According to recent court minutes documented for the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board (CFTOD) countersuit against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, a hearing date has been set for 2 p.m. on Friday, July 14. This scheduled proceeding is slated to last one hour, and will be held in Florida’s Ninth Judicial Circuit for Orange and Osceola counties.
According to Orange County court records, the CFTOD is being represented by Attorney Daniel Langley. While an official attorney for Disney is not yet listed, Adam Hutsey was named in the court minutes document as counsel for the defendant.
Originally, The Walt Disney Company was the first to file a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and district leaders in federal court, before the DeSantis-appointed CFTOD board decided to counter the action at the state level.
Disney already sought to have this case dismissed early on, as the defendants in Disney’s lawsuit will also be attempting to have the federal one tossed out.
The board’s 188-page complaint names itself as plaintiff against Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, with district leaders asking the court to render Disney’s final development agreement with the former Reedy Creek Improvement District as unenforceable, null, and void. This deal — made publicly in accordance with state law — included a Declaration of Restrictive Covenants, permitting Disney to have the final say on any alterations to building exteriors in the district, additionally banning the board from having any sway over construction projects done on private Disney property. The covenants further require the board to inform Disney of plans for such alterations without conditions or delays, and deny the CFTOD from using Disney logos or intellectual property without permission. While stated as valid in perpetuity, the deal sets an expiry date for 21 years after the death of the last living descendant of King Charles III if found to be in violation of the “Rule Against Perpetuities.”
Disney’s Federal Case
Judge Allen C. Winsor is set to take over the federal lawsuit Disney has filed against Governor Ron DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District leaders, and just this week, approved some pre-trial deadlines all parties have agreed to. In the most recent court document to be added to the case, a timeline for the defendants seeking a dismissal of the trial has been set in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
- Defendants’ Motions to Dismiss: Due 6/26/23
- Plaintiff’s Responses: Due 7/26/23
- Defendants’ Replies: Due 8/9/23
Yesterday, Judge Mark Walker recused himself from presiding over the proceedings, despite denying Governor DeSantis’ motion to disqualify him. While the Governor claims he was seeking yet another replacement due to perceived and unfounded biases in unrelated cases in which Disney was mentioned, Judge Walker leveled harsh criticisms on the 2024 Presidential candidate’s motion deemed to be “wholly without merit.”
I find the motion is nothing more than rank judge-shopping. Sadly, this practice has become all too common in this district.
Regarding the attempted disqualification over the issue of partiality, Walker stated it would not be approved because the argument against him was “based on a misapprehension of the law and a misstatement of the facts,” with the DeSantis legal team utilizing past comments “for their convenient language without acknowledging the chasm between my statements in this case and the conduct at issue in those cases.” He ultimately decided to step away from the lawsuit after discovering a relative in the third degree owned Walt Disney Company stock.
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. Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic.
A different arbiter, Martin Fitzpatrick, already recused himself of his own volition in April, citing a “third degree” relation to someone employed by one of the parties. Only time will tell if DeSantis seeks a fourth judge more to his liking, though he may have found the one. The new judge, Winsor, was appointed by former President Donald Trump (as opposed to former President Barack Obama for his predecessor) and has notably protected controversial Florida laws passed by DeSantis, tossing legal opposition away. This would potentially mean he’d act far more favorably and partially to the Governor, being of similar political slant and association.
Ron DeSantis himself is adamant that he will not relent from his incessant pursuit of the company, stating he was “not backing down one inch” at his Presidential campaign kickoff speech in Iowa this week.
We run the state of Florida. They [Disney] do not run the state of Florida. We stand for the protection of our children. We will fight those who seek to rob them of their innocence and on that there will be no compromise.
A History of the Disney-DeSantis Feud
The Florida Governor and Walt Disney Company initially clashed over the corporation’s opposition to a much-debated and controversial Florida law regarding classroom instruction and discussion on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools, alongside various other recent state laws and proposals in a similar vein.
Bob Chapek was Chief Executive Officer at the time and initially remained silent and passive on the issue — until massive internal criticisms from Cast Members, the LGBTQ+ community, and controversy over Disney’s practice of making hefty political contributions to campaigns and individuals allegedly against their own stated human principles came into focus.
In an apparent act of retribution over Chapek’s expression of dissent, the Governor moved forward with various verbal and legal assaults on Disney, including the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District and eventual transfer of power directly under his control. DeSantis argues he is attacking an incredibly vague perception of something he calls “woke politics,” allegedly invading the state — frequently stating his intention to put the people of Florida first through these actions and the newly-formed CFTOD board:
Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long. It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.
Every member of this governing body has been a handpicked ally of the Governor thus far, including a Christian nationalist and lawyer who donated $50,000 to the DeSantis gubernatorial campaign, among others. In May, an administrator for the district (Glen Gilzean) was also appointed, with a significantly increased $400,000 salary directly related to ongoing DeSantis-led legal fights regarding Disney and several other issues around the state. The legal expenditures made by the Governor are being funded by Florida taxpayers.
Critics worry the role and its new incumbent could be weaponized for further orchestrated attacks, fines, and intentionally disruptive impediments on Walt Disney World, and that Gilzean himself is essentially receiving compensation to be aligned with the Governor’s whims. Daniel Langley, special general council for the district, alternatively describes the Administrator as “another tool in the toolbox for enforcement.”
Currently, Gilzean is the Chair of Florida’s Commission on Ethics, a position Governor DeSantis appointed him to. The Commission “renders legally binding advisory opinions interpreting the ethics laws and implements the State’s financial disclosure laws.” Recently, it rejected a complaint from the MAGA Inc. Super PAC backing Donald Trump, which claimed DeSantis was violating campaign finance laws and running a “shadow” campaign for President (via AP News).
After heated exchanges and dramatic actions taken by the Governor alleged to be intentionally harmful punishments, The Walt Disney Company sued him and his newly handpicked board not long after Bob Iger’s return as CEO, citing a “targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.” The plaintiff argues that this chronology of events “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”
The Walt Disney Company is suing for “declaratory and injunctive relief.” Injunctive relief forces a party to act in a certain way or prevents them from doing various things. An “injunction” is sometimes known as a restraining order.
Disney regrets that it has come to this, but having exhausted efforts to seek a resolution, the Company is left with no choice but to file this lawsuit to protect its cast members, guests, and local development partners from a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain State officials.
DeSantis insists he will double down on efforts to punish the resort through methods both in the Legislature and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board. Notably, he promised to raise hotel taxes and institute tolls on the roads around Walt Disney World Resort property, and suggested the idea of building a prison on space directly beside Disney land. Additionally, a bill was passed mandating state inspections of the resort’s monorails.
There’s a lot of little back-and-forths going on now with the state taking control, but rest assured, you know, you ain’t seen nothing yet. There’s more to come in that regard.