enforces the law as written by the Legislature and interpreted by the courts.
"I review each case on its own merits to determine if I can and should prosecute any criminal offense," Kramer wrote. "My primary obligation is to prosecute cases and hold people accountable for their actions. To do otherwise would violate my oath of office."
Warren said he considers it his First Amendment right, and his duty, to speak out about legislative matters affecting the criminal justice system. His tenure as state attorney included support for criminal justice reforms and establishing a conviction integrity unit, which freed a man who spent 37 years in prison for crimes he didn't commit while also identifying the real culprits.
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Warren's father, Mike, said he was "astonished" to learn what happened to his son. Mike Warren is president of the Gainesville-based AMJ Group, a real estate development firm with projects that include the new Hyatt Place hotel downtown. He was attending a Gainesville City Commission discussion of downtown plans when he received the news.
Mike Warren said his son developed a strong sense of justice at a young age, declaring he wanted to be a prosecutor after hearing about a local real estate fraud case. He said that he's "very proud" his son is fighting the governor's move, which must be reviewed by Florida Senate and might also end up in court.
He said the Ivy League-educated DeSantis is clearly smart, but he worries about the morals he showed in suspending his son from office.
"Smart people without a moral compass scare me," he said.
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This article originally appeared on The Gainesville Sun: Nathan Crabbe: Gainesville native Andrew Warren is new DeSantis target