Home Walt Disney World Resort Epcot A Fight at Epcot’s Candlelight Processional Led to a LONG Court Battle

A Fight at Epcot’s Candlelight Processional Led to a LONG Court Battle

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The Baldwin family was feeling the Christmas spirit at Epcot’s Candlelight Processional as the choir sang and celebrity narrator Susan Lucci read the nativity story.

“I turned to my husband [Claude] and I said, aren’t you glad you came? And he said, I just had a really great time,” said Emma Jean Baldwin, according to court transcripts. “And that is when…all hell just broke loose.”

Claude Baldwin, at the time 74-years-old, said he was attacked by a teenage boy and injured at the end of the show on the 22nd December, 2011. But, the boy’s family argued it was Claude Baldwin and his adult son who were the instigators.

The Baldwins, who come a family with deep ties1 to Disney World in 2015 sued the boy, his parents and Disney for more than $15,000 in Orange Circuit Court. The civil lawsuit was dismissed voluntarily in late October, even though court filings did not say if a settlement had been reached.

Each side was responsible for their own court costs. Lawyers for both families and Disney declined to comment on the outcome of the case, according to the Orlando Sentinel. Included in the course are hundreds of pages of transcripts from the family members.

The transcripts detail the fight that night during the holiday show that has been a tradition at Walt Disney World Resort since the early 1970s. It does not appear criminal charges were filed after Orange County Sheriff’s Office investigated and filed a report in 2011.

The boy, who was 15 at the time, of the incident, had been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome (AS). His family said he did not have a history of violence according to court documents. Uninterested in the holiday music and not a fan of loud noises, the boy blocked out the show with his IPod and earbuds.

On one side sat his father, and on the other was Claude Baldwin, a stranger. What happened next depends on who is telling the story. According to the Baldwins, the fight began when the boy told Claude, “Get the hell out of the way, old man!” as they boy tried to leave.

Claude Baldwin said he told the boy to be patient and go back to his iPod. “Then the next thing I knew, he ran through me,” Claude Baldwin said, who lives in Orlando, according to court transcripts. “I was in such agony and such pain.”

Claude Baldwin’s daughter, Judy Durham, gave a comparable account and said the boy “all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he takes his fist and does a diagonal punch into the chest of my father. And my dad fell over the back of the bleachers and said, I think I broke my back,” the transcripts state.

1: Jody Durham, whose career had lasted 30-years at Disney, was working as a recruitment manager in the human resources department, she said in her 2017 deposition, according to court documents. Disney wouldn’t reveal if she was still employed with the company, according to Orlando Sentinel.

Durham was also the widow of Dave Durham, a country singer and performer who was hired at Disney personally by the company’s past CEO Michael Eisner, Claude Baldwin said in his transcripts. Dave Durham’s website listed him as doing voice-over work for the Country Bear Jamboree at the Magic Kingdom.

The boy involved tells a completely different story about what happened…

Claude Baldwin asked him what he was doing with his iPod, and the boy told him it was none of his business, the boy testified. Claude Baldwin pulled out his earbuds and then chest-bumped him, so the teenager pushed him back, the boy testified in court.

The boy’s dad, Peter Ruggiero Jr., also stated it was Claude Baldwin who started the fight. “He launched himself up out of the chair and reached up and grabbed my son,” said Ruggiero, a doctor from Longwood in court transcripts. “And the next thing I saw was that [my son] pushed back and Mr. Baldwin fell.” 

The boy’s dad described it as a “hot-blooded, high adrenaline, threatening situation” as the rest of the Baldwins’ got involved. Jody Durham yelled at her brother, Chad, to help their dad and he vaulted over the seats. “[The boy] was on top of my father,” Chad Baldwin said in court records.

“I grabbed him by the chest and neck. And I threw him back, and I broke his necklace.” The silver cross, a gift from the boy’s grandma, was not found. Chad Baldwin’s response enraged the boy’s parents. “I remember pushing off Mr Baldwin, saying Back off. Leave him alone. He’s a kid,” Ruggiero said.

In the fracas, the boy became upset, screaming he was going to kill everyone, the Baldwins’ testified. Deputies arrived later on and helped calm down the boy. The boy’s dad just wanted to take his family home and move on, the sheriff’s report stated.

“I don’t want to get the kid in trouble,” Claude Baldwin told the sheriff’s office. However 4 years later, the Baldwins’ sued, saying in the lawsuit that Claude Baldwin had been seriously injured, was now disabled and had aggravated a pre-existing condition.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

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