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George Zimmerman (L) appears, along with his attorney Mark O'Mara, in front  of Circuit Judge Kenneth R. Lester for a bond hearing at the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center in Sanford, Florida, June 29, 2012. Zimmerman, 28, is charged with second-degr
George Zimmerman (L) appears, along
with his attorney Mark O'Mara, at
a bond hearing June 29.
A Florida appeals court has decided 2-1 that Seminole (County) Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester went too far in his characterization of George Zimmerman in his ruling after a second bail hearing for the 28-year-old shooter of Trayvon Martin. Although the Florida attorney general's office had argued that Lester should not be replaced because all the judge had done was give Zimmerman a "well-deserved tongue lashing," it will not appeal the decision further.  The next step is for Lester to be replaced. The likely choice is another Seminole County circuit judge, Debra S. Nelson. She has a reputation for handing down tough sentences.

The majority opinion stated:

"Florida Rule of Judicial Administration 2.330 requires a trial judge to grant a  motion to disqualify without determining the accuracy of the allegations in the motion, so long as the motion is "legally sufficient."  [...]  "A motion is legally  sufficient if it alleges facts that would create in a reasonably prudent person a wellfounded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial." [...]  Although many of the allegations in Zimmerman's motion, standing alone, do not meet the legal sufficiency test, and while this is admittedly a close call, upon careful review we find that the allegations, taken together, meet the threshold test of legal sufficiency."
The third judge on the appeals court, Kerry Evander, wrote:
"Although the trial court's order clearly manifested an exceedingly strong belief by the trial judge that Zimmerman had 'flouted' and 'tried to manipulate' the system, I do not believe the order 'crossed the line' so as to require the granting of his motion."
Judge Lester initially released Zimmerman on a $150,000 bail bond after his wife, Shellie, pleaded in a sworn statement that they were nearly broke. It was later discovered that the couple had more than $130,000 in liquid assets as a consequence of fundraising on a website. Upon hearing this, Lester revoked the bail and ordered Zimmerman to turn himself in to authorities. He did so and a new bail hearing was set during which it was revealed that Zimmerman and his wife had communicated in code over jailhouse phones regarding moving money from the website to various accounts.

Lester approved Zimmerman's release again, this time on a $1 million bond.

In his order issued July 5, Judge Lester stated:

The Defendant has tried to manipulate the system when he has been presented the opportunity to do so. [...] Contrary to the image presented by the Defendant not by evidence but only by argument of counsel, it appears to this Court that the Defendant is manipulating the system to his own benefit. The evidence is clear that the Defendant and his wife acted in concert, but primarily at the Defendant's direction, to conceal their cash holdings. They spoke in rudimentary code to conceal the true amount of money they were dealing with. [...] The Defendant also neglected to disclose that he had a valid second passport in his 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 [chose to] make a quick decision to flee.[...]

His lack of candor was not limited to representations made to the Court.

Circuit Judge Alan Dickey is charged with assigning the case to a new judge, probably Nelson. That will be the third judge for Zimmerman. In April, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler recused herself because her husband is the law partner of Mark NeJame, a lawyer who is paid for his legal commentary on various cases by CNN.

•••

Marinade Dave wrote extensively about the appeal before the ruling here.

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