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DeSantis wants Disney lawsuit judge disqualified

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Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gives remarks on the Heritage Foundation’s fiftieth Anniversary Leadership Summit on the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center on April 21, 2023 in National Harbor, Maryland.

Anna Moneymaker | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis moved Friday to disqualify the federal judge overseeing Disney‘s political retaliation lawsuit, alleging the judge’s comments in previous cases raise doubts about his impartiality.

Judge Mark Walker had in two separate cases “offered ‘Disney’ for example of state retaliation” without being prompted, lawyers for DeSantis said in a court filing.

Those remarks “could reasonably imply that the Court has prejudged the retaliation query” in Disney’s case, they argued. That is because Disney’s lawsuit alleges that DeSantis led a campaign of political retribution against the corporate after it criticized his controversial classroom bill, labeled “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

“Because that query is now before this Court, and since that query involves highly publicized matters of great interest to Florida’s residents, the Court should disqualify itself to stop even the looks of impropriety,” DeSantis’ legal team wrote.

A Disney spokesman didn’t immediately reply to CNBC’s request for comment.

Disney filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, after the corporate’s development deals were nullified by a board of supervisors that DeSantis had picked to oversee the district that features Walt Disney World. The board claimed Disney had struck the deals to thwart its power, however the entertainment giant says they were crafted to secure future investments in its Florida parks.

DeSantis had replaced the board along with his preferred picks after he and his allies targeted Disney’s special tax district. The give attention to the district, which had been in place for the reason that Nineteen Sixties, began just weeks after then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the classroom bill.

DeSantis’ legal team pointed to Walker’s remarks from the past yr in two separate court hearings as evidence to support his recusal.

In an April 1, 2022, hearing, Walker had asked, “is there anything within the record that claims we are actually going to remove Disney’s special status because they’re woke?”

In doing so, the judge had “used the State’s contemplated dissolution of Disney’s special district for example of retaliatory conduct,” DeSantis’ lawyers argued.

The opposite alleged example got here in a June 21, 2022, hearing in a case accusing DeSantis of chilling speech in schools. Walker had suggested in that hearing that Florida’s moves against Disney were punitive actions, when he said that the corporate was going to lose its special status since it made an announcement that arguably “ran afoul of state policy of the controlling party.”

The lawyers for DeSantis argued that Walker’s “unprompted suggestion, on two separate occasions, that the State punished Disney by eliminating its ‘special status’ gives an appearance of partiality.”

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

A spokesman for the board, whose members are also named as defendants in Disney’s lawsuit, declined to comment on the most recent court filing.

DeSantis battles Disney – and Trump

The feud between DeSantis and one among his state’s top employers has gone on for greater than a yr. The 2 sides have only grown more entrenched because the governor gears as much as launch his expected 2024 presidential campaign next week.

DeSantis has made a reputation for himself by engaging in divisive culture-war battles, including his fight against Disney, which the governor has slammed as a “Magic Kingdom of Woke Corporatism.”

But his drawn-out clash with the House of Mouse has exposed him to criticism from even some Republicans — and particularly former President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly ripped DeSantis.

After Disney announced on Thursday that it has abandoned plans to open up a latest worker campus in Lake Nona, Florida, situated 20 miles from Walt Disney World Resort, Trump crowed on social media that DeSantis was getting “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. Moreover, the corporate will not be asking greater than 2,000 California-based employees to relocate to Florida.

D’Amaro reiterated in his memo that the corporate still plans to take a position $17 billion in Florida over the following 10 years, including the addition of around 13,000 jobs. The corporate currently employs greater than 75,000 people within the state.

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

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