The Walt Disney Company has fired back against efforts by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to remove the judge overseeing its lawsuit against him. File Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
May 27 (UPI) -- The Walt Disney Company has filed a motion asking a federal court to reject a bid by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis seeking to remove the judge overseeing its lawsuit against the governor.
Disney filed a motion U.S. District Court in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday as the latest tit-for-tat move in a legal feud between DeSantis and the entertainment giant, initially sparked when Disney last year expressed its opposition to Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, which was strongly supported by the governor.
DeSantis in February signed legislation removing the status Disney's self-administered Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special zone created in 1967 so that Disney would have more control over construction in its theme parks.
In April, Disney sued DeSantis, alleging "a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials."
The governor last week filed a motion to seeking to have Judge Mark Walker removed from the case based on statements he had made in two prior cases. DeSantis alleged Walked had offered Disney "as an example of state retaliation" and argued the judge's statements "could reasonably imply that the Court has prejudged the retaliation question."
In Disney's latest filing, however, its attorneys blasted those assertions and argued that Walker's comments were reasonable.
"The two comments defendants cite provide no basis on which a reasonable, fully-informed person could perceive any risk -- much less a significant risk -- that the court's mind is closed and that it is incapable of fair and dispassionate inquiry into the legal and factual issues in this case," they wrote.
"Judges are not prohibited from referring accurately to widely-reported news events during oral arguments, nor must they disqualify themselves if cases related to those events happen to come before them months later," they added.
Additionally, Disney's lawyers argued that in both cases referred to by DeSantis, the court sided with the government.
The context of Walker's statements, they wrote, "conclusively refutes any suggestion" of bias against the governor, adding that the judge indeed ruled in favor of the state of Florida "in the very cases cited by defendants here as evidence of potential bias against them."
Disney CEO Bob Iger described DeSantis' actions as "retaliatory" against his company's right of free speech during a quarterly earnings call earlier this month.
"This is about one thing and one thing only and that's retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation," he told analysts.