Desantis vs. Warren: Legal battle between Hillsborough's ousted state attorney and Florida's governor begins

Hillsborough County's suspended state attorney Andrew Warren took the stand in Tallahassee, where he is fighting to get his job back. 

On Tuesday, his case against Florida Gov. Ron Desantis is finally going before a judge. The saga all started back in August when DeSantis removed Warren from office for what he claims was "neglect of duty," but Warren argues he was unlawfully removed. Warren is suing to get re-instated as the Hillsborough County state attorney, and now, both sides will head to court on Tuesday. 

During his testimony, Warren testified that on August 4, he got an email from the governor's office stating, "you have been suspended." Warren said he rushed back to his office and alerted his chief of staff of the email. 

Minutes later, there was a knock at his door. A man who introduced himself as Larry Keefe, the governor's public safety czar, as well as two deputies showed up to escort him out of his office. Warren said he was handed a written order by the governor but wasn't given time to read it. 

During opening statements, DeSantis' legal team told the judge, Warren was suspended for neglect of duty and incompetence. Emails between DeSantis' staff were also presented in court, including a celebratory exchange after the suspension for the free media it had garnered, totaling over 2.4 million. 

FROM AUGUST: Gov. DeSantis suspends Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren for 'neglect of duty'

Later, a video clip of Tucker Carlson and the DeSantis was played for the judge. In the FOX interview, the governor refers to Warren as a "Sorros prosecutor" who picks and chooses what laws to enforce. He's referring to billionaire democratic donor George Sorros, who is often a political target for conservatives.

Warren's team also played the only TV interview he gave after signing the abortion pledge to FOX 13 News. In the story, Warren pointed out the pledge he signed was a "value" statement not a blanket policy. He said each case would be evaluated on a case-by-case situation on the facts and the merits.

RELATED: Hillsborough State Attorney pledges not to press charges against abortion patients, doctors

Federal District Court Judge Robert Hinkle will be the decider of fact during a bench trial that is expected to last all week.

The decision to essentially fire the state attorney was made after Warren promised not to charge women who get abortions or anyone in gender-affirming care. On the day when his suspension was announced, DeSantis said Warren signed letters in 2021 saying he would not enforce laws prohibiting sex changes for minors.

"The role of the state attorney is to apply the law and enforce the law, not pick and choose which laws you like and which laws you don't like," he said at the time. "This is a law and order state. We're not going to back down from that one inch. We're not going to allow locally-elected people to veto what our state has decreed through our legislative process."

But Warren argues that the governor never had the grounds to toss him out in the first place. The suspended state attorney said he was fired for something he said, not something he did. No case involving those issues ever made it to his desk.

He goes further by saying he feels the governor was just trying to punish him for speaking out, violating his first amendment rights.  

RELATED: Andrew Warren suspension trial could get messy for Gov. DeSantis, constitutional lawyers says

Expert constitutional lawyers have said it will come down to the judge's decision to ultimately determine the governor's motive.

"The simple fact is the governor says, ‘You’re removed.’ That’s a simple fact," explained Bruce Rogow, constitutional lawyer and professor. "The more complicated fact is why did you remove him? If the answer is, ‘I removed him because I didn’t like what he said,’ well, then that’s a first amendment violation."

"For the governor to take it into his own hands and decide this person should no longer be in office after he’s been voted on, elected twice is a pretty extraordinary thing," he added.

MORE: ‘I am tough’: Meet the newly appointed Hillsborough State Attorney replacing ousted Andrew Warren

Warren said he believes the governor silenced the people of Hillsborough County, but the governor's team believes Desantis had the right to make the decision he did.

Now Warren‘s attorneys have said they don’t plan to call on DeSantis to testify during the trial, but it’s possible they could during a rebuttal. If that’s the case, they will need to get approval from the judge.  

The case went before a judge Tuesday morning in Tallahassee. The trial is expected to last for the whole week.