Florida Senate President Wilton Simpson has started the process that could lead to senators considering the fate of suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren.
Simpson, R-Trilby, sent a memo to senators Thursday after Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a controversial executive order suspending Warren. DeSantis cited a pledge by the twice-elected state attorney to not enforce a new law preventing abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
In the memo, Simpson wrote that the “first step in addressing a suspension is to inform the suspended official of the Senate’s receipt of the governor’s suspension action and to inquire whether it is the intention of the suspended official to resign from office or request a hearing.”
Warren, a Democrat, has vowed to fight DeSantis’ effort to ultimately remove him from office, which would require approval from the Republican-dominated Senate. Warren has called the suspension by DeSantis a “political stunt” and “illegal overreach” to “further his own political ambition.”
In the memo, Simpson urged senators to review a rule about Senate procedures for handling such suspensions.
“In my view, since we are tasked by Florida’s Constitution to sit in judgment of the merits of a suspension, senators should refrain from speaking publicly about the merits or substance of any executive suspension,” Simpson wrote.
Sen. Lori Berman, D-Delray Beach, said Monday her colleagues need to quickly review Warren’s suspension. But, she added that she hopes senators don’t “rubber-stamp anything.”
“I really have some concerns about what the governor did,” Berman said when asked by a reporter during a conference call about the U.S. Senate’s passage of a measure known as the Inflation Reduction Act. “So, I would like to understand what the basis is for why he did dismiss Mr. Warren, and I would like for us to have a full Senate trial on it.”
DeSantis targeted Warren, first elected as state attorney in the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2016, for signing onto a letter in June promising to avoid prosecuting people for providing or seeking abortions.
The letter was published by the organization Fair and Just Prosecution, which bills itself as bringing together elected local prosecutors to promote “a justice system grounded in fairness, equity, compassion, and fiscal responsibility.”
Florida lawmakers passed a 15-week abortion limit during this year’s legislative session, and DeSantis signed it in April. Providers could face third-degree felony charges for breaking the law.
According to DeSantis’ executive order, Warren "thinks he has the authority to defy the Florida Legislature and nullify in his jurisdiction criminal laws with which he disagrees."
DeSantis also targeted Warren for joining a separate letter “condemning the criminalization of transgender people and gender-affirming healthcare” that was published last year by Fair and Just Prosecution.
DeSantis appointed Hillsborough County Judge Susan Lopez to take over as state attorney after Warren’s suspension.
Shortly after taking office in 2019, DeSantis suspended then-Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, pointing to issues such as the 2018 mass shooting at Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people.
Israel’s case went to the Senate, where then-President Bill Galvano appointed former lawmaker Dudley Goodlette to serve as a special master. Goodlette found that DeSantis’ lawyers failed to provide evidence to support Israel’s ouster.
But the Senate defied Goodlette’s recommendation and removed Israel from office.