Disney has filed a motion to oppose the request by the DeSantis legal team for a dismissal of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker. The lawyers for DeSantis said that comments the judge made that were unrelated to the case about the state retaliating against Disney were grounds for disqualification.
However, on Thursday Disney argued that the remarks don’t meet the “high bar” for judges to be disqualified. Court rules do “not prescribe the hair-trigger disqualification standard defendants suggest,” the Disney lawyers wrote. The comments made by Walker were made last year as lawmakers moved to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney’s special governing district. Disney said that the bar for disqualification is set intentionally high to prevent parties from trying to “effectively veto judges whose decisions they do not like and shop for a judge more to their liking.”
“Judges are not prohibited from referring accurately to widely-reported news events during oral arguments, nor must they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events happen to come before them months later. Disqualification is allowed only if the prior comments expose an incapacity on the judge’s part to consider the new case on its own merits. The comments here come nowhere close to that standard,” Disney’s lawyers wrote.
Last week attorneys for DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District argued that Walker’s comments gave “an appearance of partiality that would lead a reasonable observer to question whether the court is predisposed to ruling that the state retaliated against Disney.”
Currently, both sides are waiting to see what Judge Walker’s next move will be. On Tuesday, Walker ruled that nothing would move forward with anything regarding the lawsuit until he decided on the disqualification issue. Once that decision is made, it is expected that the DeSantis team will file a motion to dismiss the case. A briefing schedule will also be approved as well.
The lawsuit was the culmination of a dispute that began in 2022 after Disney came out against a Parental Rights in Education bill, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.” This led to DeSantis leading the Florida legislature and other state leaders in efforts to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In the end, it was replaced by the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Before this was finished, however, Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement District signed a development agreement that set the course for the district for decades into the future. This led to efforts by Florida leaders, led by DeSantis, to nullify the agreement. This has included legislation, a verbal dispute, and now lawsuits. This lawsuit was filed by Disney against DeSantis and other Florida leaders to basically set things back to before the “retaliation” of DeSantis.