December 11, 2023

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis speaks at the Heritage Foundation’s 50th Anniversary Leadership Summit at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland, April 21, 2023.

Anna Cash Cow | Getty Images

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday proposed disqualifying federal judges from monitoring disneyThe political retaliation lawsuit alleges that the judge’s remarks in past cases cast doubt on his impartiality.

DeSantis’ attorneys said in a court filing that Judge Mark Walker “cited ‘Disney’ as an example of state retaliation” in two separate cases but was not prompted.

Those remarks, they argued, “may reasonably suggest that the court has prejudged the issue of retaliation in Disney’s case.” That’s because Disney’s lawsuit says DeSantis led a political retaliation campaign against the company after he criticized his controversial classroom bill, which critics dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”

DeSantis’ legal team wrote: “Because this issue is now before this Court, and because this issue involves a highly publicized issue of great interest to Florida citizens, the Court should disqualify itself in order to prevent the appearance of impropriety. Behavior.”

A Disney spokesperson did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.

Disney filed the civil suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, after the company’s development deal was canceled by the board of supervisors, with DeSantis opting to oversee territories including Walt Disney World. The board claimed Disney made the deals to dilute its power, but the entertainment giant said the deals were crafted to secure future investments in its Florida parks.

He replaced the board with his top picks after DeSantis and his allies took aim at Disney’s special tax district. Attention to the district has been around since the 1960s, and it came just weeks after then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the classroom bill.

DeSantis’ legal team pointed to comments Walker made in two separate court hearings last year as evidence in support of his recusal.

At the hearing on April 1, 2022, Walker had asked, “Is there anything on the record to indicate that we will now remove Disney’s special status because they woke up?”

DeSantis’ attorneys argued that in doing so, the judge “exampled the state’s intention to dissolve the Disney District as an example of retaliation.”

Another instance of allegations occurred at a hearing on June 21, 2022, in a case that accused DeSantis of making chilling remarks at a school. Walker called Florida’s move against Disney a punitive action during that hearing, when he said the company would lose its special status because it made statements that arguably “conflicted with the state policy of the controlling party.”

DeSantis’ attorneys argued that Walker “offered, on two separate occasions, that the state punish Disney by revoking its ‘special status,’ which gave the impression of favoritism.”

“The court’s comments appear to reflect its view of whether the state is punishing Disney’s remarks by revoking Disney’s ‘special status,'” they wrote.

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

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Trump said on social media that DeSantis was being “destroyed” after Disney announced on Thursday that it was abandoning plans to open a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, 20 miles from Walt Disney World Resort.

Disney Parks, Experiences and Products chairman Josh D’Amaro cited the “changing business environment” and the return of CEO Bob Iger as reasons for the cancellation. Additionally, the company will no longer require its more than 2,000 California employees to relocate to Florida.

Damaro reiterated in the memo that the company still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, including adding about 13,000 jobs. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the state.

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