DeSantis battles Disney: an update on the feud

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Photo Courtesy of Flickr

Beau Sansom, Staff Reporter

Governor of Florida Ron DeSantis has been involved in an ongoing feud with Disney these last few months and the latest development has seen the house of mouse launch a lawsuit against DeSantis this week. 

According to NBC, the lawsuit is in retaliation for DeSantis’ move to put Disney in their place after the company’s public denouncement of House bill 1557 (termed the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” by critics due to the restrictions placed on discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in schools). 

“The government action was patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional,” Disney officials said in an April 26 interview with NBC. “This is as clear a case of retaliation as this Court is ever likely to see.”

According to NBC, the lawsuit follows a move by DeSantis to strip Disney of its unusual self-governance it has had since 1967 in the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a district in Florida in which Disney handles all legislative decisions, including the funding of police and fire departments. 

According to Assistant Professor of Economics Dr. David Zuckerman, removing this special zone could have a negative impact on Florida’s economy.

“The consensus is that [the removal of Disney’s control of the district] would cost taxpayers in the surrounding counties quite a lot,” Zuckerman said. “I’m not sure I’d be able to assign a value to it, but I certainly think they’d be bearing a big cost and that’s the immediate impact, I think there would be longer running impacts as well.”

DeSantis’ office suggested in a comment to NBC that the feud had more to do with the special tax breaks and policies in Reedy Creek rather than Disney’s political opinions.

“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” DeSantis’ Communications Director Taryn Fenske said to NBC. “This lawsuit is yet another unfortunate example of their hope to undermine the will of the Florida voters and operate outside the bounds of the law.”

According to Emeritus Professor of Law and Justice at CWU, Dr. Charles Reasons, the decision to seize power over Reedy Creek rather than dissolve it is a financial one. Rather than completely remove the Reedy Creek Improvement District, DeSantis decided to remove Disney’s oversight committee from power and replace it with his own, hand-picked committee to oversee Reedy Creek. 

“[DeSantis and his board] want to control Reedy Creek,” Reasons said. “When they went to try and shut it down, they realized they needed Disney’s funding.”

According to CNN, in an effort to outmaneuver DeSantis and his board, Disney signed in multiple agreements with the previous board, allowing Disney to maintain most of its current control in central Florida for the next 30 years.

The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney,” Fenske said in a Mar. 30 interview with CNN. “An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law.”

DeSantis’ hand-picked board is now moving to work with consultants to investigate Disney’s past deals and practices on this front. Despite DeSantis’ and Fenske’s questioning of the legality of this move by Disney, the company stands by their actions in the wake of the board takeover with a statement made to CNN. 

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine Law,” Disney officials said in an interview with CNN.

With tensions continuing to mount between DeSantis and Disney, it is uncertain which side will ultimately have the pendulum fully swing in their favor. Yet, according to Dr. Reasons, Disney has ground to stand on in their case against DeSantis.

“It’s obviously political retribution,” Reasons said. “DeSantis is unswerving in his attempts to punish Disney… he’s taken on more than he can chew.”

According to Bloomberg Law, Disney has assembled a renowned legal team for the coming courtroom battle against DeSantis. According to Zuckerman, Disney will likely not have much trouble assembling a strong legal team.

“I’m no legal scholar, but I think Disney can probably hire the best and brightest,” Zuckerman said. “I think actually the person that filed the suit for them, [Donald Trump] had used back in 2016 for defending Trump University, some high-profile guy from LA.”

The high-profile lawyer in question is Daniel Petrocelli, who according to Bloomberg Law and ClickOrlando, has worked on many high profile cases, including the Trump University case mentioned above, as well as representing the family of Ronald Goldman in the civil suit against OJ Simpson in 1997.