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Disney, DeSantis Battle Takes Another Ugly Turn

Walt Disney’s leadership and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis won’t be sitting down over a meal at Disney World in order to hash out their differences anytime soon. It seems the two sides won’t even meet on neutral ground (like an Outback Steakhouse or even a Morton’s if Disney CEO Bob Iger picks up the bill) because DeSantis has dug his political heels in the ground.

For its part, Walt Disney (DIS) – Get Free Report has no intentions of apologizing, for what Iger has said was simply the company exercising its right to free speech. That free speech, of course, involved taking a stand against DeSantis’ so-called “don’t say gay” legislation, which heavily limits the ability for schools to discuss LGBTQ+ topics.

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It’s a disagreement that started as saber-rattling where it seemed like the dispute would be public and ugly but have no real consequences. Even when DeSantis moved to take over Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, that originally seemed like a cosmetic gesture given the moves Disney made before its leadership of the district was taken away.

Now, however, the battle between the two sides has intensified with multiple lawsuits being filed by each party. A federal lawsuit filed by Disney has been put on hold as DeSantis has filed a motion to disqualify Chief Judge Mark E. Waller and Disney has fired back by filing its own motion to dispute the Republican Governor’s allegations. 

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Disney Opposes DeSantis’ Motion

DeSantis’s original May 19 motion alleged that the judge might not be impartial because of comments Walker made publicly “where the judge allegedly compared the details of those respective cases with the ongoing developments happening between Disney, the state of Florida, and Disney’s former Reedy Creek Improvement District,” the Orlando Business Journal reported.

“The court did not make any findings about those statements, but simply invoked them during oral arguments as examples to test arguments being advanced by counsel addressing different issues under different factual records,” wrote Disney in its May 25 response filing.

Disney, in the documents filed with the court laid out the standard under which a judge can be removed.

“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,” the company argued,

DeSantis Wants a Favorable Judge

This type of wrangling before a court case is not uncommon. DeSantis wants a judge who will be favorable to his cause and he may not believe that Walker, a Barack Obama appointee will be. But, who appointed a judge, and what their past political affiliation does not mean a judge needs to be disqualified.

Instead, the standard, Disney argues, is whether the judge can be expected to give both sides a fair hearing.    

“Given the court’s lengthy record of consistent fairness and objectivity, no reasonable, fully-informed observer could possibly conclude from its brief questions in the [cited cases’] arguments that the court ‘harbors an aversion, hostility or disposition of a kind that a fair-minded person could not set aside when judging the dispute,'” Disney’s lawyers wrote.

Disney made it clear that the company believes that disqualifying Walker would set a dangerous precedent, BlogMickey reported.

“The opposition warns that if the court recuses itself without the standard ‘high bar to disqualification,’ then it would set a precedent that allows parties to ‘effectively veto judges whose decisions they do not like and shop for a judge more to their liking.'”

Disney recently canceled a $1 billion headquarters project that would have been built near Disney World. DeSantis answered that by alleging that the company had never intended to build the project in the first place.

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