A federal judge in Florida overseeing Walt Disney Co.’s lawsuit against Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis recused himself Thursday, saying he has a relative who owns Disney stock and could be affected by the outcome of the case.
In a filing with the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Judge Mark E. Walker, who was nominated by President Barack Obama, responded to a motion by DeSantis’ legal team requesting that he withdraw from the court. case.
“Defendants seek to disqualify me from presiding over this case because, in their opinion, questions I have asked in prior related cases raise substantial doubt about my impartiality,” Walker wrote.
Walker, however, said the DeSantis team’s motion was “based on an erroneous interpretation of the law and a misstatement of the facts.” The judge said the motion cited cases “for its convenient language without acknowledging the gulf between my statements in this case and the conduct at issue in those cases.”
DeSantis’ lawyers had argued in their motion that comments Walker made in a case about intellectual freedom on college campuses and about the Stop Woke Act, a 2022 law that restricts discussions of race, gender and inequality in business and education, suggested the governor’s actions against Disney retaliated.
The motion, therefore, is “totally without merit,” Walker wrote in Thursday’s filing.
“I think the motion is nothing more than a range judge selection. Unfortunately, this practice has become all too common in this district,” he said.
Walker, however, said he had determined that he had to disqualify himself from the case because he learned last week “that a third-degree relative owns thirty shares of plaintiff’s parent corporation, The Walt Disney Company.” He said this could be “substantially affected by the outcome of this case.”
The case has been reassigned to Judge Allen C. Winsor, who was nominated by President Donald Trump.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts filed the lawsuit against DeSantis in late April, alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company publicly opposed a state law critics call “Don’t Say Gay.” The lawsuit stemmed from DeSantis’s threat to revoke Walt Disney World’s charter status.
DeSantis has been at odds with Disney, whose special tax district, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, had allowed the company to self-manage its Orlando-based park operations for decades. DeSantis moved to take over district operations earlier this year.