Chairman of The Walt Disney Company Bob Iger.
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disney urged a federal court to reject a request by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to disqualify the judge in charge of the company’s trial accusing the governor and his allies of political retaliation.
Lawyers for DeSantis had argued that Judge Mark Walker should recuse himself from the trial over his comments in two separate cases referring to the clash between the governor and the entertainment giant.
Disney – which has been feuding with DeSantis since last year when the company spoke out against his bill that critics called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ – replied that the defendants’ argument did not respect the legal standard of disqualification.
“Judges are not prohibited from accurately referring to widely publicized current events during oral argument, nor should they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events come before them months later. “Disney lawyers argued in a filing Thursday.
“Disqualification is only permitted if the prior comments reveal an inability on the part of the judge to consider the new case on its own merits,” the lawyers wrote, adding that the judge’s comments “nowhere close to of this standard”.
Disney’s lawsuit alleges that DeSantis “orchestrated at every step” a campaign to punish the company for speaking out against a Florida bill limiting classroom discussions about sexual orientation or gender identity. This alleged scheme now threatens the company’s business, according to Disney.
“The filing we filed last month made our position and the facts very clear,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said during the company’s earnings call earlier this month. “And it’s really that it’s one thing and one thing only and it’s retaliation against us for taking a stand on pending legislation.”
The effort to remove Walker as a judge in Disney’s civil case in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Florida, came days before DeSantis was set to launch his 2024 presidential campaign. The governor, who is considered as former President Donald Trump’s main contender for the GOP nomination, has gained national profile for engaging in numerous political battles.
The long-running fight between the ambitious politician and one of his state’s largest employers spilled over into the courts after officials hand-picked by the governor voted to void Disney’s development deals for its Orlando area parks.
Disney filed its lawsuit in late April after its new special district board voted to void development contracts the company said it entered into to secure its investments. The company has since updated that lawsuit to include recently passed legislation targeting its monorail system as further evidence of the governor’s retaliation.
DeSantis’ next volley was to move to have Walker replaced. Walker was appointed as a judge of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida in 2012 by President Barack Obama.
In 2018, Walker spoke out against the state and ordered then-Governor Rick Scott to restore voting rights to felons after they were released from prison.
That same year, he ordered the Florida Department of Corrections to continue providing a transgender prisoner with hormone therapy and to provide her with women’s underwear and toiletries. The prisoner, who was diagnosed with gender dysphoria, was incarcerated in a male-only correctional facility.
Representatives for DeSantis did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment.