Chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images
Disney urged a federal court to deny Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request disqualify a judge is overseeing a company lawsuit accusing the governor and his allies of political retaliation.
Lawyers for DeSantis argued that Judge Mark Walker should recuse himself from the lawsuit because of his comments in two separate cases that referenced a clash between the governor and the entertainment giant.
Disney — which has been feuding with DeSantis since last year, when the company opposed his bill, which critics called “Don’t Say Gay” — responded that the defendants’ argument did not meet the legal standard for disqualification.
“Judges are not prohibited from accurately referencing widely reported news events during oral arguments, nor may they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events happen to come months later,” Disney’s lawyers argued in a court filing Thursday.
“Disqualification is permitted only when the prior comments reveal the judge’s inability to consider the new case independently,” the lawyers wrote, adding that the judge’s subject comments “do not come close to that standard.”
Disney’s lawsuit alleges that DeSantis “orchestrated at every turn” a campaign to punish the company for defying a Florida law restricting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity. The alleged scheme is now threatening the company’s business, Disney claims.
“The case we filed last month clarified our position and the facts,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company’s earnings call earlier this month. “And that’s really what it’s about, one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliation against us for taking a position on pending legislation.”
The effort to remove Walker as a judge in Disney’s civil case in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Fla., came days before DeSantis launched his 2024 presidential campaign. national profile for involvement in numerous political battles.
A long-running battle between an ambitious politician and one of his state’s top employers has reached the courts after the governor’s handpicked officials voted to void Disney’s development deals for its Orlando-area parks.
Disney filed the lawsuit in late April after its new special district board voted to void development contracts the company said it had struck to secure its investment. The company has since updated that lawsuit to include newly passed legislation targeting its monorail system as further evidence of retaliation by the governor.
DeSantis’ next volley moved to replace Walker. Walker was nominated to serve as a judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama.
In 2018, Walker ruled against the state, ordering then-Governor Rick Scott to restore voting rights to felons after they are released from prison.
That same year, he ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to continue providing hormone treatment to a transgender inmate and to provide her with women’s underwear and body care products. An inmate diagnosed with gender dysphoria was housed in an all-male correctional facility.
Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.