Disney-DeSantis Lawsuit Judge Exits Case, Citing Conflict of Interest

U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker recused himself due to a family member’s shares in the entertainment company

Ron DeSantis
Ron DeSantis (Getty Images)

The judge appointed in the Disney vs. Ron DeSantis free speech lawsuit, U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, recused himself on Thursday over a family member’s shares in the multimedia giant.

Walker, who ruled against DeSantis last year in a separate First Amendment case, said that he’s not biased against the Florida governor, but that an extended family member who owns stock in The Walt Disney Company “could be substantially affected by the outcome of this case.”

“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,” he said in a public statement. “Maintaining public trust in the judiciary is paramount, perhaps now more than ever in the history of our Republic.”

Lawyers for DeSantis had previously accused Walker of bias, stating in a court filling that the judge “offered ‘Disney’ as an example of state retaliation.”

In an April 1, 2022, hearing, Walker had asked, “is there anything in the record that says we are now going to take away Disney’s special status because they’re woke?” In a separate case in June, Walker wrote that state’s battle over the company’s tax status was due to Disney “[running] afoul of state policy of the controlling party.”

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor, an appointee of former president Donald Trump, will take over the case. Earlier this year, Winsor dismissed a lawsuit challenging the conservative-driven Parental Rights in Education Law, otherwise known as the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Despite significant public outcry over the bill, including from Disney, DeSantis signed it into law in May 2022.

Reps for Disney did not immediately respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.