ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Governor Ron DeSantis traveled to South Florida on Friday to sign, among other things, the bill that triggered the dismantling of Disney’s 55-year-old Reedy Creek Improvement District. years.
During his victory lap, the Republican took a moment to remind the crowd gathered before him of why Florida’s most powerful corporation had found itself in the crosshairs just days before.
“You will mobilize your economic might to attack the parents of my state,” he said. “We see this as a provocation and we will fight against it.”
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Elsewhere, company attorneys may have taken notes.
Since Tuesday, questions have swirled about whether or not the procedures used by the state legislature to pass this bill were legal. Certain portions of Florida statutes require that a vote be held by residents of a district or its delegation. Special district lawyers agree that those sections of the law did not apply to this case and that the government was on a solid legal footing.
However, a different set of lawyers — focusing on constitutional law — believe the House of Mouse has an excellent chance of pursuing a First Amendment lawsuit, if it chooses.
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“Once the government grants a benefit, that benefit can be taken away in an unconstitutional manner,” said Lawrence Walters, managing partner of Longwood-based Walters Law Group. “In other words, the government cannot retaliate against the company in response to the company’s exercise of First Amendment rights.”
Two other lawyers agreed with Walters, one adding that the state’s actions resembled the playbook of an authoritarian country like Russia.
“You have a government, with all the resources of a government, expelled … simply for exercising its right to have an opinion,” explained Glen Torcivia, shareholder of West Palm-based Torcivia, Donlon, Goddeau & Rubin.
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Some Republicans, including DeSantis, seemed to realize the danger their early statements put them in. Numerous interviews throughout the week pointed strongly in the direction of good governance and proper oversight, which Torcivia and Walters said was the best possible defense of the state.
Stetson University law professor Paul Boudreaux added another advantage Florida would have: Disney would challenge legislation passed by a large group of people, each with their own motives.
“You have to prove that the retaliation was done for that specific purpose,” he said.
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However, Torcivia felt it would be difficult to put the toothpaste back in the tube, especially when so many comments were made on camera.
“I’m pretty sure Disney would have a great case and a very high chance of winning a case,” he said.
Should the company go down this path, an injunction against the law would be the first step sought, which Torcivia said would be granted within weeks.
READ: Disney’s defense of Reedy Creek breakup might not be easy
However, along with many others, he speculated that Disney would likely continue negotiations with lawmakers to change the terms of the Reedy Creek District when the regular session resumes in January.
As of Friday afternoon, Disney had not commented on the law or the company’s future plans.
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