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DeSantis seeks to disqualify federal judge from Disney suit

The Florida governor claims a federal judge is predisposed to ruling in Disney's favor.

(CN) — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis filed a motion Friday seeking to disqualify Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker from Disney's case against the Republican state leader, whom they accuse of retaliation based on the company's viewpoints.

The motion argues that Judge Walker, a Barack Obama appointee, made prior comments that suggest he is predisposed to ruling that the state retaliated against Disney.

It quotes a comment made by the judge in a separate state retaliation case, in which he contrasted the claims with the state's efforts to take away Disney's special district status for being "woke." In a written order for that case, the court allegedly expressed its views about political rhetoric directed at "woke" ideology, by referring to it as the "boogeyman of the day."

DeSantis argues that because the word "woke" appears in Disney's lawsuit "more than a dozen times," Judge Walker should be removed from the case to ensure impartiality.

The motion cites another case in which teachers sued DeSantis for violating their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, citing his "Stop Woke" act. In that case the judge made a similar statement comparing the claims with the state taking away Disney's status, according to the motion, "because — arguably, because they made a statement that run afoul — ran afoul of state policy of the controlling party."

"This case involves claims that Defendants retaliated against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc. based on Disney’s viewpoints. Yet two previous times, in two unrelated cases, the Court sua sponte offered 'Disney' as an example of state retaliation," the motion states.

"Those remarks — each derived from extrajudicial sources — were on the record, in open court, and could reasonably imply that the Court has prejudged the retaliation question here. Because that question is now before this Court, and because that question involves highly publicized matters of great interest to Florida’s citizens, the Court should disqualify itself to prevent even the appearance of impropriety," the motion continues.

Shortly after Disney publicly opposed the state's so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, last year, DeSantis accused the company of “crossing the line” and pledged to fight back against “woke corporations."

The governor then passed legislation dissolving Disney's self-governing district under the state's authority and giving himself the power to appoint its board of supervisors.

Disney decided to take legal action after DeSantis voided a development agreement and restrictive covenants that Disney approved prior to the start of his newly selected board. The contracts had instilled Disney's plans for future design and construction at the resort over the next 10 years.

In a federal lawsuit filed against DeSantis and his elected board members last month, the entertainment giant accuses the governor of violating the First Amendment and orchestrating "a targeted campaign of government retaliation" to punish the company for its protected speech.

A little over a week after Disney sued, DeSantis signed legislation out of the state’s Republican-majority Legislature invalidating the development agreements and subjecting the theme park resort’s monorail system to inspections by the state, instead of the company's own operators.

Amid the escalating feud, Disney announced yesterday it is pulling out of a roughly $1 billion investment for a new campus in Florida, citing "changing business conditions." The complex in Lake Nona would have included several buildings employing 2,000 Disney workers in digital technology, finance and product development, that would have been relocated from Southern California to Florida.

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