The battle between Walt Disney World and the state of Florida has been going on for well over a year at this point and while it now seems all but assured that a federal judge will decide how this all ends, the question now is just who that federal judge will be. Last week the DeSantis legal team filed a motion to disqualify the judge in the case. Now Disney is filed its own motion arguing why the judge should remain.
The legal team for Ron DeSantis and the Board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board, who are being sued, in their official capacities, by Disney for retaliation, has argued that Judge Mark E. Walker should be disqualified from hearing the case, which also includes a countersuit against Disney brought by the CFTOD.
In the state’s filing last week, it argued that Judge Walker had made comments in unrelated cases that used Disney as an example of state retaliation, and therefore the judge was biased and should be disqualified. CBS now has Disney’s response, where the company argues that the judge’s comments do not rise to the necessary level to require disqualification, and therefore he should stay on the case.
Disney is suing Republican Presidential Candidate and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and several other Florida officials claiming the state’s moves to eliminate and replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District with a new special district board appointed directly by the governor, as well as the passing of several other new laws with limited scope, were retaliatory responses to Disney exercising its First Amendment right to free speech when the company spoke out in opposition to an education bill last year.
The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District has filed a countersuit against Disney, claiming that a deal between Disney and Reedy Creek that transferred control of several thousand acres of land directly to Disney World should be set aside.
The decision regarding disqualification is important not only because it will likely determine the course of the lawsuit itself, but there are already other motions in front of the judge regarding the case. Disney has asked that the countersuit against it be dismissed, because one of the many new laws signed by Ron DeSantis that targeted Disney allows the CFTOD to undo the land deal, making the lawsuit to do the same unnecessary. Florida also passed a recent transportation bill that specifically targets Disney World's Monorail.
Judge Walker has stated that no ruling on the dismissal, or anything else regarding the case, will be made until he rules on his disqualification. As such this entire battle will be at something of a standstill until that decision is made. Of course for the most part this fight has been a war of words between Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney CEO Bob Iger, and that’s unlikely to change.