George Zimmerman’s Defense Team Files Appeal to Remove Judge From Case

Judge Kenneth Lester
Judge Kenneth Lester

Lawyers for George Zimmerman, the Florida vigilante charged with murder in the death of teenager Trayvon Martin, said Monday that they are appealing a judge’s decision not to step aside in the controversial case.

In a one-sentence order issued August 1, Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester said that defense lawyers’ July request that he recuse himself was “legally insufficient.”

The same team announced Monday on a website they’ve set up that they’d since filed a petition for writ of prohibition asking Florida’s fifth district appeals court to try to remove Lester from the case. The office of lawyer Mark O’Mara later confirmed that the appeal was filed Monday.

“Right now, of course, he is still the trial judge on the case, (and) we’re still moving forward with whatever we have to do or need to do,” O’Mara said of Lester on Monday. “But the appellate court will handle what’s called this extraordinary writ as quickly as they can.”

On April 20, weeks after the February 26 shooting and nine days after charges were issued, Lester set a $150,000 bond for Zimmerman. But the judge revoked that bond in June, after learning that George Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie, had lied about their financial situation during a court hearing, including failing to disclose more than $150,000 in donations from the public.

In his order last month, Lester said that the new $1 million bail order was not a punishment but 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.”

Lester wrote that the defendant’s plans to flee were “thwarted.”

Days later, the defense team filed a motion in circuit court saying Zimmerman cannot get a fair trial because Lester used “gratuitous, disparaging” language in his second bail order.

“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,” his lawyers said in the document.

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.”

The 28-year-old Zimmerman is free after posting the more recent $1 million bond. He’s charged with second-degree murder in the death of Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old Black teen who was shot and killed while walking through Zimmerman’s Sanford, Florida, neighborhood.

Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self-defense during a struggle, but prosecutors say he ignored a 911 dispatcher’s advice not to follow the teen.