Disney lawsuit judge steps down, not for Governor DeSantis’ reasons.

A federal judge who was overseeing the ongoing First Amendment lawsuit was removed from the case in which Walt Disney Parks had filed against Gov. Ron DeSantis and others. The judge, Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker, stated in a court filing on Thursday that he was disqualifying himself, but not because of bias claims made by the Florida governor.

Walker revealed that a relative of his owns 30 shares of Disney stock. Although the relative is a third-degree relation, the code of conduct for federal judges did not require him to investigate into the financial interests of third-degree relatives. The judge, however, chose to investigate and decided that disqualification was necessary under the circumstances.

The Florida governor’s lawyers had filed a motion to disqualify Walker last month, citing his mention of the ongoing dispute between the DeSantis administration and Disney during unrelated hearings involving issues on free speech and fear of retaliation for violating the governor’s new laws. Disney had opposed the governor’s motion, stating that the judge showed no bias.

DeSantis’ arguments were described as “without merit” by Judge Walker. He also clarified that “the value of the holdings didn’t matter but rather any impact he could have on the investment because of a ruling.”

The feud between Disney and DeSantis began last year after Disney publicly opposed legislation concerning lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, which critics called “Don’t Say Gay.” As punishment, DeSantis took over Disney World’s governing district through legislation passed by lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors. Before the new board came in, Disney made agreements with the old board made up of Disney supporters that stripped the new supervisors of design and construction authority.

In response, the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature passed legislation allowing the DeSantis-appointed board to repeal those agreements and made the theme park resort’s monorail system subject to state inspection, when it previously had been done in-house.

Disney filed the First Amendment lawsuit in April against the Florida governor and the DeSantis-appointed board, claiming violations of free speech and the contracts clause. The DeSantis-appointed board, known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, filed a lawsuit against Disney in state court in Orlando seeking to void the deals the company made with the previous board.

DeSantis named Tampa attorney Charbel Barakat to the oversight board recently to replace Michael Sasso, who resigned last month around the same time the governor appointed Sasso’s wife, Meredith, to the Florida Supreme Court.

This article is a part of the Associated Press and its contents may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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