First Read

State wants judge off Disney case

Mark Walker’s remarks 'could reasonably imply that (he) has prejudged the retaliation question here,' the motion said.

via Pixabay

Lawyers for Gov. Ron DeSantis and the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District are asking a federal judge to take himself off a case over the state invalidating controversial development agreements involving Walt Disney World. An 18-page motion filed Friday says Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker’s “impartiality … might reasonably be questioned,” explaining that he mentioned examples of how the state retaliated against Disney in other unrelated cases. 

Walker’s remarks – based on “extrajudicial sources,” or news reports – “could reasonably imply that the Court has prejudged the retaliation question here,” the motion said. Walker, an appointee of President Barack Obama, should disqualify himself “to prevent even the appearance of impropriety.” Court dockets show the judge had not responded to or decided the motion as of Sunday evening. 

The lawsuit was filed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts against DeSantis and the board he appointed for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which replaced Disney’s quasi-governmental Reedy Creek Improvement District. DeSantis recently signed a bill to undo development agreements OK’d right before the new board members took over. The quarrel began last year after Disney publicly opposed the DeSantis-backed law that, among other things, prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.

Friday’s motion listed no less than 15 attorneys, including Attorney General Ashley Moody, all three name partners of the new Lawson Huck Gonzalez firm founded by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Alan Lawson, and Charles J. Cooper, founding member and chairman of Washington, D.C.-based Cooper & Kirk. 

Updated Tuesday – Walker docketed a notice that he "will take no action, scheduling or otherwise, in this case until (he) rules on the pending motion for disqualification."

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