‘I am tough’: Meet the newly appointed Hillsborough State Attorney replacing ousted Andrew Warren
TAMPA, Fla. - Suzy Lopez says her life has been a whirlwind since she got the epic call on Aug. 1 from Governor Ron DeSantis, appointing her as the new Hillsborough County State Attorney.
"I'm enjoying it, I’m enjoying the challenge," said Lopez with a smile.
During her exclusive interview with FOX13, Lopez said when she returned the call from the governor's general counsel, she got the bombshell news that twice-elected Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren was being suspended by Desantis for neglect of duty, and she was being handpicked by the governor to replace him.
Lopez says she didn't immediately jump at the opportunity.
Newly appointed Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez stands next to Governor Ron DeSantis at a press conference announcing the suspension of Andrew Warren.
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"It was not an immediate answer. I had a lot to think about. I couldn’t really tell anyone," she said.
It was a monumental decision that she had to make alone, with one exception. She told her mom.
"She’s the one person I could tell, yes," chuckled Lopez.
Lopez said a day later, she drove to Tallahassee to give the governor and his staff her answer. It was a firm "yes."
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"It was a call to service, and you know me, I’ve been a public servant my entire career," Lopez stated.
Lopez did have a brief conversation with the governor.
"I told him that I am very honored that I was chosen to serve in this role," she recalled.
Then came the bombshell announcement two days later at a press conference held at the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office. Lopez was introduced by the governor as Hillsborough County's new top prosecutor. The seismic shakeup caught everyone off guard.
Lopez was just sworn in as a new county judge in March after being appointed by the governor.
Before that she was a top prosecutor at the state attorney's office for seventeen years, handling some of the biggest cases.
Newly appointed Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez sworn in as judge in March 2022.
Now, she is in charge of the office and began quickly setting a tone. She sent out a memo to her team of prosecutors announcing rollbacks. Certain policies her predecessor, Warren, had in place were gone. Prosecuting bike and pedestrian stops were back on the table.
"Are my policies different than Mr. Warren‘s? I don’t have policies right now. I’m following the law and evaluating everything on a case-by-case basis, just getting back to the basics," she pointed out. "It’s not going to be moving forward that we’re going to have a blanket policy of not filing charges."
The governor’s order removing Warren accused him of being above the law after he pledged not to criminalize minors having sex change operations and those seeking abortions.
When asked what Lopez would do if an abortion ban case landed on her desk, she didn't hesitate to answer.
"Evaluate everything on a case-by-case basis and follow the law. Like I said, we still have prosecutorial discretion," she explained.
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Lopez also believes in a strong partnership with law enforcement. She has been busy, she says, meeting with several agencies and maintaining that open line of communication.
She also recently announced her office would seek the death penalty for suspected killer Matthew Terry. He's accused of stabbing his girlfriend to death. Lopez called his actions cruel and heinous.
Newly appointed Hillsborough State Attorney Suzy Lopez sits down one-on-one with Gloria Gomez.
"I spoke to a member of the victim’s family, and they support the decision that I made," Lopez added.
When asked if she was tougher than Warren on prosecuting cases, she replied: "I’m not sure about that. I am tough. You see me around the courthouse halls for the last 20 years, I am tough. I know that I am tough."
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On Wednesday, in a fight to get his job back, Warren filed a lawsuit against the governor in federal court for what he called an unlawful removal.
During a press conference, Warren referred to Lopez as DeSantis' accomplice, something she shrugged off.
"I’ll be honest with you, I haven’t read it. I have a job to do. My job is to right this ship, stabilize the office, prosecute cases, and follow the law," Lopez stated.
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As she heads into her third week in office, Lopez admits she has moments where it can feel overwhelming, but it doesn't last long.
She says her phone has been flooded with calls and texts from supporters rooting her on and that, she says, reinvigorates her.
"I was born and raised in this town. I love Tampa. I want our community to be safe. I want our children to be safe and I want our courts to be fair," Lopez said.