TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — A federal judge will soon determine if Gov. Ron DeSantis overstepped his authority when he removed a Florida prosecutor in August. Ousted Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren's trial challenging his suspension begins in Tallahassee on Tuesday.
The gavel drops in Florida Northern District Court at 9 a.m.
Judge Robert Hinkle — an appointee of former President Bill Clinton — is set to hear arguments for an estimated three to five days. His decision will then determine if the governor's ouster crossed the line, potentially putting Warren back in his elected post.
"We would have liked to be back in the office, yeah, three months ago," Warren said Monday morning. "But the reality is that the trial gives an opportunity for people to see the truth and the whole truth about what happened."
Warren told us during a brief interview Monday he was ready and remained confident the law was on his side.
"There's so much more at stake than my job," Warren said. "This is about protecting elections in our state. It's about making sure that elected officials have the right to speak out on issues of public importance."
DeSantis suspended the Democrat after he signed pledges not to prosecute violations of Florida's new 15-week abortion ban as well as to "not promote the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare."
Warren has called it free speech protected by the First Amendment and notes he hadn't rejected any cases before his removal.
DeSantis announced the suspension on Aug. 4 during a press conference, flanked by other elected officials, which included Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody and Hillsborough County Sheriff Chad Chronister. The governor alleged Warren, whose term ends in 2025, had neglected his duties. In his executive order, DeSantis cited Warren's pledges.
"When you make yourself above the law, you have violated your duty," DeSantis said during the press conference. "You have neglected your duty, and you are displaying a lack of competence."
DeSantis repeatedly mentioned the ouster during his reelection campaign, touting it while stumping across the state. In a new statement, Monday, the governor's office doubled down on his position ahead of the trial:
"Governor DeSantis has a duty to hold Florida's elected officials to the standards of their oath of office," Bryan Griffin, press secretary of the executive office of the governor, said. "Accordingly, Governor DeSantis suspended State Attorney Andrew Warren of the 13th Judicial Circuit due to his neglect of duty and incompetence. We maintain that the governor has the authority to suspend a state officer under Article IV, Section 7 of the Constitution of the State of Florida."
The trial was expected to focus on whether Warren's pledges were the motivation for the suspension and if they were protected speech.
Hinkle will also have a pile of evidence to sift through. Attorneys have gathered records leading up to the removal — plus taken at least 14 depositions. They include high-ranking officials in both the governor's and Warren's offices.
A pretrial hearing last week determined DeSantis will not have to testify in the upcoming trial. Warren's legal team didn't seem too bothered by it, suggesting they're confident in making their case without the governor.
Hinkle will have the final say, but it's unclear when he'll rule. He has been known to issue orders from the bench but may wish to review the evidence and offer a written decision, which could come days or weeks later.