115 Legal Scholars Denounce the “Deeply-Concerning” Suspension of Hillsborough County, Florida State Attorney Warren
Today, Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, on behalf of 115 legal scholars who focus on legal ethics, professional responsibility, and criminal procedure, requested that the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida accept an amicus brief in connection with a lawsuit by Hillsborough County, Florida State Attorney Andrew Warren. Mr. Warren is seeking reinstatement after he was indefinitely suspended by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, an act which the scholars call a “disturbing attack on democracy and the rule of law.”
In suspending Mr. Warren, Governor DeSantis cited vows Mr. Warren made to use his prosecutorial discretion to not promote the criminalization of gender-affirming healthcare and to not prosecute those who provide or support abortions. Led by professors Bruce Green, Fordham University School of Law’s Director for the Louis Stein Center for Law and Ethics, and Ellen Yaroshefsky, Hofstra University’s Maurice A. Deane School of Law Professor of Ethics, the brief’s signatories have significant expertise in this area. Collectively, their academic and professional work addresses the professional norms governing prosecutors and the democratic mechanisms that ensure they are both accountable to the public and independent from outside influence.
The scholars’ brief explains that it is not only legitimate for Mr. Warren to make policy statements on controversial legal issues, but that it is beneficial and serves the public interest. In making such statements, according to the legal scholars’ brief, a prosecutor fulfills “their professional obligation to promote law reform while enabling constituents to assess their views on policy relevant to their work.” By making their views public, a prosecutor “sparks a debate among the community and other actors within the criminal justice system about the wisdom of those choices – and faces electoral accountability for them.”
The scholars’ brief call it “astonishing” that Mr. Warren is being penalized for establishing presumptive policies that reflect both his philosophy and the community’s priorities. They underscore the damaging impact of such a penalty, saying, “Suspending State Attorney Warren for what can only be characterized as purely partisan reasons…runs counter to professional standards of conduct, usurps the will and power of the electorate, and eviscerates the carefully crafted separation of powers erected in the Florida Constitution.”
“Governor DeSantis’s suspension of twice-elected State Attorney Warren should be deeply concerning to everyone who believes in democracy and the checks and balances our forebearers established,” said Tampa-based Zuckerman Spaeder partner Sara Alpert Lawson, who submitted the brief on the legal scholars' behalf. “If the Governor can suspend or remove an elected official for nothing more than policy disagreements, elections become meaningless.”
On behalf of the scholars, the brief was filed by Zuckerman Spaeder Tampa partners Sara Alpert Lawson and Sandy Weinberg, along with Prof. Green and Prof. Yaroshefsky.
The case is Andrew H. Warren v. Ron DeSantis, 4:22-cv-302, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.