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Disney opposes DeSanti’s request to disqualify the judge in a free speech lawsuit

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

Disney said in court papers filed Thursday that attorneys’ request to DeSantis, who earlier this week declared his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, was nowhere near the standards set forth in Florida law to require that a judge is disqualified. .

Last week, DeSantis’ attorneys filed a motion to disqualify Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who is presiding over the case in federal court in Tallahassee. The motion said Walker was referring to the ongoing dispute between the DeSantis administration and Disney during hearings in two unrelated lawsuits before him on issues of free speech and fear of retaliation for violating new laws championed by the governor and Republican legislators.

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Under Florida law, grounds for disqualification include bias and conflict of interest. In his response, Disney said the judge had shown no bias.

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

Walker, who was nominated to federal court by President Barack Obama in 2012 and is now chief judge of the district, has said in court documents that he will not take any action in the case until he decides whether to disqualify him.

The feud between DeSantis and Disney began last year after the company, under intense pressure, publicly opposed legislation related to first-class sexual orientation and gender identity classes that critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”

As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s administrative district through legislation passed by lawmakers and appointed a new Board of Supervisors. Before the new board took office, the company signed agreements with the old board, made up of Disney supporters, stripping the new supervisors of design and construction authority.

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In response, the Republican-controlled Florida legislature passed legislation allowing the DeSantis-appointed board to revoke those agreements and subject the theme park resort’s monorail system to state inspection, when it had previously been done internally.

Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit against Florida’s governor and DeSantis-appointed administration in federal court in Tallahassee last month, alleging freedom of speech and contract clause violations. The DeSantis-appointed board earlier this month sued Disney in state court in Orlando to void deals the company made with the previous board.

Last week, Disney announced it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to digital technology, finance and product development.


Follow Mike Schneider on Twitter at @MikeSchneiderAP

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