Joe Henderson: Andrew Warren learns the cost of defying Ron DeSantis

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Andrew Warren has routinely displayed an independent streak since becoming Tampa’s 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney in 2016. While many might consider that refreshing, it’s a liability when Ron DeSantis is (sort of) your boss.

The Governor suffers no dissent, especially in an election year, and there are consequences for anyone who forgets that. Warren found that out emphatically Thursday when DeSantis announced he was suspending Warren from office for “neglect of duty.”

Warren had to know he was in DeSantis’ crosshairs. After the U.S. Supreme Court sacked Roe v. Wade and gave the decision on abortion law to the states, Warren spoke out.

He said he wouldn’t press charges against women who received an abortion or her doctor. Florida banned abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

“The 15-week ban, which criminalizes in certain circumstances, private medical decisions made between a woman and her doctor does not protect public safety,” Warren said in late June. “What it’s doing is arbitrarily choosing the moment in which the state is taking away our freedom, making a crime for a woman to do what’s best for her family and for doctors and nurses to do what’s best for their patients.”

Given DeSantis’ “my way or else” stance, Warren probably could have started cleaning out his desk then. Warren may have made himself a hero to abortion rights advocates, but he also became a target.

“State Attorneys have a duty to prosecute crimes as defined in Florida law, not to pick and choose which laws to enforce based on his personal agenda,” DeSantis said Thursday. “It is my duty to hold Florida’s elected officials to the highest standards for the people of Florida.”

DeSantis has the only “personal agenda” that matters in this administration.

Whether you believe Warren is right or not, DeSantis is within his right to take this action. It’s not up to any State Attorney to decide that Florida’s abortion law is Draconian and cruel (which it is). That’s the court’s job, which are the rules we live by.

Warren was probably on a watch list long before this though.

After the riots throughout Florida following George Floyd’s death in 2020, Warren flashed some more independence. He dropped charges against 67 protestors in Tampa following their arrests for unlawful assembly.

I’ve said many times that criminal justice reform involves looking at each case as a problem to solve, not just a person to be punished,” Warren said then.

“In these unlawful assembly cases, there is no value in filing charges. Prosecuting people for exercising their First Amendment rights creates problems rather than solving them. It can weaken the bonds between law enforcement and the community while undermining faith in our system.”

DeSantis, of course, pushed for a strict “anti-riot” law allowing even peaceful protestors to face arrest if the police decided to do so. A federal judge has ruled it unconstitutional, and the state is appealing.

With his gubernatorial election campaign in full swing and a possible 2024 presidential bid at stake, DeSantis wants that “law and order” label.

Check the boxes: Tough on crime (any crime), no negotiation on abortion or transgender rights, yadda yadda yadda.

There is no room in the Governor’s world for the kind of measured nuance Warren brought to the job.

So, Warren is out, and although he can appeal, he probably won’t win.

That’s the risk one takes when they defy DeSantis.

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