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Suspended Tampa area state attorney says he was surprised by DeSantis' move

A white, domed building with red and white awnings is partly shrouded by a Live Oak tree on a sunny afternon
Craig Moore
WFSU Public Media
The afternoon sun shines on the Old Capitol building.

The furor escalated Friday over Governor Ron DeSantis's decision to suspend the Tampa area state attorney from office. A court fight appears likely.

It came with no warning. Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren said an armed sheriff's deputy escorted him out of his office Thursday morning and didn't even read the executive order removing him from office.

"This political stunt should scare anyone who believes in our democracy," Warren said Friday. "It's a blatant abuse of power. It's a flagrant violation of the most fundamental American value -- that people elect their leaders. That's how our democracy works. Even my eight-year-old knows that."

Warren is a Democrat who was elected twice by Tampa-area voters. He narrowly unseated the long-time county prosecutor Mark Ober in 2016, and won with 53% of the vote in 2020. Warren has signed onto public statements with about 80 other prosecutors across the country, supporting gender transition treatments for children and making it a crime for a woman's decision to have an abortion.

DeSantis, on Tucker Carlson's Fox News program, said he asked his staff if any Florida prosecutors were threatening to defy Florida's new 15-week abortion ban.

"And this is the guy that all the line prosecutors and all the law enforcement said he thinks can pick and choose which laws, and he actually signed letters saying he wouldn't enforce laws against transgender surgery for minors, laws protecting the right to life, and that he has all these policies in his agency that are called presumptive non-prosecution," DeSantis said.

Prosecutor Warren said he was blindsided, but many others knew it was coming. DeSantis had reserved a room in the county sheriff's office for a press conference, and other law enforcement officials stood behind him, including Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. The night before, DeSantis' press secretary had tweeted, quote: Prepare for the liberal media meltdown of the year.

Warren held an online press event Friday with editorial writers from around the state and said he planned to challenge the suspension.

As Warren emphasized, he has made statements but he hasn't done anything. The issue of gender-affirming is not on the law books, and the abortion law was ruled unconstitutional by a state judge in Tallahassee and the state is appealing that order.

"People were outraged. People are terrified that this is happening. People are shocked that they woke up in America and saw the governor strip someone who has been elected twice. Let's be clear. This is about overthrowing the results of a free and fair election," Warren said.

It is very rare for a governor to suspend an elected constitutional officer who has not been formally charged with a crime. DeSantis suspended former Broward Sheriff Scott Israel three years ago over his handling of the Parkland shooting. A special master who held a hearing concluded that the suspension was not justified, but the Republican Senate removed Israel from office.

Steve Bousquet has covered state government and politics for three decades at the Sun Sentinel, Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald. He was the Times' Tallahassee bureau chief from 2005 to 2018 and has also covered city and county politics in Broward County. He has a master's degree in U.S. history from Florida State.