Connect with us

World

The DeSantis/Warren battle: Takeaways from a Tallahassee courtroom

News Agencies

Published

on

TALLAHASSEE — Last week’s trial of Hillsborough County’s suspended state attorney and his fight to get reinstated provided big moments and revelations.

Over three days in a federal courtroom, questions were raised about what drove Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to oust Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, a Democrat.

Then, as the trial wound to a close, Warren’s own chief of staff took the stand with testimony that appeared to undermine the core of Warren’s case.

It’s now up to U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle to decide: Were Warren’s signed pledges against prosecuting cases of abortion and transgender health care — and his office policies against pursuing certain low-level crimes — sufficient cause to remove him?

Advertisement

Or were Warren’s rights to free speech and prosecutorial discretion violated in a politically motived move, warranting his reinstatement?

Some takeaways:

Politics were present

Warren called his August suspension political theater orchestrated by a governor readying for a 2024 presidential run. DeSantis said it was simpler than that: Warren refused to enforce the law.

Advertisement

The trial underscored the role politics played in Warren’s removal.

DeSantis’ public safety czar Larry Keefe testified that in his inquiry into whether any Florida state attorneys were failing to enforce the law, all roads “led to Mr. Warren.” But Keefe said under cross-examination that he didn’t talk to victim’s rights groups or anyone in Warren’s office. He spoke nearly exclusively to Republicans, including Tampa donors and supporters.

Warren’s attorneys also pointed to tweets from the governor’s staff. One — the night before Warren’s suspension — predicted “the liberal media meltdown of the year.” Another called Warren the “Soros-backed” state attorney, a reference to George Soros, billionaire donor to progressive causes and a popular target among conservatives.

Advertisement

The governor himself edited an early draft of the suspension order to put “non-abortion infractions” before the subject of abortion. An early mention of Soros got edited out.

One document assessed pros and cons of removing Warren. A benefit could be the removal of “a leftist prosecutor.” The same document warned of a drawback: “Political battle is likely to increase Warren’s profile.” (The judge dismissed the significance of the memo, which DeSantis’ legal team said was written by a law school intern at the governor’s office and not shared around the office.)

Advertisement

DeSantis’ staff noted that Warren’s suspension garnered more than $2 million in “totally free earned media” for the governor.

The local sheriff played a prominent role

At a lunch last spring, a Republican friend in Tampa set up a phone call between Hillsborough Sheriff Chad Chronister and Keefe. Chronister, unhappy with Warren not pursuing certain cases, said in a deposition that he’d already had his staff compile a list of cases Warren’s office had not prosecuted. He agreed to send the list to the governor’s office.

According to the sworn deposition, the sheriff’s family hosted the governor and his family over the Independence Day holiday at Chronister’s in-laws’ property in Montana. Chronister is married to Nicole DeBartolo, daughter of businessman and developer Eddie DeBartolo Jr., the former owner of the San Francisco 49ers. Chronister said he never had a direct discussion with the governor about Warren.

Advertisement

Chronister also recruited Tampa’s former police chief Brian Dugan.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this week, Dugan said Chronister called him the day before Warren was ousted and asked if he would participate in a phone call with the governor’s office. Dugan had his own misgivings with the then-state attorney, calling him “nothing more than a politician” in the Times interview.

On the call with the governor’s office, Dugan expressed those frustrations. He said he learned of the plans to suspend Warren and agreed to appear at the news conference the next day. He and Chronister, along with other members of law enforcement, stood with the governor at what became a raucous announcement of Warren’s ouster.

Advertisement

Asked in his deposition why it was held at the sheriff’s office, Chronister said: “There wasn’t a reason for me not to host the event. The governor wanted to have it at the sheriff’s office.”

Warren’s top aide became a big witness — against him

Warren’s chief of staff since 2017, Gary Weisman, now is working in the same job for his replacement, Susan Lopez. He took the stand and delivered a potential blow to Warren’s case.

Weisman said he advised his then-boss not to sign the abortion pledge.

Advertisement

“I thought it was bad for Mr. Warren … and bad for the agency,” Weisman testified.

Warren has contended that the pledge, signed by progressive prosecutors nationwide, was constitutionally protected free speech and not office policy.

Two of his top prosecutors testified they didn’t think the pledges were office policy. They weren’t shared with state attorney’s office staff or codified as office policy.

Advertisement

Weisman, portrayed as Warren’s closest adviser in the office, saw it differently.

“My view was it was an announcement that we weren’t going to prosecute cases under the new law,” he testified.

In the local buzz following Warren’s removal, even some Warren supporters questioned a state attorney putting his name on such pledges.

Advertisement

Judge Hinkle wasn’t shy

Prior to the trial, the judge seemed to telegraph some of his thinking about the case.

In one early ruling, he noted that with the possible exception of one sentence, nothing in the pledges Warren signed or his office policies “explicitly announced a blanket refusal to prosecute cases of any kind.”

Hinkle, who was nominated to the federal bench by President Bill Clinton, also noted that the governor’s lawyers had not been able to cite an example of a crime Warren failed to prosecute.

Advertisement

Some of his questions during the trial could have been interpreted as favorable to Warren’s case. In an exchange with the governor’s lawyer, George Levesque, Hinkle asked if he could cite any Florida laws that criminalize gender-affirming care, which was the subject of one of Warren’s pledges.

“I concede, there is no criminal law that addresses transgender,” Levesque said.

Later, during Keefe’s testimony, the judge wondered why Keefe questioned mostly Republicans about Warren’s performance. Hinkle also wanted to know about people Keefe talked to who weren’t in law enforcement.

