Disney-DeSantis judge steps aside over relative’s shares

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, shown in February, had sought to have the judge removed from the case.
(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker recused himself from Walt Disney Co.’s lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, citing a potential conflict because a family member owns stock in the entertainment company.

DeSantis had sought to have Walker removed from the case, arguing that he could not be impartial given comments he had made about the company during hearings in two previous unrelated cases.

Walt Disney Co. asked a Florida judge to dismiss a lawsuit from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ hand-selected board that seeks to invalidate the entertainment company’s development contracts for the land that is home to Walt Disney World.

May 16, 2023


Walker, an appointee of former President Obama who ruled against DeSantis several times, said those arguments don’t warrant his removal from the case and amount to “nothing more than rank judge-shopping.” But he acknowledged that he should step aside because one of his relatives owns 30 shares of Disney.

“I do not think it likely that the outcome of this litigation would substantially affect The Walt Disney Company’s share price,” Walker said in his Thursday order. “I choose to err on the side of caution — which, here, is also the side of judicial integrity — and disqualify myself.”

Disney sued DeSantis in April, claiming that his efforts to strip the company of control over the jurisdiction in which its Florida theme parks sit is unlawful retaliation for the company speaking out against his policies. Disney opposed a 2022 law limiting gender identity and sexual orientation instruction in public schools.

The dispute has served as political ammunition for DeSantis, who recently launched his 2024 presidential campaign.