Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Thursday disqualified himself from overseeing a lawsuit filed by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts against Gov. Ron DeSantis and DeSantis appointees, saying he had a relative who is a stockholder in the entertainment giant. DeSantis and members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board asked Walker to step aside from the case, pointing to comments he made in unrelated legal matters about the state retaliating against Disney.
Previous coverage –
- State wants judge off Disney case
- Disney wants federal judge to stay on case against state of Florida
Walker’s ruling Thursday called the state’s request “wholly without merit” and “nothing more than rank judge-shopping.” But the ruling said the case “involves significant economic interests for its (Disney’s) parent corporation, in which my third-degree relative owns stock.” Walker, who was appointed to the bench by former President Barack Obama, said he was erring on “the side of caution” by disqualifying himself. “Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic,” Walker wrote.
The case was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump. In the lawsuit, Disney alleged it has been the victim of “targeted campaign of government retaliation” that now “threatens business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
DeSantis and Disney began clashing after the company opposed a controversial 2022 law that restricts instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools — a law that supporters titled “Parental Rights in Education” but detractors called “don’t say gay.” Legislators ultimately stripped Disney of its self-governing powers over a special district, which was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and gave DeSantis the power to appoint district board members.
This is a complimentary News Service of Florida story for City & State Florida readers. For more of the most comprehensive and in-depth political and policy news, consider a subscription, beginning with a 10-day free trial.