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Judge won't decide whether to reinstate Andrew Warren until after trial

Former Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren 220919.jpg
Valerie Crowder
/
WFSU News
Former Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren speaks outside the U.S. District Courthouse in Tallahassee, Florida following a hearing on Monday, Sept. 19, 2022.

A federal judge is holding off on deciding whether to reinstate Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren until more evidence comes to light.

Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Warren after he signed joint statements by Fair and Just Prosecution stating that he and other prosecutors would refrain from pursuing cases that involve abortion or gender-affirming medical care.

At the end of August, Warren filed a lawsuit requesting the judge issue a preliminary injunction to block the suspension from remaining in effect.

Warren, an elected official, explained to reporters after the hearing that his lawsuit is about more than getting his job back: “This is about making sure that our elections have meaning, making sure that no one, not even the governor, can overturn an election, can silence the voice of the people or steal their vote.”

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida Judge Bob Hinkle ordered both parties to agree on setting a trial date as quickly as possible. Hinkle hasn’t yet issued a formal ruling laying out his reasoning for ordering a trial, but that’s expected to come soon.

“We look forward to the trial where we can win this case and put me back in office to do the work that I was elected twice to do,” Warren said.

State Attorney General Ashley Moody's office filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case. That request was denied. DeSantis claims Warren’s signed statements indicate that he intended to act upon his promise not to enforce state law, which is grounds for removal.

Warren, who was elected to his post, maintains his signing of the statements counts as political speech, which is protected under the First Amendment.

Both parties have agreed to set a trial date before the end of the year, though they haven’t yet settled on a date.

Hinkle explained he couldn’t issue a ruling on the preliminary injunction with an “incomplete record.” Hinkle explained he needs all the facts of the case before issuing a decision, to ensure that it’s settled “once and for all.” Hinkle said there’s a “strong public interest” in “getting it right.”

For instance, both DeSantis and Warren haven’t appeared on the stand for cross-examination.

Hinkle noted the only evidence from the governor’s office regarding his motives for suspending Warren are his executive order and the press event that he held announcing the decision. Hinkle explained that’s not enough to determine whether the reason DeSantis gave for suspending Warren is the “real reason.”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Valerie Crowder hosts and produces state and local newscasts during All Things Considered. Her reporting on local government and politics has received state and regional award recognition. She has also contributed stories to NPR newscasts.