ORLANDO — Disney asked a Florida judge on Friday to toss out a lawsuit against the company’s efforts to neutralize a takeover of Disney World’s governing district by Gov. Ron DeSantis and his appointees.
The case in state court in Orlando is one of two stemming from the takeover, which was retaliation for the company’s public opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act, also known as the Don’t Say Gay bill, championed by DeSantis and Republican lawmakers. Disney is fighting DeSantis in one lawsuit and his Disney World board appointees in another.
The governor has touted his yearlong feud with Disney in his run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, often accusing the entertainment giant of being too “woke.” Disney has accused the governor of violating its free speech rights.
Attorneys for Disney argued before Circuit Judge Margaret Schreiber that any decision in state court would be moot since the Republican-controlled Legislature already has passed a law voiding agreements that the company made with a prior governing board of Disney supporters that gave design and construction powers to the company.
If the judge decides not to dismiss the state case, the entertainment giant asked that the state court case be put on hold until a federal lawsuit in Tallahassee is resolved since they cover the same ground and that lawsuit was filed first.
In that case, Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in an effort to stop the takeover, claiming the governor was violating the company’s free speech and “weaponizing the power of government to punish private business.”
“We are dealing with the same issue in both cases,” Daniel Petrocelli, an attorney for Disney, told the judge during an hourlong hearing watched remotely by several Disney executives.
Attorneys for the district’s board asked that their case not be dismissed, telling the circuit judge that it wasn’t moot and putting it on hold would be improper. They also argued that the board’s lawsuit in state court was filed first since Disney’s federal lawsuit wasn’t properly served to the defendants.
DeSantis isn’t a party in the state court lawsuit.
The judge didn’t say when she would make a decision, but asked attorneys for both sides to prepare orders for her as if she had rendered a ruling in each of their favor by next Wednesday.
The fight between DeSantis and Disney began last year after the company, facing significant pressure internally and externally, publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, a policy critics call “Don’t Say Gay.”
As punishment, DeSantis took over the district through legislation passed by Florida lawmakers and appointed a new board of supervisors to oversee municipal services for the sprawling theme parks and hotels. But before the new board came in, the company made agreements with previous oversight board members who were Disney supporters that stripped the new supervisors of their authority over design and construction.
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In response, DeSantis and Florida lawmakers passed the legislation that repealed those agreements.
Disney announced in May that it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. Disney had planned to build the campus about 20 miles from the giant Walt Disney World theme park resort.
In an interview this week on CNBC, Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company didn’t want to be involved in any culture wars.
“Our goal is to continue to tell wonderful stories and have a positive, positive impact on the world,” Iger said.
By MIKE SCHNEIDER, Associated Press.