The Obama-nominated Judge Mark Walker recused himself from Disney's lawsuit against Ron DeSantis.
He said he couldn't rule impartially because one of his relatives held stock in Disney.
Judge Allen Winsor, a Trump nominee, is expected to take his place.
The federal judge assigned to hear Walt Disney Parks and Resorts' lawsuit against Gov. Ron DeSantis of Floridahas recused himself from the case, citing potential financial conflicts of interest.
The judge, Mark Walker, wrote in court documents that "a relative within the third degree" held 30 shares of The Walt Disney Co. stock and that the shares could be affected by the outcome of the lawsuit. Walker learned of the conflict last week, he said.
The judge didn't specify who the relative was — but a "third degree" relative could refer to a cousin, great-grandparent, great-aunt or uncle, or a half-aunt or uncle.
The case is expected to go before Judge Allen Winsor, a nominee of former President Donald Trump. Winsor was solicitor general of Florida under former state Attorney General Pam Bondi, who later would go on to defend Trump — DeSantis' rival for the 2024 presidential nomination — during his first impeachment trial.
The DeSantis administration had requested Walker recuse himself in the case, saying that he couldn't be impartial because of comments he made about Disney in other, unrelated cases.
Walker denied the request, calling it "meritless" and accusing DeSantis of "rank judge-shopping," but he still disqualified himself from hearing Disney's lawsuit over the ethical conflict.
Walker was appointed by President Barack Obama and previously blocked a DeSantis-backed law that restricted how workplaces instituted diversity, equity, and inclusion training.
In an April interview with the British newspaper The Telegraph, DeSantis accused Disney of "forum shopping" for a judge "who rules against us all the time" because the entertainment company didn't file its lawsuit in state court.
Instead, Disney sued DeSantis in the US District Court for the Northern District of Florida in April, while he was on an international trade mission. The lawsuit alleges that he tried to "weaponize government power" over the company when it threatened to work to repeal a law that sets strict limitations on how and when LGBTQ+ topics were taught in public schools.
The suit accuses DeSantis and his office of engaging in "a targeted campaign of government retaliation" against Disney that was "orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney's protected speech." The company warned that the actions of the governor "threatens Disney's business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights."
Walt Disney Co., the parent company of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, is headquartered in Burbank, California, but the company holds powerful sway in Florida through Walt Disney World, which has roughly 70,000 employees and is the state's biggest tourist attraction.
The lawsuit move by the company, which just laid off 7,000 employees, was an escalation after DeSantis threatened to alter Disney's special tax district with help from the Florida legislature and a board he appointed to oversee the district. The governor even floated the idea of building a state prison on bordering land, increasing taxes, introducing more regulations, building affordable workforce housing, and exploring the sale of distinct-owned utilities.
The board countersued Disney in state court, asking the 9th Judicial Circuit in Central Florida to render "void and unenforceable" a loophole Disney created to maintain control of its land, calling it "riddled with procedural and substantive defects."
A representative for the board declined comment and Disney didn't respond to a request for comment. The governor's office pointed to the initial filing asking Walker to recuse himself.
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