Lawyers for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts are opposing a request from the state that a federal judge remove himself from a case over the canceling of controversial development agreements involving Walt Disney World. The attorneys filed their response to the possible disqualification of Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday. Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a bill to undo the agreements.
They had been OK’d right before a new board took over the former Reedy Creek quasi-governmental body that ran Disney-owned land in Central Florida. Lawyers for DeSantis and the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District said Walker’s “impartiality … might reasonably be questioned,” noting that he has mentioned examples from news reports of how the state retaliated against Disney in other unrelated cases.
But the Disney lawyers said “judges are not prohibited from referring accurately to widely-reported news events … nor must they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events happen to come before them months later.” They added, “Even when a court expresses an opinion … during a pending case, an ‘extrajudicial source’ for that opinion is by itself neither necessary nor sufficient to require recusal.’ ”
Walker earlier this week ruled he would “take no action, scheduling or otherwise, in this case until (he) rules on the pending motion for disqualification.” The state’s fight with Disney began last year after it publicly opposed the DeSantis-backed law that, among other things, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
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