Governor Ron DeSantis calls for Judge Mark Walker to be disqualified from Disney free speech lawsuit

ORLANDO, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis is asking that a federal judge be disqualified from Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit against the Florida governor and his appointees, saying the lawyer’s prior statements in other cases have raised questions on his impartiality over the state. efforts to take over the governing body of Disney World.

DeSantis’ attorney filed a motion in federal court in Tallahassee on Friday seeking to disqualify U.S. District Chief Judge Mark Walker from overseeing the lawsuit Disney filed last month. The lawsuit alleges that DeSantis and his appointees violated the company’s right to free speech, as well as the contract term, by taking over the special government district that was previously controlled by Disney supporters after Disney opposed to Florida legislation that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.

The Republican governor’s motion was tabled a day after 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, amid an ongoing feud with DeSantis.

DeSantis’ motion said Walker referred to the ongoing dispute between his administration and Disney during hearings of two unrelated lawsuits involving free speech issues and fear of retaliation for breaking new laws. championed by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers. One of them was a First Amendment lawsuit brought by Florida professors that challenged a new law establishing an inquiry into “intellectual freedom and diversity of viewpoints” on campuses across the state.

Walker, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama and is now chief district judge, dismissed that lawsuit on the grounds that the professors lacked standing to challenge the law championed by DeSantis and lawmakers from Florida.

In the first instance, Walker said, “What’s in the file, for example – is there anything in the file that says we’re now going to take away Disney’s special status because ‘are they awake?

In the second case, the judge said, “And then Disney is going to lose its status because – presumably, because they made a statement that goes against the controlling party’s state policy” , according to the DeSantis query.

Disney and DeSantis have been engaged in a standoff for more than a year that has engulfed the GOP governor in criticism as he prepares to launch an expected presidential bid next week.

The feud began after Disney, under significant pressure, publicly opposed the state over lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in the early years that critics called “Don’t Say Gay”.

As punishment, DeSantis took over the self-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 removing the new design and construction authority supervisors.

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 Florida’s governor and the DeSantis-appointed board last month in federal court in Tallahassee, and it landed in Walker’s court. 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.

The creation of the Disney Autonomous District by the Florida Legislature was instrumental in the company’s decision in the 1960s to build near Orlando. Disney told the state at the time that it planned to build a futuristic city that would include a mass transit system and innovations in urban planning. The company therefore needed autonomy. However, the futuristic city never materialized and turned into a second theme park which opened in 1982.


This story has been corrected to reflect that Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit against the Governor of Florida and DeSantis-appointed counsel, not a Disney-appointed counsel; and that counsel appointed by DeSantis, not counsel appointed by Disney, sued Disney earlier this month in state court in Orlando.

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