Disney fired back Friday in response to Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bid to have the judge removed from a lawsuit against DeSantis and others in which Disney said it was punished for speaking out against Florida’s parental rights in education bill.
Republican Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody filed a motion May 19 to have Chief Judge Mark Walker of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida in Tallahassee removed, citing statements Walker made in two previous court cases regarding the DeSantis-Disney feud that she charged demonstrate a lack of impartiality.
But Disney countered in its motion filed Friday that Walker’s comments didn’t meet the high standards for a judge to be removed from a case.
Disney’s attorneys wrote court rules do not “prescribe the hair-trigger disqualification standard defendants suggest” and that they merit disqualification “only when a court’s comments about the issues or parties in a case would cause a reasonable, fully informed observer to have significant doubts that the court can approach the case with an open mind.”
Walker on Tuesday issued an order saying he would take no further action until he ruled on the motion for disqualification, the Orlando Sentinel reported Thursday.
DeSantis’ feud with Disney stretches back to last year, when the entertainment giant spoke out against the state’s parental rights in education bill, which critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” even though the words “gay” or “homosexual” are not referenced in the bill.
The legislation prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in grades K-3. On May 17, DeSantis, who on Wednesday announced his plan to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, signed an expansion to the bill that extends the prohibition to kindergarten through eighth grade.
After Disney voiced its disapproval of the bill, the Florida Legislature ended Disney’s more than 50-year agreement with the state of self-rule over the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Lawmakers created a new board to oversee the district and gave DeSantis power to appoint the members.
In its lawsuit, filed last month, Disney claimed “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech — now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
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