ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Ron DeSantis is seeking the disqualification of a federal judge from the First Amendment lawsuit Disney has filed against the Florida governor and his designees, alleging that the attorney’s previous testimonies in other cases cast doubt on his Impartiality raised over state’s effort to take over Disney World’s governing body
DeSantis’ attorney filed a motion Friday in federal court in Tallahassee to bar US District Judge Mark Walker from overseeing Disney’s lawsuit filed last month. The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis and its agents violated the company’s freedom of speech and contractual clause by taking over the special administrative region previously controlled by Disney supporters after Disney opposed a law in Florida had been dubbed “Don’t” by critics. “Don’t say gay.”
The Republican governor’s motion came a day after Disney announced it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development, and that amid an ongoing feud with DeSantis.
DeSantis’ filing said Walker cited the ongoing dispute between his government and Disney during hearings in two independent lawsuits before him, over issues of free speech and fears of retaliation for violations of new laws introduced by DeSantis and Republican legislators were represented. One was a First Amendment lawsuit filed by Florida professors challenging a new law that instituted a poll on “liberty of thought and diversity of opinion” on state campuses.
Walker, who was nominated for the Federal Bank by President Barack Obama in 2012, dismissed that lawsuit on the grounds that the professors had no authority to challenge the law advocated by DeSantis and the Florida legislature.
In the first case, Walker said, “For example, what’s on the record — is there anything on the record that says we’re going to revoke Disney’s special status now because they woke up?”
In the second case, the judge said, “And then Disney will lose its status because — arguably because they made a statement that conflicts with state policy of the controlling party,” DeSantis’ motion states.
Disney and DeSantis have been in a tug-of-war for more than a year, which has drawn criticism for the GOP governor as he prepares to announce an anticipated presidential bid next week.
The feud began after Disney publicly opposed the state in the face of significant pressure on early-grade sexual orientation and gender identity education, which critics dubbed “don’t say gay.”
As punishment, DeSantis, through legislation passed by the Legislature, took over Disney World’s self-governing district and appointed a new board of directors. Before the new board came in, the company signed agreements with the old board that stripped the new managers of design and construction authority.
In response, the Florida Republican-controlled legislature passed legislation allowing the DeSantis-appointed board of directors to rescind those agreements, and made the theme park-resort monorail system subject to state inspection, while this had previously been done internally.
Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit against DeSantis and the Disney-appointed board of directors in federal court in Tallahassee last month, which ended up with Walker. The Disney-appointed board sued Disney in a state court in Orlando earlier this month to void the agreements the company made with the previous board.
The creation of Disney’s self-governing district by the Florida Legislature was pivotal in the company’s decision to build near Orlando in the 1960s. Disney told the state at the time that it was planning to build a futuristic city with a transportation system and urban innovations, so the company needed autonomy. However, the futuristic city never materialized and instead turned into a second theme park, which opened in 1982.