Disney seeks records from DeSantis’ oversight board in new lawsuit

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Disney is accusing the Gov. Ron DeSantis-aligned tourism oversight district of violating Florida’s public records law by failing to properly preserve documents and turn them over in a timely manner, opening another front in an ongoing legal feud.

The entertainment giant filed a lawsuit Friday against the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and asked an Orange County circuit judge to set an immediate hearing and order the documents to be released.

“CFTOD has prevented Disney from discovering the actions of its government through public records requests, in violation of Florida law,” Disney’s lawyers wrote in the court filing.

A tourism oversight district spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

In February, DeSantis replaced five Disney loyalists on the district’s board with Republican allies as part of a new state law overhauling the special district that provides government services to Disney World.

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Disney’s attorneys accuse the new district administration of not fully complying with a May 11 public records request and lacking policies and procedures to ensure government-related communications on personal devices are preserved.

Disney is seeking text messages, voicemails and other communications from the district’s board members.

The district allows board members and district administrator Glen Gilzean to use personal devices and email accounts for government-related communications with no process in place for retaining those records, the suit alleges.

Furthermore, Gilzean and the board members, other than the chairman, are able to “self-select” which messages and emails they provide in response to public records requests, according to the suit.

Board Chairman Martin Garcia insists “only CFTOD’s outside attorneys be allowed to access district-related documents stored in his personal email account and devices, outsourcing this core government function to the same lawyers who are suing Disney,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

Disney attributed some of the public records issues to the departure of up to 50 employees after the state takeover and “exhausted” staffers.

“On the public records front, this has led to delays, inadequate preservation, storage and production of public records, and improper and unsupported claims of privilege and exemption from disclosure,” the Disney lawyers wrote.

The Disney-DeSantis dispute started in 2022 over the corporation’s opposition to what critics called the “don’t say gay” bill. That law limits classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

As the battle escalated, Disney sued DeSantis and state officials in federal court, alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.” The tourism district sued Disney in state court, asking a judge to void development agreements that limit its authority.

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