Disney opposes DeSantis’ request to disqualify judge in free speech lawsuit

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney is opposing a request by Governor Ron DeSantis to disqualify a judge overseeing the company’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Florida governor and others in which Disney says he was punished for speaking out against Florida legislation that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay”.

Disney said in court papers filed Thursday that the request from lawyers for DeSantis, who declared his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination earlier this week, did not come close to meeting the standards set out in Florida law. to demand that a judge be disqualified. .

Last week, DeSantis’ attorneys filed a motion to disqualify U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker, who is presiding over the case in federal court in Tallahassee. The motion says Walker referenced the ongoing dispute between the DeSantis administration and Disney during the hearings of two unrelated lawsuits involving free speech issues and fear of retaliation for breaking new defended laws. by the governor and Republican lawmakers.

Under Florida law, grounds for disqualification include bias and a conflict of interest. In its response, Disney said the judge showed no bias.

“Judges are not prohibited from accurately referring to widely reported current events during oral argument, nor should they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events come before them months later. “Disney said in its filing.

Walker, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama and is now chief district judge, said in court documents he would take no action in the case until he had not decided if he should be disqualified.

The feud between DeSantis and Disney began last year after the company, under significant pressure, publicly opposed legislation regarding sexual orientation and gender identity classes in the early years. which critics called “Don’t Say Gay”.

As punishment, DeSantis took over the governing district of Disney World through legislation passed by lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors. Prior to the arrival of the new board, the company signed agreements with the old board of Disney supporters that stripped the new supervisors of design and build authority.

In response, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed legislation authorizing the DeSantis-appointed board of trustees to repeal those agreements and subjected the theme park complex’s monorail system to state inspection, so that it was previously done in-house.

Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit against the Florida governor and the DeSantis-appointed board of directors last month in federal court in Tallahassee, alleging free speech and contractual term violations. The DeSantis-appointed board earlier this month sued Disney in an Orlando state court seeking to void agreements the company made with the previous board.

Last week, Disney announced it was backing away from building a new campus in central Florida and moving 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

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