Attorneys for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday asked a federal judge to back down from a case brought by Disney, saying his comments in two independent court cases last year showed a bias against the company.
Florida Assistant Attorney General John Guard made the motion on behalf of Mr. DeSantis to Chief Justice of the North District of Florida Mark E. Walker. Judge Walker is leading the initial phase of a Disney lawsuit filed last month accusing Mr. DeSantis and an executive overseeing government services at Walt Disney World of engaging in “a targeted government retaliation campaign.”
In their motion to disqualify Judge Walker, Mr Guard and the five board members’ attorneys said that two comments made last year “could reasonably be taken to reflect that the court anticipated Disney’s theory of retaliation here and therefore raises serious doubts about it.” impartiality of the court.”
In both cases, Judge Walker raised Disney in independent case hearings and, according to the record, briefly cited the actions of Mr. DeSantis and his Florida legislature allies against the company as examples of retaliatory behavior. Judge Walker made one of those comments at a hearing in a case involving freedom of thought on college campuses, a day after Mr. DeSantis “publicly refuted” the notion that he would take “retaliatory action” against Disney, states it on file.
The second comment was made in June at a hearing on an injunction related to Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which restricts discussion of “white male privilege” and other racial prejudice in diversity training provided by private employers. According to the filing, Judge Walker cited what went on between Mr. DeSantis and Disney as an example of a punitive measure.
In August, Judge Walker made national headlines for blocking portions of the law officially called the Individual Freedom Act, which Mr. DeSantis endorsed.
A Disney spokesman declined to comment. Judge Walker, who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2012, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
Mr. DeSantis and Disney have been at odds over a special tax district that includes Disney World for more than a year. The fight began when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents dubbed “don’t say gay” for restricting teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom — angering Mr. DeSantis, who has repeatedly vowed revenge.
Since then, Florida lawmakers, at the urging of Mr. DeSantis, have targeted Disney — the state’s largest taxpayer — with a series of hostile measures. In February, they gave Mr. DeSantis control of government services at Disney World, ending the company’s longstanding ability to self-manage its 25,000-acre resort as if it were a county.
The board members appointed by Mr. DeSantis soon discovered that a previous Disney-controlled board had approved development deals that provided for a growth plan for the resort. Attempts to void these agreements have resulted in litigation, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and his associates in federal court and commissioners from the Governor’s Tax District returning fire in state court.