A federal judge has recused himself in a case Walt Disney World brought against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month — but not before accusing the Republican presidential nominee of ‘rank judge shopping.’
In an ruling late Thursday night, Judge Mark E. Walker, the chief judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida, said he would no longer preside over the politically-contentious case.
He denied that the move was related to lawyers for the Florida governor seeking to disqualify him from the case due to remarks he made last year about DeSantis’ actions against Disney.
Instead, Walker claimed that he made the decision to step away from the case after he found out that one of his relatives owns stock in the House of Mouse. The judge went on to call DeSantis’ team’s legal objections ‘judge shopping.’
The company has claimed in federal court documents that the Republican governor and Florida’s Tourism Oversight Board were ‘weaponizing’ their power to inflict political punishment.
In an ruling late Thursday night, Judge Mark E. Walker, the chief judge for the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida, (pictured) said he would no longer preside over a case Walt Disney World brought against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
In his ruling, the judge accusing the Republican presidential nominee of ‘rank judge shopping’ after his lawyers sought to get him disqualified
Lawyers for the Republican governor have argued that Walker’s remarks last year in unrelated cases, which were made as he was posing hypothetical questions, ‘could reasonably be understood to reflect that the court has prejudged Disney’s retaliation theory here, and therefore create significant doubts about the court’s impartiality.’
But in his ruling on Thursday, Walker denied these claims, noting that he brought up DeSantis’ dealings with Disney in a case ‘dealing with the motivations of political actors (including some of the same actors here).’
‘Defendants cherry-pick language from these cases to support their position without acknowledging the wholly distinguishable context underlying each decision,’ the Obama-appointed judge wrote.
He argued that the cited remarks ‘cannot raise a substantial doubt about my impartiality in the mind of a fully informed, disinterested lay person.’
Walker even went as far as to slam the motion as ‘nothing more than rank judge-shopping,’ claiming ‘this practice has become all too common in this district.’
‘However, defendants did get one thing right,’ he continued. ‘That is, if a judge has doubts over whether disqualification is required, he should resolve these doubts in favor of disqualification.’
He then went on to share that he learned last week that a relative has 30 shares of Disney stock, and because Disney lawyers argue that DeSantis’ alleged retaliation of the company could affect its revenue stream, he decided to step aside.
‘Even though I believe it is highly unlikely that these proceedings will have a substantial effect on The Walt Disney Company, I choose to err on the side of caution — which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity — and disqualify myself,’ Walker wrote.
‘Maintaining public trust in thee judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic,’ he said.
Walker concluded by saying: ‘I am confident that my colleagues on this Court can preside over the remainder of this case and judge it fairly and wisely.’
The case has been reassigned to Judge Allen C. Winsor, who was appointed to the court under former President Trump, according to the New York Times.
Disney brought the lawsuit against DeSantis and Florida’s Tourism Oversight Board last month, accusing them of ‘weaponizing’ their political power by stripping a deal that would have allowed the company to maintain control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District
The Reedy Creek Improvement District stretches for nearly 40 square miles and includes the entire Walt Disney World Resort. The area is being renamed to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and includes a new DeSantis-appointed five-member board
Lawyers for the House of Mouse brought the lawsuit against DeSantis last month after his five-member board voted to void an agreement that would maintain Disney’s control of Reedy Creek, home to Disney World and Walt Disney World resorts.
Since 1967, Disney has held control over the property and decisions of the effectively autonomous Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Federal judge Allen C. Winsor (pictured) will now preside over the case
But DeSantis has argued that the corporation should not be awarded any special privileges, and stripped the company of its autonomy of the region.
‘For more than half a century, Disney has made an immeasurable impact on Florida and its economy, establishing Central Florida as a top global tourist destination and attracting tens of millions of visitors to the State each year,’ the lawsuit reads.
‘People and families from every corner of the globe have traveled to Walt Disney World because of the unrivaled guest experience it provides and the deep emotional connection that generations of fans have with Disney’s timeless stories and characters,’ it continues.
‘A targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech—now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.’
The lawyers claimed that the Florida government did not give the company proper notification that it was voiding the company’s deals, and proceedings were not followed.
But in a statement to DailyMail.com, DeSantis Communications Director Taryn Fenske slammed the suit as ‘yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.’
She added that the Florida governor’s team is ‘unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.’
At a campaign stop in New Hampshire last month, DeSantis vowed to not back down in his fight against the House of Mouse
The Florida governor has since vowed not to back down in his fight against Disney.
Speaking to a crowd of potential voters in New Hampshire last month, he said: ‘They want to have their own government at Disney, they’ve had their own government for 50 years. It’s massive corporate welfare, and we’re not going to do that.’
‘They’re going to live under the same laws as everybody else. They’re going to pay their fair share of taxes and they’re not going to govern themselves. We the people are going to govern, and to put one corporation on a pedestal and let them be exempt from the laws is not good policy,’ he said.
‘It’s not free market economics. And it’s not something that our state is going to be involved in. And so we will not change from that. They can do whatever they want. I know people try to chirp and say this or that. The chance of us backing down on that is zero.’