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DeSantis wants the judge in the Disney case disqualified


Florida Governor Ron DeSantis delivers remarks at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on April 21, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland.

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved Friday to disqualify the federal judge in charge Disneyof political retaliation lawsuitalleging the judge’s comments in previous cases raised doubts about his impartiality.

Judge Mark Walker had two separate cases that “offered ‘Disney’ as an example of state retaliation” without prompting, DeSantis’ lawyers said in a court filing.

Those comments “could reasonably be taken to mean that the Court prejudged the question of retaliation” in Case of Disney, they argued. That’s because Disney’s lawsuit alleges DeSantis led a campaign of political retaliation against the company after it criticized its controversial classroom bill, which critics labeled “Don’t Say Gay” .

“Because that question is now before this Court, and because that question involves matters of which the citizens of Florida have been well informed, the Court must disqualify itself to prevent even the showing impropriety,” wrote DeSantis’ legal team.

A Disney spokesperson did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Disney filed a civil lawsuit in US District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, after the company’s development deals were canceled by a board of supervisors appointed by DeSantis to oversee the district that includes Walt Disney World. The board said Disney broke the agreements to limit its power, but the entertainment giant said it was done to ensure future investment in Florida parks.

DeSantis replaced the board with his preferred picks after he and his allies targeted Disney’s special tax district. The focus on the district, which has been around since the 1960s, began just weeks after Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the classroom bill.

DeSantis’ legal team pointed to Walker’s statements from last year in two separate court hearings as evidence to support his denial.

In an April 1, 2022, hearing, Walker asked, “is there anything on the record that says we’re going to take away Disney’s special status because they’re awake?”

In doing so, the judge “used the State’s perceived dismantling of the Disney special district as an example of retaliatory behavior,” DeSantis’ attorneys argued.

Another alleged example occurred on a June 21, 2022, hearing in a lawsuit accusing DeSantis of chilling speech in schools. Walker suggested in that hearing that Florida’s actions against Disney were punitive actions, when he said the company would lose its special status because it made a statement that could “violate state policy of the controlling party.”

Attorneys for DeSantis argued that Walker’s “unsolicited suggestion, on two separate occasions, that the State punish Disney by revoking its ‘special status’ gave the appearance of prejudice.”

“The Court’s comments appear to reflect its opinion on whether the State penalized Disney’s speech by revoking Disney’s ‘special status,'” they wrote.

A spokesman for the board, whose members are also named as defendants in the Disney case, declined to comment on the latest court filing.

DeSantis is fighting Disney — and Trump

The feud between DeSantis and one of his state’s top employers has been going on for more than a year. The two sides heated up as the governor prepared to launch his expected 2024 presidential campaign next week

DeSantis made a name for himself by engaging in divisive culture wars, including his fight against Disney, which the governor criticized as the “Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism.”

But his fierce battle with the House of Mouse exposed him to criticism even from some Republicans – and especially from the former President. Donald Trumpwho repeatedly ripped into DeSantis.

ESPN is a big issue for Disney as it recovers from ad revenue pullback, says Macquarie's Tim Nollen

Then Disney announced on Thursday that it had abandoned plans at the opening of a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, located 20 miles from the Walt Disney World Resort, Trumpet on social media that DeSantis “destroyed.”

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division, cited “changing business conditions” and the return of CEO Bob Iger as reasons for the cancellation. Additionally, the company will no longer require more than 2,000 California-based employees to relocate to Florida.

D’Amaro reiterated in his memo that the company still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, including adding nearly 13,000 jobs. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the state.

Disney declined to provide specific updates on that investment, but previously announced plans to update park attractions, expand existing parks and add more cruise ships to its Florida fleet.

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