For a while, in Disney’s fight with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, it seemed the Mouse House was just messing with the governor. The Walt Disney Company and CEO Bob Iger remained silent as DeSantis pushed legislation through the Florida Legislature that stripped Disney of its self-governing right.
And then Disney remained silent while the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District replaced the Reedy Creek Development District. But what Disney fans didn’t know was that they were just rope-a-doping Governor DeSantis. Disney had stripped the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District of all its power before it was even seated.
Related: ‘Florida’s Being Laughed At.’ The Real Reason DeSantis Can’t Back Down in Fight With Disney
But that just wouldn’t stand with Ron DeSantis. He was embarrassed publicly by Disney World, specifically the group of lawyers we were hiding behind Walt Disney World. So, Governor DeSantis returned to the Florida Legislature and had them pass a bill that ensured anything Disney did before the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was created was null and void.
But the Walt Disney Company isn’t playing around anymore. Disney sued Governor DeSantis, saying in the complaint that they had been “forced to defend itself against a State weaponizing its power to inflict political punishment.” Disney has said explicitly that Governor DeSantis passed the bill stripping Disney of its self-governing power as retaliation for Disney speaking out against Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill.
Now, the gloves are off, and Walt Disney World has brought out its secret legal weapon to help defeat DeSantis.
Related: DeSantis-Picked Board Sues Disney World
Disney hired Los Angeles law firm O’Melveny & Myers and WilmerHale to represent them in this suit. Disney will be represented by Daniel M. Petrocelli, chair of O’Melveny’s trial practice and the firm’s vice-chair. Petrocelli is a “legal legend” and has litigated some of the most high-profile cases of the past 30 years.
Petrocelli first came to the public’s attention in 1997 when he represented the family of Ron Goldman in a wrongful death civil suit against O.J. Simpson. He won the family a decision of $8.5 million. He then worked for the Walt Disney Company for the first time, representing them in the case of Stephen Slesinger Inc. v. The Walt Disney Company.
In the case, Slesinger argued that he had purchased the rights to the Winnie the Pooh Characters from A.A. Milne in 1929 and that he should be allowed to continue to sell merchandise bearing their likeness. After two separate trials, Petrocelli got the case against Disney dismissed, and the rights to the characters remained with the Walt Disney Company until this year.
Related: Scarlett Johansson Finally Addresses Her Disney Lawsuit
Petrocelli also represented Disney in its case against Marvel actress Scarlett Johansson. Johansson sued Disney after her film, Black Widow (2021), was released simultaneously in theaters and on Disney+. The case was settled out of court.
Besides his work for Disney, Petrocelli represented Donald Trump in 2016 over his failed Trump University, former ENRON CEO Jeffrey Skilling, and former boxing champion Manny Pacquiao, and was lead counsel for AT&T and TimeWarner in their antitrust case against the Department of Justice.
Petrocelli is currently representing musician Travis Scott against lawsuits that arose from the 2021 AstroWorld Festival crowd crush that killed eight people.
Disney has dozens of lawyers that work for the company but only take Petrocelli out in cases of emergency. And with the Walt Disney Company’s business model and First Amendment rights under assault, it was time to stop playing around with Governor Ron DeSantis and bring out the big guns.
Besides DeSantis’s legal pressure from Disney, he also faces significant pressure from within his own party. Recently, former-South Carolina Governor and current 2024 Presidential Candidate Nikki Haley lobbed significant criticism on DeSantis, even inviting Walt Disney World to move to South Carolina.
DeSantis is also facing significant criticism from Central Florida business leaders who worry this new state oversight will burden them financially. They are also concerned about government retaliation should they speak out.
We will continue to update you on this story at Disney Fanatic.