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Disney says in lawsuit that DeSantis-appointed government failing to release public records

2 lawsuits pending in federal, state courts
FILE - The Cinderella Castle is seen at the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, July 14, 2023, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The new administrator of Walt Disney World's governing district can’t continue to work in his new job and be chair of Florida’s ethics commission at the same time, according to a legal opinion issued Thursday, Aug. 17.
Posted at 7:39 PM, Dec 26, 2023
and last updated 2023-12-26 19:39:01-05

ORLANDO, Fla. — Disney has filed a lawsuit claiming that the oversight government for Walt Disney World, which was taken over by appointees of Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier this year, has failed to release documents and properly preserve records in violation of Florida public records law.

Disney said in the lawsuit filed Friday that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, often referred to as CFTOD, has been so slow in fulfilling its public records duties that it has failed to respond completely to a request the company made seven months ago when it paid more than $2,400 to get emails and text messages belonging to the five district board members appointed by DeSantis.

Disney, DeSantis and the DeSantis appointees already are battling for control of the government in two pending lawsuits in federal and state court.

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The public records lawsuit is asking a judge to review any documents that the district claims are exempt from being released, declare that the district is violating state public records law and order the district to release the documents that Disney has requested.

"CFTOD has prevented Disney from discovering the actions of its government through public records requests, in violation of Florida law," said the lawsuit filed in state court in Orlando. "The Court should grant Disney relief."

An email was sent to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District seeking comment.

The new lawsuit claims that the district is failing to follow public records laws in other ways, such as allowing the DeSantis-appointed board members to use personal email addresses and texts for district business without a process for making sure they are preserved and failing to make sure board members don't auto-delete messages dealing with district business.

The feud between DeSantis and Disney started last year after the company publicly opposed the state's so-called don't say gay law, which bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades.

The law was championed by DeSantis, who is running for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. In retaliation, DeSantis and Republican legislators took over the district Disney had controlled for more than five decades and installed five board members loyal to the governor.

Around 50 out of about 370 employees have left the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District since it was taken over in February, raising concerns that decades of institutional knowledge are departing with them, along with a reputation for a well-run government.