Disney opposes DeSantis request to disqualify judge in free speech lawsuit
AP May 26, 2023 9 days ago |
A traveler walks past a jumbo screen projecting images of Walt Disney World in the east hall atrium at Orlando International Airport, Thursday, May 25, 2023 in Orlando, Fla. Auto club AAA said this summer could be “one for the record books, especially at airports,” with more than 43 million Americans projected to travel 50 miles or more. (Joe Burbank /Orlando Sentinel via AP)
FILE - Disney cast member Nicholas Maldonado protests the company's stance on LGBTQ issues, while participating in an employee walkout at Walt Disney World on March 22, 2022, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. For many of those who live in Florida, recent months in 2023 have brought some changes — many linked to Gov. Ron DeSantis. “Don’t say gay.” Regulation of books and classroom discussion. Teachers, parents and school librarians are all navigating new and uncertain ground. LGBTQ+ rights under attack. A very public spat between the state government and Disney. And at the center of it all is DeSantis, who has emerged as a rival of former President Donald Trump and likely has his eyes set on the White House. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack, File)
FILE - Crowds fill Main Street USA in front of Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom on the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney World, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2021. The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday, May 18, 2023, that it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California. The decision follows a year of attacks from Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Legislature because the company opposed a state law that bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP, File)
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC)
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Disney is opposing a request by Gov. 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 the request by attorneys for DeSantis, who declared his candidacy for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination earlier this week, didn't come close to meeting the standards set out in Florida law for requiring a judge to be disqualified.
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Last week, DeSantis' attorneys filed a motion seeking to disqualify Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, who is presiding over the case in federal court in Tallahassee. The motion said Walker referenced the ongoing dispute between the DeSantis administration and Disney during hearings in two unrelated lawsuits before him dealing with free speech issues and fear of retaliation for violating new laws championed 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 had shown no bias.
“Judges are not prohibited from referring accurately to widely-reported news events during oral arguments, nor must they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events happen to come before them months later,” Disney said in its filing.
Walker, who was nominated to the federal bench in 2012 by President Barack Obama and is now chief judge of the district, has said in court filings that he won’t take any action in the case until he rules on whether he should be disqualified.
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The feud between DeSantis and Disney started last year after the company, in the face of significant pressure, publicly opposed legislation concerning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades that critics called “Don’t Say Gay.”
In response, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed legislation allowing the DeSantis-appointed board to repeal those agreements and made the theme park resort’s monorail system subject to state inspection, when it previously had been done in-house.
Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit against the Florida governor and the DeSantis-appointed board last month in federal court in Tallahassee, claiming violations of free speech and the contracts clause. The DeSantis-appointed board earlier this month sued Disney in state court in Orlando seeking to void the deals the company made with the previous board.
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