In response, then-Gov. Rick Scott reassigned 29 cases from her office to another state attorney. But Scott did not attempt to suspend or remove Ayala from her elected position.
“The important distinction in (the Warren) case is, it’s whether you do it, not whether you say it,” Stephens said. “The only action that’s occurred is speaking.”
Stephens also said that as state attorney, Warren should not have made blanket statements about what he would or would not do.
“You have to make it on a case-by-case basis,” he said. “That’s the nature of why you are there.”
Joseph Cillo, a retired attorney and assistant professor of criminal justice at Saint Leo University, said he believes the governor was well within his rights — and even obligated — to remove the state attorney.
By publicly stating he wouldn’t prosecute certain acts deemed illegal in Florida, Warren created the potential for 14th Amendment issues of denying people equal protection under the law, Cillo said.
“Not prosecuting people for crimes they’ve committed because you don’t want to prosecute them, what is that saying to the general public?” he said. “There’s a crime. If we’re not going to prosecute, there’s no consequence for that wrong action, and it will be repeated.”
The president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Ernie Chang, said in a Friday statement that DeSantis had exceeded his authority. State attorneys have wide discretion in choosing what cases to prosecute, something that happens daily across the state, he said.
“Gov. DeSantis should allow elected prosecutors to do their jobs and should respect the will of voters regarding the state attorneys they elect,” Chang said.
Scott Tozian, a Tampa attorney who has represented judges, prosecutors and lawyers, said the fact that Warren had not had actually decided the kind of cases pointed out by the governor will no doubt be a point of discussion as the matter proceeds.