A lawsuit against DeSantis, a Florida Governor, and a Hand-Picked Oversight Board

A lawsuit against DeSantis, a Florida Governor, and a Hand-Picked Oversight Board. Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and his hand-picked oversight board, accusing the governor of weaponizing his political power to punish the company for exercising its free speech rights.

A lawsuit against DeSantis, a Florida Governor, and a Hand-Picked Oversight Board

The lawsuit was filed in federal court shortly after the board appointed by DeSantis sought to invalidate an agreement between Disney and the previous board just before it was dissolved.

The move is the latest in an ongoing fight between DeSantis and Disney. The company accuses the governor of orchestrating a targeted campaign of government retaliation in response to its protected speech.

The lawsuit argues that DeSantis’ revenge now threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.

The fight began when Disney publicly opposed a bill restricting voting rights in Florida, drawing the ire of DeSantis and other Republicans in the state. As a result, DeSantis appointed a new board to oversee Disney’s special taxing district, which the company had previously controlled for over 50 years.

The new board sought to claw back power from Disney, voting to invalidate the company’s previous agreement with the old board. Disney responded by suing DeSantis, the board, and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity acting secretary Meredith Ivey, seeking to block the board’s moves.

The yearlong fight has strained what had long been a cozy relationship between Florida’s government and the state’s best-known employer and attraction of tourist dollars. DeSantis suggested the state could build a prison or competing theme park on what had been Disney-controlled property for decades.

The Florida governor’s battle with Disney has become a flashpoint in the early stages of the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Former President Donald Trump, several other candidates, and potential rivals, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have criticized DeSantis for his actions, characterizing them as anti-business.

The fight now shifts to the courts, where Disney is seeking an injunction that would block the board from exercising the power DeSantis and the Republican-led legislature sought to hand it. “We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” DeSantis communications director Taryn Fenske said.

The agreements Disney signed with the previous board ensured the company’s development rights throughout the district for the next 30 years and, in some cases, prevented the council from taking significant action without first getting approval from the company.

For example, one provision restricted the new board from using Disney’s “fanciful characters” until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.” Its development agreement was approved through two public meetings held two weeks earlier this year, both noticed in the local Orlando newspaper and attended by about a dozen residents and media members. According to the meeting minutes, no one from the governor’s office was present at either meeting.

In Wednesday’s meeting, the board’s special general counsel, Daniel Langley, discussed its legal argument for nullifying the deal between Disney and the last panel. The fight is expected to continue in court, with both sides digging in for a protracted legal battle.

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