Andrew Warren may need help from the Florida Senate. This is bad news for him.
If Warren, the former Hillsborough Democratic prosecutor whom Gov. Ron DeSantis fired last week, wants his job back, he has a few options. He can challenge DeSantis’ order with a lawsuit arguing that the governor exceeded his executive authority. His lawyer is considering filing this motion.
But the state Supreme Court sided with DeSantis in two similar recent cases regarding the scope of his power. That means Warren’s fate will likely ultimately be decided by the Florida Senate under a provision of the state Constitution.
Warren is at least the 166th state or county official suspended by a Florida governor since 1999, according to state Senate records analyzed by the Tampa Bay Times.
Of those cases, the Senate overturned a gubernatorial suspension only once.
Most suspensions don’t even reach senators for a vote. In about 60% of the cases included in the analysis — which spans the entire span of the recent Republican government in Florida — suspended officials resigned, had their terms expire, or were removed from office before the Senate took action.
The 163 cases that have been resolved — three, including Warren’s, are pending — largely do not include cases where a governor has removed a civic officer. The Senate has no say in these cases most of the time. For example, Dale Massad, the former mayor of Port Richey who was suspended after being charged with attempted murder and practicing medicine without a license, appear in the minutes of the suspensions of the Senate.
In addition to municipal officers, the Florida Constitution allows the governor to suspend any state officer who cannot be impeached, any militia officer not currently serving, or any county official.
Since 1999, governors have suspended 22 county commissioners, nine sheriffs and six school board members, according to the analysis. Governor Rick Scott attempted to remove 110 notaries public in 2013 and 2014 alone.
One of the suspended sheriffs was removed from office by Governor Jeb Bush after a state investigation found he had been drunk in public on multiple occasions. Bush reinstated this sheriff after the lawman accepted treatment and counseling – then suspended the cop again after he was arrested by the Tampa Police Department for driving under the influence.
Warren is the first state attorney to have his suspension recorded by the Senate since 1981, records show.
The governor can remove officials for a limited number of reasons: “malfeasance, mischief, dereliction of duty, drunkenness, incompetence, permanent inability to perform official duties, or commission of a crime”.
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In the majority of non-notarial cases registered by the Senate, suspended officials had been accused or convicted of a crime – most often, a felony.
Sometimes the charges were related to the way the grievor performed his duties. For example, Governor Charlie Crist suspended an Orange County commissioner who was charged with several crimes, including accepting illegal campaign contributions. She was convicted and disqualified from performing her duties.
Other times, public servants have been suspended on criminal charges that had nothing to do with their public service. Crist suspended a Highlands County commissioner who was charged with felony navigation under the influence, manslaughter and ship homicide. The commissioner, whose wife died in the boating accident, was later acquitted of those felony charges. The voters replaced the commissioner and the Senate refused to act.
Andrew Warren has not been charged with any crime. DeSantis suspended him for “incompetence” and “negligence of duty,” citing what the governor called Warren’s “general policies” against the prosecution of certain crimes such as illegal abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
There are two episodes in recent Florida history in which unindicted officials of crimes have had their case heard by the Senate. In 2005, lawmakers heard the case of Miriam Oliphant, Broward’s election supervisor, who was suspended by Bush for “negligence of duty, incompetence and misconduct” after a series of reported organizational problems over several election cycles in this county. Malfeasance means “abuse of power”.
And in 2019, lawmakers debated the fate of Broward Sheriff Scott Israel, whom DeSantis suspended for his law enforcement office’s response to the 2017 Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood airport shootings and Marjory High School. Stoneman Douglas in 2018. Like Warren, Israel was suspended. for “dereliction of duty and incompetence”.
Senate-appointed special masters heard evidence in the Oliphant and Israel cases. In Oliphant’s case, the investigator recommended that she be fired. In Israel, the special master concluded that the governor had failed to prove the allegations against Israel and recommended the reinstatement of the sheriff.
In both cases, the Republican-led Senate sided with the GOP governor, voting to remove the suspended officials.
Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, who was on the rules committee when he heard Israel’s case, said the Senate should not have voted to remove Israel given the master’s special recommendation.
“Because of politics, the Senate went with the governor,” said Farmer, who is running for Broward County circuit judge this year.
There are instances where a governor has reinstated someone suspended by their predecessor. In 2008, Crist reinstated a Clay County commissioner who had been suspended by Jeb Bush. Bush suspended the commissioner after she was charged with official misconduct and petty theft; Crist reinstated her after her acquittal.
The only instance in recent Florida history where a suspended official was reinstated by the Senate came amid Governor Rick Scott’s dizzying period of notary suspensions.
The governor suspended at least 110 notaries, alleging dozens of officials engaged in official misconduct and dozens more failed to report criminal records. Notaries, who are appointed by the governor, serve as witnesses when important documents are signed.
At the time, Scott’s office said it had a “zero tolerance” policy for notaries who acted improperly. At least four of the officials were reinstated by Scott on the condition that they complete a notary course; the Senate facilitated at least one of these compromises. Two other notaries obtained full hearings.
One of these officials, Shawn Leigh Rowland, had a special master recommend that she be removed by the Senate. But senators found that Rowland had not committed a violation serious enough to warrant his removal. They voted against Scott’s order.