American Bar Association to honor Andrew Warren on anniversary of Gov. DeSantis suspension

Former Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren will be one of two prosecutors receiving honors from the American Bar Association (ABA) this Friday — exactly one year after Gov. Ron DeSantis removed him from office.

Warren and Erek Barron, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland, are to receive the ABA Criminal Justice Section’s Curtin-Maleng Minister of Justice Award at the group’s annual meeting in Denver.

The award is bestowed to prosecutors who fulfill their duty “to seek justice, not merely to convict,” an ABA press note said.

That descriptor befits Warren. As the twice-elected State Attorney, he advanced reforms including diversion programs for low-level offenders, civil citation programs for juveniles and adults, prevention and rehabilitation programs for offenders with substance abuse and mental illnesses, and other initiatives to reduce recidivism.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for embodying what it means to be a prosecutor and for the outstanding success we’ve had moving our criminal justice system forward,” Warren told Florida Politics. “That being said, the biggest honor for me has always been the opportunity to make this community safer for families like mine and to represent the values we all share.”

Warren’s prosecutorial leadership also included overseeing the creation of a Conviction Review Unit within his office to reexamine old cases with questionable conclusions. Its work led to the exoneration of Robert Earl DuBoise, a Tampa man who spent 37 years wrongly imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit, and identified a pair of serial killers as the true culprits.

Warren announced their identities on Aug. 4, 2022, just hours after Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended and replaced him, citing the prosecutor’s refusal to enforce bans on abortion and gender-affirming surgery. Warren, a Democrat, had pledged not to prosecute abortion-related crimes following the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade.

DeSantis said Warren had “put himself publicly above the law” by asserting he would not enforce state abortion and transgender restrictions. Warren, who was first elected as State Attorney in 2016 and re-elected four years later, argued DeSantis was “trying to overthrow the results of a free and fair election” by removing him from office.

He added that he’d yet to review a case in which the state’s then-15-week abortion ban was relevant.

On June 22, the seven-member Florida Supreme Court — composed entirely of Republican Justices, five of whom DeSantis appointed — ruled against Warren’s request to be reinstated as State Attorney after determining he’d waited too long to petition.

Warren first sued DeSantis in federal court, where Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in January that while DeSantis had violated Warren’s First Amendment rights, he had no authority to reinstate him.

Warren petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to reinstate him the following month and is awaiting a decision from a federal appeals court on the federal case.

A former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice, Warren said there are “two unfortunate ironies” to receiving the ABA award on the anniversary of a suspension that a federal judge ruled unconstitutional.

“One is that I was suspended illegally for doing my job exactly as I’m supposed to do it, as the federal court found,” he said. “The second is that a year later, even after a court ruled the suspension was unlawful, I’m unable to do the job I was elected to do.

“We’re still waiting to see what happens with the court case. As I’ve said from the beginning, this was always about more than my position and the position of State Attorney. This has always been a fight for free speech, the integrity of our elections and the rule of law in Florida. And I’m continuing to fight that fight.”

Eligible Curtin-Maleng Minister of Justice Award recipients come from all prosecutorial ranks, including federal, state, local and municipal prosecutors, elected and appointed prosecutors, and those in large or small offices.

They must be formally nominated, and winners must exemplify three key principles: the obligation to protect the innocent and convict the guilty, the duty to guard the rights of the accused and enforce the rights of the public, and an unwavering commitment to the legal and ethical standards.

Warren said he’d been told someone nominated him for the award this year before the July 31 deadline, but only learned he had won this week.

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Gray Rohrer of Florida Politics contributed to this report.

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