Nick Primrose has some experience with the legal side of gubernatorial suspensions. As a deputy general counsel for Gov. Ron DeSantis, he was the lead attorney defending the governor’s suspensions of now former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and former Okaloosa County Schools Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson. Israel was ultimately removed from office by the Florida Senate; Jackson resigned.
So when Andrew Warren, the Tampa area’s elected top prosecutor, took his suspension by DeSantis to the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday, Primrose popped off a tweet: “I can say with high confidence this political stunt will be met with the same fate: suspension upheld as constitutional, FL Senate is the ultimate court.” City & State got ahold of Primrose, now chair of the Florida Elections Commission and chief of regulatory compliance for the Jacksonville Port Authority, to ask him five questions later in the day. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
What grounds does Warren have for the Supreme Court to return him to office?
I think this is a desperate and unfortunate attempt by Mr. Warren to keep the fight going. The Florida Senate rules are very clear, that during any pending litigation, they will not take up the case at hand. But what's shocking to me is that an officer of the court … would not realize that the Florida Supreme Court (is) not the appropriate entity to seek a resolution. Mr. Warren’s attorneys never differentiate or distinguish their case for Mr. Warren and the two prior cases, Mary Beth Jackson and Scott Israel, which leads me to believe with a high degree of confidence that the Supreme Court will treat this the same way they treated the other two, by saying the governor's executive order … meets the requirements of the Florida Constitution: It states the grounds for suspension, and those grounds are listed as malfeasance, misfeasance, neglect of duty … I don't think it could be any clearer than that.
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How can the Supreme Court review these kinds of suspensions?
You have to start from the constitutional framework that was voted on by the people of the state of Florida, which says the two branches of government that are involved in a suspension are the governor and then review by the Senate. … Going back to cases from the 1930s, from the 1950s, when governors have suspended individuals, and then it was litigated, courts have always found they have a limited role in reviewing the suspension. The executive has to allege facts sufficient to constitute the grounds or cause of the suspension. As long as that’s sufficient, (a suspension is) constitutional, and then it's the judgment of the Senate to determine whether those facts are sufficient to remove the office holder.
Assuming that’s the case, what does this latest move to get the state Supreme Court involved mean?
I think it's a safe assumption that it’s a Hail Mary move in order to keep Mr. Warren in the media, in the news cycle. I do not believe that this litigation is going to be successful. So I think it's a way for them to continue this narrative of Mr. Warren versus the governor. Now, the unfortunate aspect of this litigation, other than wasting the court's time, is that it delays the Florida Senate from being able to do its constitutional duty, to hear the facts and make a final determination as to whether to permanently remove Mr. Warren from the position of state attorney.
How does it benefit him to stay in the news?
It continues to give him a platform to talk about whatever complaints that he might have about the governor for any potential political move or decision Mr. Warren may or may not make. If I had to guess, this has more to do about Mr. Warren's ambitions than it does with just getting back to being the state attorney and upholding the laws of the state of Florida. What I will also say is, it's concerning to me that somebody who was the state attorney isn't reading the law. Why are we wasting the court's time? Let's just go the appropriate procedural route, which is to the Florida Senate.
How do you respond to those, including Mr. Warren, who say that the suspension subverts the will of the voters who elected him?
It is rather another check and balance on elected officials in the state of Florida that the people agreed to put in place. It allows a governor, in his discretion, to act if he thinks a suspension is required before the next election. And it gives the Senate, duly elected by the citizens of the state of Florida, the ability to use its judgment on whether (an elected official) should be removed prior to the next election. So I don't find it to be a compelling argument that this is subverting the will of the voters. … This is an alternative check on elected officials. The Senate … will review the facts and allegations put forth by the governor's team … and the 40 senators will determine whether Mr. Warren's actions and inactions rise to the level that he should be removed.