Zimmerman asks for new judge
By the CNN Wire Staff
(CNN) — Saying the judge had made disparaging remarks about their client’s character, George Zimmerman’s legal team asked Friday for Kenneth R. Lester Jr. to step down from the case.
Zimmerman’s attorneys filed a motion in circuit court saying Zimmerman cannot get a fair trial because Lester used “gratuitous, disparaging” language in a bail order last week. Friday’s filing also says Lester has advocated for Zimmerman to be prosecuted for additional crimes, offered personal opinion about evidence and has threatened their client with contempt charges.
“Mr. Zimmerman has lost faith in the objectivity of this court and has a reasonable, well-founded fear that he will not receive a fair trial by this court,” the document said.
Zimmerman’s attorneys particularly took issue with two of the judge’s comments: “Under any definition, the defendant has flouted the system,” citing the definition of flout, and “The defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so.”
In response, the state attorney’s office said the state objects to Zimmerman trying to disqualify Lester and it will file a response to the motion early next week.
Zimmerman, 28, was released from jail a week ago, one day after Lester set bail at $1 million.
Zimmerman had to post 10% of the $1 million — or $100,000 — to meet the requirement for release.
An initial bond of $150,000 was revoked last month after Lester learned that Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, had failed to disclose more than $150,000 in donations from the public.
For nearly a month, Zimmerman stayed at the home of a friend, a federal air marshal, to stay out of the public eye, his lawyer Mark O’Mara told CNN.
The judge’s order last week said that the reset bail of $1 million was not intended as a punishment but as an amount that assured the court that Zimmerman would not abscond.
In his ruling, Lester wrote about the first bond hearing and noted an undisclosed second passport kept in Zimmerman’s safe deposit box.
“Notably, together with the passport, the money only had to be hidden for a short time for him to leave the country if the defendant made a quick decision to flee,” the judge said. “It is entirely reasonable for this court to find that, but for the requirement that he be placed on electronic monitoring, the defendant and his wife would have fled the United States with at least $130,000 of other people’s money.”
In its filing Friday, the defense team said the court had reached a “bold” conclusion that Zimmerman was preparing to flee the country to avoid prosecution, but that his plans were thwarted.
Also Friday, Lester denied Zimmerman’s motion seeking reconsideration of an order allowing for public disclosure of statements from a person identified only as “Witness 9” and telephone calls recorded while he was being held in Seminole County Jail.
The witness statements and some of the calls will be available at 11 a.m. Monday, the state attorney’s office said.
He is charged with second-degree murder in the February 26 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman, a Sanford neighborhood watch volunteer, acknowledged fatally shooting the unarmed Martin after calling police to report a suspicious person. Zimmerman said Martin attacked him.
A timeline of events
In April, Seminole Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler approved a motion to disqualify herself from the case and Lester took her place.
O’Mara had asked Recksiedler to step aside because her husband is a law partner of Mark NeJame, an Orlando lawyer and CNN legal analyst. Recksiedler concluded that the arguments individually were “legally insufficient” to force her recusal, but the “totality of the circumstances” made her decide to hand the case to another judge.
InSession’s Aletse Mellado and CNN’s Martin Savidge contributed to this report.
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