Trayvon Martin case

Zimmerman lawyer appeals judge’s refusal to step down


Defense attorney Mark O’Mara asked the Fifth District Court of Appeal to review the trial judge’s refusal to remove himself from the case, after the defense requested it citing what it considers bias against their client.

George Zimmerman’s defense attorney asked a higher court Monday to reconsider the refusal of the judge in the case to step down.

Mark O’Mara filed a motion last month asking Seminole County Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester to recuse himself. Citing the judge’s scathing order setting bond at $1 million — in which the judge accused Zimmerman of getting read to skip town with a cache of donations — the defense said it had lost faith in the judge’s objectivity.

Judge Lester flatly rejected the request to step down, saying it had no legal merit.

Now O’Mara wants the Fifth District Court of Appeal to reconsider Lester’s ruling. He filed a lengthy motion at the Daytona Beach courthouse Monday afternoon.

The issue is critical for the defense. Under Florida’s controversial “Stand Your Ground” law, a judge decides on whether a defendant should be granted immunity based on a claim of self defense. Many legal experts believe that Zimmerman is on weak footing with Lester, who offered Zimmerman special perks at the start of the case, and then accused him of disrespecting the criminal justice system.

Believing Zimmerman and his wife were broke, Lester at first granted Zimmerman a $150,000 bond.

Lester was clearly angered when prosecutors revealed that Zimmerman and his wife misled the court about how much money they had raised online and had gone to great lengths to keep secret.

Lester revoked the bond, put Zimmerman back in jail for several weeks and then released him on a $1 million bond that nearly wiped out his defense fund.

The judge’s ruling was so strongly worded that Zimmerman’s defense lawyers believe Lester demonstrated bias toward their client.

“I’m not going to take a chance at short-cutting our client’s constitutional rights,” O’Mara said at a press conference Monday in Orlando.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder for the Feb. 26 shooting of Trayvon Martin, a Miami Gardens high school junior.

Zimmerman, 28, ran into the teen at his Sanford townhouse complex. Trayvon, 17, was walking back from a convenience store, and Zimmerman was on his way to Target to buy groceries. Zimmerman called the police to report Trayvon walking slowly in the rain and “looking about” at houses.

A few minutes later, Trayvon was dead. Zimmerman said the unarmed high school student attacked him without provocation, breaking his nose and slamming his head on the concrete. Zimmerman, who had a concealed weapons permit, shot Trayvon once in the chest.

Zimmerman had what appeared to be a broken nose and scratches on the back of his head, which his lawyers say backs up his self-defense claim.

O’Mara stressed that the case will not depend on the Stand Your Ground law, which eliminates a person’s duty to retreat when facing grave danger. This incident, O’Mara said, is more of a classic self-defense case.

“He didn’t have the opportunity to retreat if he was on his back,” O’Mara said of Zimmerman.

He said his client was living like a hermit and worried about money. Donations to Zimmerman’s legal defense fund have slowed, O’Mara said, and Zimmerman may have to declare indigency to have the state pick up court costs.

The appeal could cause weeks of delays, as prosecutors will have an opportunity to respond. In the past, assistant state attorney Bernie de la Rionda has called O’Mara’s allegations against the judge “absurd.”

Read more Zimmerman Case stories from the Miami Herald

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