A federal appeals court has reinstated a First Amendment lawsuit filed by former Tampa-area reform prosecutor Andrew Warren against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, and now the DeSantis administration will have to argue that Warren’s job performance, not his ideology, was the controlling factor behind Warren’s removal from office.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit ruled today that a lower district court erred when it dismissed Warren’s lawsuit last January despite finding that DeSantis violated Warren’s First Amendment rights by suspending him from office for protected speech.
“The First Amendment prevents DeSantis from identifying a reform prosecutor and then suspending him to garner political benefit,” U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor wrote. “On remand, DeSantis must prove that unprotected activity, such as Warren’s actual performance or his policies, motivated him to suspend Warren.”
Last January, U.S. District Judge for the Northern District of Florida Robert Hinkle sharply criticized the DeSantis administration’s partisan motivations for suspending Warren, formerly the Hillsborough County State Attorney and one of the most prominent progressive prosecutors in the state.
“In short, the controlling motivations for the suspension were the interest in bringing down a reform prosecutor—a prosecutor whose performance did not match the Governor’s law-and-order agenda—and the political benefit that would result,” Hinkle wrote in his order. “The actual facts—whether Mr. Warren actually had any blanket nonprosecution policies—did not matter. All that was needed was a pretext to justify the suspension under the Florida Constitution.”
But although Hinkle found that the DeSantis administration’s reasons for removing Warren were specious and included protected First Amendment speech—such as being affiliated with the Democratic Party progressive megadonor George Soros—he dismissed the lawsuit on the grou…