TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took a rare step and suspended one of the most prominent state attorneys on Thursday after the elected official declared he would not prosecute anyone who violates the state’s new law banning abortions after 15 weeks.
DeSantis announced the suspension of Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren, who oversees Tampa and surrounding cities, at a press conference flanked by sheriffs of surrounding counties, citing “neglect of duty.”
"The role of the state attorney is to apply the law and enforce the law, not pick and choose which laws you like and which laws you don't like," the Republican governor said. "This is a law-and-order state. We're not going to back down from that one inch. We're not going to allow locally elected people to veto what our state has decreed through our legislative process."
The suspension took effect immediately and derailed a planned press conference by the county’s top prosecutor that would have announced details of a man exonerated of a murder.
Warren, a Democrat, released a statement that called the suspension a “political stunt” and “illegal overreach.”
“It spits in the face of voters of Hillsborough County who have twice elect me to serve them, not Ron DeSantis,” Warren said.
He added, “In our community, crime is low, our constitutional rights – including the right to privacy – are being upheld, and the people have the right to elect their own leaders - not have them dictated by an aspiring presidential candidate who has shown time and time again he feels accountable to no one.”
Warren joined a group of 90 prosecutors and signed a letter that promised not to use county resources to arrest those violating the newly passed 15-week abortion ban.
The sheriffs joining the governor made statements about crime in California, illegal immigration and arrests related to race discrimination demonstrations in 2022.
“You know what they tell me?,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd. “They tell me we have a dumpster fire going on in this nation. And you know who is getting burned by this dumpster fire? The working people.”
Under the Florida Constitution, the governor has the power to suspend state officials for “malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a felony.”
DeSantis’ executive order cited “blanket refusal” to enforce laws and “knowingly" allowing criminal activity.
The governor is running for reelection this year and has consistently pushed a “law and order” agenda since civil rights protests that rocked the nation two years ago.
His Democratic opponents wasted no time in responding to the suspension.
"This is a politically motivated attack on a universally respected State Attorney democratically elected to exercise prosecutorial discretion,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who is running against the governor. “Ron DeSantis is a pathetic bully. He’s doing this because he wants to be dictator, not a governor of Florida.”
Congressman Charlie Crist called DeSantis a “wannabe dictator who puts partisan politics first.”
“He doesn't give a damn about women or average Floridians,” Crist said in a statement. “It’s a flagrant abuse of power.”
Florida’s 15-week abortion ban has already been challenged in numerous lawsuits and is headed to the state supreme court.
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