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Appeals court showdown between Gov. Ron DeSantis and Democratic prosecutor he ousted will happen even sooner

DeSantis and Andrew Warren

Ronn DeSantis and Andre Warren. (Images via YouTube screengrabs.)

A federal appellate judge ordered Wednesday that ousted Florida prosecutor Andrew Warren’s appeal in a case against Gov. Ron DeSantis will be heard on an expedited basis.

The erstwhile Hillsborough County State Attorney, an elected Democratic official, filed a lawsuit alleging that the Republican governor of the Sunshine State unlawfully suspended him from office over his prosecutorial discretion.

DeSantis suspended Warren in August 2022, referring to the prosecutor as incompetent to hold office and claiming Warren neglected his duty by vowing not to prosecute violations of the state’s 15-week abortion ban and more, as Law&Crime reported at the time.

Warren’s lawsuit was dealt a major blow by the Northern District of Florida trial court on Jan. 20, however, when Senior U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle, a Bill Clinton appointee, issued an order on the merits.

Judge Hinkle said he was powerless to reinstate Warren even though DeSantis violated Florida’s Constitution and the First Amendment:

The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s speech on matters of public concern—the four FJP policies save one sentence—as motivating factors in the decision to suspend him. The Governor violated the First Amendment by considering Mr. Warren’s association with the Democratic Party and alleged association with Mr. Soros as motivating factors in the decision. But the Governor would have made the same decision anyway, even without considering these things. The First Amendment violations were not essential to the outcome and so do not entitle Mr. Warren to relief in this action.

The suspension also violated the Florida Constitution, and that violation did affect the outcome. But the Eleventh Amendment prohibits a federal court from awarding declaratory or injunctive relief of the kind at issue against a state official based only on a violation of state law.

The judge ordered the court clerk to enter the judgment in the case as follows: “The plaintiff Andrew H. Warren’s claims against the defendant Ron DeSantis arising under state law are dismissed without prejudice based on the Eleventh Amendment. Mr. Warren’s claims against Mr. DeSantis arising under federal law are dismissed on the merits with prejudice.”

Weeks later, Warren filed a notice of appeal. On Wednesday, U.S. Circuit Judge Jill Pryor, a Barack Obama appointee in the 11th Circuit, ordered that the appeal be heard on a fast-tracked basis for “merits disposition purposes.”

The tighter deadline for appellate briefs and responses means that oral arguments will be heard in Montgomery, Alabama, as soon as two months from now — in the first week of May.

While Warren was ordered to file his first brief on March 13, DeSantis must respond by April 12. If Warren wants to respond to DeSantis’ brief, he must do so by April 26, the court ruled.

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.