Judge recuses himself in Disney World case, but blasts Ron DeSantis’ lawyers

A federal judge in Florida recused himself from Disney’s lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis, but not before blasting the governor’s legal team for engaging in “rank judge shopping.”

In a ruling late Thursday, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Mark E. Walker said he would not pursue the lawsuit filed by Disney last month. Mr. Disney Disney accused DeSantis and the group that oversees government services at Disney World of engaging in a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

The case was presided over by Judge Alan C. Transferred to Winsor, he was appointed in 2019 by President Donald J. Appointed to the court by Trump.

Mr. Walker was appointed by President Barack Obama to disqualify Judge Walker. DeSantis’ lawyers tried because he had filed an unrelated lawsuit against Disney last year against Mr. DeSantis’ actions were mentioned twice. The lawyers argued that Judge Walker’s brief comments, when he posed the hypothetical questions, “could reasonably be construed to imply that the Court here presupposes Disney’s theory of retaliation, and therefore creates significant doubts about the Court’s impartiality.”

Disney lawyers They opposed Motion to Disqualify – and Judge Walker agreed with them. He ruled that the quoted comments “could not raise substantial doubt as to my impartiality in the mind of a fully informed, disinterested layman.”

But in a surprise move, Judge Walker recused himself, saying he learned last week that a relative owned 30 shares of Disney.

He said in his ruling that he had no choice but to step aside as his relative’s “financial interest” could be affected by the case. “The amount or dollar amount of a third-degree relative’s financial interest is irrelevant,” he wrote.

Disney declined to comment.

In a related message on Thursday, Mr. DeSantis was appointed Charbal Parakat, a Tampa attorney and host of “Jeopardy!” Champion to fill a vacancy on the five-member board that oversees government services at Disney World and is at the center of a fight between the governor and the company. Michael A. Sasso was replaced by Mr. Barakat resigned from the board last week without reason, and his wife, Meredith Sasso, was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court the next day.

Mr. DeSantis and Disney have been fighting over a special tax district covering Disney World since March 2022. The fight began when the agency criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “don’t say gay” for restricting classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation. Disney’s review of Mr. Infuriated DeSantis.

Since then, Florida legislators, including Mr. At DeSantis’ urging, they targeted Disney, the state’s largest taxpayer, with various hostile actions. In February, they met at Disney World with Mr. They gave DeSantis control, ending the company’s ability to self-manage its 25,000-acre resort like a county.

Mr. Board members appointed by DeSantis soon discovered that the previous board, controlled by Disney, had approved contracts locked into the development plan for the resort. Attempts to void those agreements resulted in wrangling lawsuits, with Mr. Disney suing in federal court. DeSantis and his allies were sued and the governor’s tax district appointees fired back in state court.

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