The chief prosecutor in the Tampa area says he will fight his removal from office
A MARTINEZ, HOST:
In Florida, the chief state prosecutor in the Tampa area says he will vigorously fight his removal from office by Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis says Hillsborough County state attorney Andrew Warren was neglecting his duty by failing to enforce Florida's laws that restrict abortion or prohibit gender-affirming care for minors. From Miami, NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: No one was more surprised by the governor's action last week than Andrew Warren.
ANDREW WARREN: You know, I was in my office doing work, and then without warning, I was forced out of my office.
ALLEN: An armed sheriff's deputy escorted the state attorney from the building. Governor DeSantis discussed Warren's removal at a news conference and then later that day on Fox News.
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RON DESANTIS: And he actually signed letters saying he wouldn't enforce laws against transgender surgeries for minors, laws protecting the right to life. And then he has all these policies in his agency that are called presumptive nonprosecution.
ALLEN: Doctors say gender-affirming care for children rarely, if ever, involves surgery. But DeSantis has taken an active role in opposing transition-related medical care for minors. He also recently signed a law banning abortions in Florida after 15 weeks, a law that's currently being challenged in court. Warren, who won two elections as state attorney, says he'll fight to regain his job. He says the law is on his side.
WARREN: And let's be clear - the governor had absolutely no examples of specific actions taken by me or my office where I had ignored or declined to follow the law. This really is about my opposing two of his pet culture war issues - abortion and transgender health care.
ALLEN: DeSantis appointed a county judge to replace Warren, at least temporarily. For his removal to be final, it must be approved by the state Senate, which is controlled by Republicans and up to now has been largely deferential to DeSantis. Democratic Senator Lori Berman says she's looking for a full hearing as soon as possible.
LORI BERMAN: I really have some concerns about what the governor did. So I would like to understand what the basis is for why he did dismiss Mr. Warren.
ALLEN: DeSantis has dismissed other Democratic elected officials, including the sheriff of Broward County, Scott Israel, for failings in his department's response to the shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four years ago. Six years ago, then governor, now senator, Rick Scott, took a few dozen capital cases away from the state attorney in Orlando after she announced she would not be seeking the death penalty. But he did not remove her from office. Republican state Senator Jeff Brandes worries DeSantis' action sets a dangerous precedent. Brandes says DeSantis' removal of Warren is different from earlier instances because he had no cases pending that involved either abortion or transgender care.
JEFF BRANDES: If simply statements are evidence that you can remove somebody - well, look; a lot of Democrats support the Democrat platform, and the Democrat platform calls for many of these things. So the question then arises, can now the governor remove any Democrat?
ALLEN: It will likely be months before the state Senate schedules a hearing on Warren's dismissal. In the meantime, he's retained an attorney and plans to challenge the governor's action in court. Warren says DeSantis is abusing his power to advance his personal political ambitions.
WARREN: Whether he wants to run for president or just become the next Donald Trump or both, him removing me illegally from office is furthering that agenda.
ALLEN: At the press conference announcing Warren's removal, DeSantis was joined by three sheriffs who spoke in support of his decision. But sheriffs, who have a lot of political clout in Florida, have made their own statements about selectively enforcing laws, especially those involving guns. A spokesperson for DeSantis says comparing statements by sheriffs with the state attorney is a, quote, "political contortion" and that the comparison isn't valid.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.