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Disney, DeSantis legal fights ratchet up as company demands documents from Florida governor

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The legal fights between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis ratcheted up this week.

The Florida governor asked that the company’s First Amendment lawsuit against him be tossed from federal court, and Disney demanded emails, texts and other communications from the governor’s office in a separate state court lawsuit originally brought by DeSantis appointees of Walt Disney World’s governing district.

The legal filings marked an escalation in the battle between the entertainment giant and DeSantis, a candidate for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. The confrontation started last year when Disney publicly opposed a state law banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, and DeSantis retaliated by taking over the governing district that provides municipal services for the 25,000-acre (10,117-hectare) Disney World theme park resort in Florida.

Disney has sued DeSantis in federal court, claiming the governor violated its free speech rights by punishing it for expressing opposition to the law.

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On Thursday, DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the governing district made up of DeSantis appointees, asked a federal judge to throw out Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit, calling it meritless and “a last-ditch effort to reinstate its corporate kingdom.”

“Although Disney has grabbed headlines by suing the Governor, Disney — like many litigants before it who have challenged Florida’s laws — has no basis for doing so,” DeSantis’ motion said.

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Meanwhile, the governing district now controlled by DeSantis appointees has sued Disney in state court. The suit is an attempt to void prior agreements, made before the DeSantis appointees took over, that shifted control over design and construction to Disney from the district and prohibited the district from using the likeness of Disney characters or other intellectual property without Disney’s permission. Disney filed counterclaims that include asking a state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable. The company amended those counterclaims on Thursday, saying the DeSantis-controlled district was in violation of the U.S. Constitution stipulations on contracts and due process.

Disney also sent a notice to DeSantis’ office demanding internal communications, including text messages and emails, and documents regarding the district’s comprehensive plan, the development agreements and the legislation that shifted control of the district to DeSantis. The notice said a subpoena would be issued requiring the governor’s office to turn over the materials to Disney’s attorneys by Oct. 27.

The Disney attorneys also sent notices of subpoenas to others, including similar special districts in Florida. Disney wants to show that the manner in which it gave public notice about the agreements which stripped the DeSantis allies of design and construction powers was consistent with what other districts do. The DeSantis allies are arguing that one of the reasons the agreements should be invalidated is they weren’t properly publicized.

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Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.