Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Governor DeSantis Exceeds His Authority: Suspending Elected 13th Judicial Circuit SA Is Political Meddling

Photo: Robert Linder via Unsplash | Columbia County Observer graphic

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis's politically motivated suspension of 13th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Andrew Warren is an unlawful and brutish attempt to force duly elected prosecutors to bend to his bidding. Instead of allowing constitutional officers to do their jobs, the governor has chosen to usurp the will of voters by executive fiat in an alarming expansion of gubernatorial power.

Meddling in the criminal justice system for political ends upsets the work of both prosecutors and defense attorneys that protect the rights of all Floridians.

Governor DeSantis is exceeding his authority.

Each of Florida's 20 elected state attorneys has wide discretion in choosing which cases to prosecute. Under the governor's flawed logic, each of them should be removed if there are legitimate cases they decide not to prosecute, which happens daily across the state through specialty courts such as drug court, mental health court, and veteran court.

That discretion must be used to conserve resources and ensure that the most egregious cases are prosecuted effectively. Gov. DeSantis should allow elected prosecutors to do their jobs and respect voters' will regarding the state attorneys they elect.

In response to the United States Supreme Court decision in "Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Care Organization," Fair and Just Prosecution, an organization of elected prosecutors, prepared a written Joint Statement regarding prosecution of women in health care issues. The Joint Agreement concludes:

"As elected prosecutors, when we stand in court, we have the privilege and obligation to represent "the people." All members of our communities are our clients - they elected us to represent them, and we are bound to fight for them as we carry out our obligation to pursue justice. Our legislatures may decide to criminalize personal healthcare decisions, but we remain obligated to prosecute only those cases that serve the interests of justice and the people."

(emphasis added) State Attorney Warren was a signatory to that document.

Andrew Warren is a duly elected Constitutional Officer of the State of Florida and has discretion granted to elected prosecutors by the Florida Constitution and Florida Statutes. Elected prosecutors answer only to voters and do not have to seek approval from the Governor to make decisions regarding their offices. Governor DeSantis' suspension of Andrew Warren is unwarranted and unlawful.

The "Dobbs" decision is rooted in the legal premise that local voters should decide abortion issues. Gov. DeSantis just usurped the role of many thousands of local voters who've twice elected the SA in the 13th circuit.

Political subdivisions are little laboratories for Jeffersonian democracy, or they're not. Governor DeSantis seems to want it both ways.

Ernest Chang is the president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. He has 32 Years experience as a Criminal Defense Lawyer trying over 200 jury trial cases to verdict, including several Death Penalty murder cases and is Death Penalty Qualified Lead Counsel in Florida and Pennsylvania.

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