Advertisement

But at the trial’s conclusion, Hinkle cautioned the attorneys against reading too much into the questions he asked. He said his decision would take at least two weeks.

“I don’t know who’s going to win,” he said.

Times staff writer Lawrence Mower contributed to this report.

Advertisement
Continue Reading
Advertisement

Advertisement

Breaking News

Editor Pick’s

Latest Entertainment

Entertainment2 hours ago

Stephen Dorff slams ‘garbage’ superhero movies, Marvel’s ‘Blade’ reboot: ‘We already did it and made it the best’

Stephen Dorff attends the premiere of his movie “Divinity” on Jan. 21 at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival in Park...

Entertainment3 hours ago

Yoshiki, glam-rocker responsible for ‘changing Japan’s culture,’ eyes U.S. stardom with supergroup the Last Rockstars: ‘It’s kind of cool to break some kind of boundary again’

When Japanese musician/composer/producer Yoshiki founded seminal glam-metal band X Japan back in 1982, pounding the drums in kabuki-esque facepaint, peroxide-blond...

Entertainment5 hours ago

Britney Spears asks fans to respect her privacy after police welfare check: ‘Things went a little too far’

Britney Spears says things went “too far” after fans called police to her home. (Photo: FilmMagic) Britney Spears broke her...

Entertainment6 hours ago

Camila Mendes details struggles with eating disorder: ‘I was really afraid of eating carbs’

Camila Mendes opens up about recovering from an eating disorder. (Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images) Camila Mendes is opening up about...

Entertainment7 hours ago

Amy Robach and T.J. Holmes mediating with ABC amid suspension: ‘It’s all a huge mess,’ says source

T.J. Holmes and Amy Robach’s fate at GMA3 unclear as the two begin a mediation with ABC. (Photo: Getty Images)...

Entertainment10 hours ago

‘Shazam 2’ Trailer Highlights the Villainous Daughters of Atlas

A new Shazam! Fury of the Gods trailer has been released, giving fans a closer look at the upcoming DC...

Entertainment11 hours ago

Salma Hayek’s see-through dress leaves Channing Tatum speechless: ‘I have no comment’

Salma Hayek stuns in a see-through dress at the premiere for Magic Mike’s Last Dance. (Photo: Getty Images) Salma Hayek...

Entertainment11 hours ago

Succession season 4 teaser promises more warring, more Wambsgans, and a wedding

Succession will return for its fourth season March 24, HBO announced today. And we also got us our first, predictably...

Advertisement

Latest Sports

Sports32 mins ago

3 fights break out 16 seconds apart in Flyers vs. Wild game

It was Fight Night in St. Paul on Thursday as the Wild took on the Flyers in a heated matchup.

Sports1 hour ago

NBA All-Star starters 2023: Joel Embiid not selected in Eastern Conference frontcourt

Joel Embiid, the Eastern Conference's leading scorer with 33.4 points per game, was not selected as an All-Star starter. By...

Sports1 hour ago

Gio Reyna scores second straight winner in second game since USMNT World Cup saga

Reyna did it again Wednesday, just three days after marking his return from the World Cup with a winner.

Sports2 hours ago

Rui Hachimura’s well-rounded skills on display in Lakers debut

Forward Rui Hachimura made a number of shots from the post, mid-range and long distance in the Lakers' victory over...

Sports2 hours ago

Refs miss key call on go-ahead Klay Thompson shot vs. Grizzlies, NBA confirms

The NBA's Last Two Minute Report confirmed the refs missed a call on Klay Thompson's go-ahead 3-pointer in the Warriors'...

Sports3 hours ago

Blame game fail: Dak, Bills coaches are just fine

Of course there will be overreactions to playoff losses, but cooler heads should prevail when it comes to Dak Prescott...

Sports3 hours ago

Gary Peters, Chicago White Sox pitcher, dies at 85 years old

Gary Peters led the A.L. in ERA twice and led the league in wins once.

Sports4 hours ago

Giant decisions: Jones, Barkley contracts loom

Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley have each reached the end of their rookie contracts. New York will need to make...

Technology Hot News

Technology1 week ago

Led by "Amazon" and "Microsoft" .. the technology giants are planning to lay off 64,000 employees

After 10 years of driving the stock market bull run, big tech companies are racing to downsize staff to adapt...

Technology1 week ago

Apple introduces MacBooks with new M2 processors

Yesterday, Tuesday, Apple unveiled MacBooks powered by the new, faster “M2 Pro” and “M2 Max” processor chips, in a surprise...

Technology1 week ago

All you need to know about the upcoming Galaxy S23 phones from Samsung

Samsung has officially announced that the (Galaxy Unpacked 2023) event will be held this year on Wednesday, February 1, which...

Technology1 week ago

FTX Exchange Announces Hacking and Stolen $415 Million in Cryptocurrency

Bankrupt American cryptocurrency firm FTX announced today, Wednesday, that $415 million in cryptocurrency has been hacked and stolen from the...

Technology1 week ago

Because of a "fraudulent tweet"… Elon Musk's trial begins

Elon Musk's trial began Tuesday in San Francisco with the selection of jury members who will have to decide whether...

Technology1 week ago

An electric spoon replaces salt and spices, but with conditions

Experts have developed an electric spoon that is able to replace spices and flavors and affect the taste buds in...

Technology2 weeks ago

The biggest dangers of using tracking devices.. so you can escape?

If you spot an unknown Bluetooth tagging device, there are ways to disable the device so it can't track your...

Technology2 weeks ago

New Twitter.. For You tab to web version

The Twitter platform announced that it will bring the new tab (For You), which launched last Tuesday for iPhones and...

Advertisement