Judge Drops Out Of Major DeSantis Legal Battle

Matt Johnson from Omaha, Nebraska, United States, CC BY 2.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

On Friday (April 28), the federal judge presiding over the Disney lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) recused himself over a conflict of interest.

U.S. Magistrate Martin Fitzpatrick ruled on Friday that he could no longer oversee the lawsuit because he is a relative of an employee of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, U.S., Inc., in the “third degree.”

According to regulations, following Fitzpatrick’s withdrawal, the case will be assigned to another judge.

The recusal comes after Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., Inc., filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Florida’s Northern District on Wednesday (April 26).

In the lawsuit, Disney accuses DeSantis of arranging a “targeted campaign on government retaliation” that had violated Disney’s free speech rights.

Disney filed the lawsuit following the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, home of Walt Disney World Resort, decided to cancel two development agreements signed by Disney in February.

The board making the decision had recently been appointed by DeSantis.

In the lawsuit, Disney alleges that Florida’s government’s action against the company is “patently retaliatory… anti-business, and… unconstitutional,” emphasizing that DeSantis “and his allies have made clear” they have no intention of stopping.

In response to the lawsuit, DeSantis’ office pointed to Disney’s special district status.

Taryn Fenske, DeSantis’ communications director, explained being “unaware” of the existence of a right for a company “to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state.”

Fenske described the Disney lawsuit as “another unfortunate example” of the company’s attempt to “undermine” Florida voters’ will and operate outside the law.