There’s a push in Florida to consolidate judicial circuits, but suspended Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren tells WMNF it’s “a naked power grab by Tallahassee and the Republican leadership.”
Warren was twice elected in Hillsborough but he was suspended by Governor Ron DeSantis.
Listen to this show:
There will be two closed-door meetings about judicial consolidation in November. Warren says there’s not enough sunshine on that process. [Update: after this interview, the Tampa Bay Times reported that the private meetings will now be held in public on November 3 and 17. An extended rush transcript of this interview can be found at the bottom of this page.]
“I mean, look, this is a naked power grab by Tallahassee and the Republican leadership there. And this is great if you’re one of the 22 people in that inner circle in Tallahassee. But it’s really bad if you’re one of the 22 million Floridians who relies on the criminal justice system for all different parts of our society.”
SK – And part of these meetings have been in public, but in November, they’re going to have some closed-door meetings. Why are you concerned about that?
“Well, Florida has a Sunshine Law, in which the government is supposed to operate out in the public transparently so that everybody can see what they’re doing.
“The governor shown that he really doesn’t care about the Sunshine Law, he doesn’t care about a lot of laws, frankly. But he just recently got in trouble for violating Sunshine Law with regard to COVID.
“And now they’re doing it again, they’re holding these meetings in private so that the public doesn’t have a chance to see and hear how the future of the criminal justice system in the state of Florida is going to be twisted and turned and ultimately gerrymandered for political reasons.”
Watch this interview here:
Also on Tuesday Cafe, 17 October 2023
Also on the show, we spoke about Puerto Rico, coral reefs and port dredging with Rachel Silverstein, the executive director and Waterkeeper of Miami Waterkeeper and with Stetson University College of Law professor Jaclyn Lopez. She is the director of Stetson’s Jacobs Public Interest Law Clinic for Democracy and the Environment.
WMNF’s Tuesday Café
Tuesday Café airs weekly on WMNF beginning at 10:06 a.m. ET.
You can listen live on 88.5 FM in Tampa Bay, on wmnf.org or on the WMNF Community Radio app.
Transcript of the rest of this interview with Andrew Warren
This is a rush transcript. If you notice errors, please let us know.
Warren: “Well, let’s start with what these circuits represent. This is access for people in the community to their court system. And so whether you’ve been the victim of a crime, whether you’ve been the victim of a scam, whether you need to go to court to make sure that you know, you have your rights as a tenant, to make sure you have your rights as a citizen, you rely on access to the courthouse.
“And right now we have 20 circuits in Florida, they are set up so that people can travel relatively easily to the different courts in that circuit, where they elect the state attorney and the public defender and judges who work in those circuits. And it’s worked really well. And if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
“But the Governor and the Speaker are intent on changing those circuits for political reasons. And the impact of that is not only that it takes power away from the people in the communities power over who they can elect to who gets to serve as judges.
“It’s going to make it harder for people to get access into the courthouse, it’s going to create massive gridlock in the system. You have victims having to travel longer distances to show up in court and have victims waiting longer and longer to get the justice that they deserve. There’s frankly no reason to do it, other than partisan politics. But unfortunately, that is what Tallahassee does these days. They don’t care about what’s best for Floridians. They care about what’s best for them.”
Kinane: “You just called it partisan. Earlier in the interview, you said it was a naked power grab. I think that it stands to reason, people can really understand how redistricting for congressional districts or for state legislative seats or something, how that might be partisan. How is it that something as seemingly neutral, at least, as judicial circuits, how can that be something that can benefit one party over another?”
Warren: “Well, if this state redraws those circuits to favor certain political parties and certain political pennant candidates, then that is partisan gerrymandering. And you don’t have to take my word for it. Take the word of the Republican state Attorney down in South Florida and Monroe County in the Keys, who said, Look, everybody knows what this is about. This is about making sure that Andrew Warren can’t win reelection in Hillsborough County. This is about making sure that a Democrat can’t win an election in Hillsborough County.
“This is about making sure that Republicans can win elections in Hillsborough County and the Orlando area. That’s what it is. And again, that’s coming from members of the governor’s own party who are saying, Don’t do this. We know what you’re doing.
“It’s bad for Floridians, it may help your flounder and presidential campaign. But this is not what Florida wants, not what Florida needs and it’s bad for the citizens.”
Kinane: “Let’s talk specifically here about Hillsborough and the possibility of it being redistricted. So if Hillsborough’s judicial circuit — which right now just maybe almost unique among Florida counties, is its own state attorneys circuit. If that’s redistricted how would that impact your decision about whether to run again for state attorney?
Warren: “Well, again, just to go back a second. I mean, there are a few single-county circuits in the state, and they’re based on the size, and Hillsborough County has a large county 1.5 million people. And so we want to make sure that the county is set up in a circuit of setup in a way that people have access to the courts. And they have, they have control over the people that they elect and they put into the office. Clear that the governor is hostile to that idea, that the people get to decide who served as an elected office.
“But the way this could happen is they could change Hillsborough County, they could combine it with other counties. Look, we don’t know what’s going to happen. But I can tell you this, the power the powers that be in in Tallahassee, know exactly what they’re going to do.
“And if you think that this is some open process — we’re there to take input from the people and then make a decision that’s best for Floridians — you’ve been living under a rock in this state. I mean, the Governor and the Speaker know exactly what they’re going to do. They’re going through a dog and pony show right now, to make it look like they’re getting input and figuring it out. And they’re going to make a decision based on what they think is best for them politically.”
Kinane: “Based on reporting from the Tampa Bay Times they’re saying that some Republicans are saying that Governor DeSantis and the Republican sheriffs in Hillsborough County and Polk County oppose changing the boundaries of the Hillsborough circuit. Do you find that likely that they’re they’re going to change a lot of things in Florida, but just leave Hillsborough kind of the way it is?”
Warren: “I can’t speculate about what they’re doing. Again, they’re having these meetings behind closed doors. And you’d have to go into the governor’s mind to know exactly how he’s going to try to mess with what’s working in Florida.
“But it’s understandable that law enforcement is opposed to this. And we have a really good balance right now between state attorneys and judges and law enforcement. By consolidating circuits, you’re minimizing the role of law enforcement, making them report to a single state attorney over multiple counties, you’re, again, you’re spreading the justice system too thin that denies access to a lot of people.
“That’s why law enforcement is opposed to this. That’s why every single elected state attorney in the state is opposed to it. The only person who is not opposed to it is the illegally appointed state attorney here in Hillsborough County, who just says, well, whatever the governor wants, that’s where I stand on it. That’s not what’s representing the best interests of people in Hillsborough, or the people of Florida.”