Disney attorneys want to question a previous administrator of the governing district that provides municipal services to Walt Disney World as part of its defense against a state lawsuit brought by a board made up of appointees of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Disney attorneys said in court papers Monday that they have subpoenaed John Classe, the former administrator of what was previously called the Reedy Creek Improvement District for 55 years until it was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District earlier this year during a takeover by DeSantis and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature. The takeover of the district, which was previously controlled by Disney allies, came after the company publicly opposed a state law, informally known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, banning classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.
Following the takeover, Classe was replaced by DeSantis ally, Glen Gilzean.
Classe was in charge of the district when the governing body signed agreements with Disney which shifted control over design and construction at Disney World to the company and prohibited the district from using the likeness of Disney characters or other intellectual property without Disney’s permission. The agreements were signed in February before the district takeover by the DeSantis appointees, who claim the contracts neutered their powers. The appointees are now suing Disney in state court in an attempt to void the deals.
Among the records the Disney attorneys are seeking from Classe are documents used to adopt the contracts, documents that support the district’s authority to enter the contracts and information about how the agreements were publicized, according to the court documents filed Monday. One of the arguments the DeSantis appointees make about why the agreements should be voided is that they weren’t properly publicized.
Disney has filed counterclaims in the state lawsuit which include asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable. Disney has sent a notice to DeSantis’ office demanding internal communications, including text messages and emails, and documents. DeSantis currently is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination.
Disney and DeSantis and his allies also are battling in federal court, where the company has sued DeSantis, claiming the governor violated its free speech rights by punishing it for expressing opposition to the law. DeSantis and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have asked a federal judge to throw out Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit, calling it meritless.