Skip to main content

Zimmerman's lawyer asks to have judge removed from case

By the CNN Wire Staff
April 17, 2012 -- Updated 0145 GMT (0945 HKT)
George Zimmerman, here with attorney Mark O' Mara last week, will return to court Friday for a bail hearing.
George Zimmerman, here with attorney Mark O' Mara last week, will return to court Friday for a bail hearing.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Mark O'Mara describes his client, George Zimmerman, as "frightened"
  • NEW: The lawyer says he's confident the judge will be removed from the case
  • NEW: The CNN analyst tied to the motion says "the process" will resolve the issue
  • Media outlets are asking that documents in the case be unsealed

(CNN) -- George Zimmerman's defense team formally requested Monday that the Florida judge assigned to their client's case be removed after she revealed her husband works with a CNN legal analyst.

Mark O'Mara's office filed paperwork Monday asking that Seminole Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler not preside over second-degree murder proceedings involving Zimmerman, according to Seminole County Court spokeswoman Michelle Kennedy.

The motion to "disqualify" the trial judge "will be ruled on in the appropriate manner," Kennedy said Monday.

Zimmerman, a 28-year-old neighborhood watch volunteer, fatally shot teenager Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, a killing he has said was in self-defense. Since then, the case has stirred civil rights activists nationwide and drawn intense publicity.

Bill Cosby: Guns, not race, key issue in Martin case

Recksiedler is assigned to the Zimmerman case. But on Friday, she said she would entertain motions to disqualify her from the trial after discovering that her husband is a law partner of Mark NeJame, an attorney whom Zimmerman approached about representing him and has since widely commented on the case in the media. NeJame is now a CNN contributor, providing analysis on this case.

Was George Zimmerman weeping in jail?
Analysts debate charges, media coverage
Brother: Trayvon wasn't 'violent'

NeJame told CNN that Zimmerman "contacted my office, attempting to reach me, and wanted to hire me to represent him" on March 13. One of his law partners relayed that request to NeJame, who declined. He explained later that he knew how taking on "big national cases (can) take a lot out of you" and wanted to have more time to spend with his children.

"I decided simply not to," the Orlando lawyer said.

A friend of Zimmerman's later repeated the request in a direct conversation with NeJame early last week, just as lawyers Hal Uhrig and Craig Sonner said they'd no longer represent Zimmerman. By then, NeJame noted he'd been hired by CNN to serve as an analyst.

NeJame again said he could not represent Zimmerman and offered the names of five lawyers -- topped by O'Mara -- who might be considered instead.

"They said Mark is the one we want, I put them together, and they took it from there," said NeJame.

O'Mara had indicated on Friday that the defense might request a new judge, when he said the association between NeJame and the Recksiedlers might become "more and more problematic" given the scrutiny the case is receiving.

He told CNN on Monday night that he was confident the request to pull Recksiedler off the case would succeed.

"If it is reasonably well-founded and sworn to, it'll be granted," O'Mara said.

Insisting that there had been "full transparency," NeJame said Monday that he understood why Zimmerman's defense team asked for the judge's removal -- because of his involvement in the case and his professional relationship with her husband -- and was content that the matter is now in the legal system's control.

"Everybody just needs to do the right thing, file it and let the process (be resolved) properly," NeJame said.

Meanwhile, news media organizations, including CNN, petitioned Recksiedler on Monday to reverse an order sealing court records in Zimmerman's prosecution.

Prosecutors did not object when Zimmerman's attorneys asked Recksiedler to seal records last week. The judge ordered the court filings and other records sealed "without giving the public and press an opportunity to oppose closure," the media said in its motion.

Lawyer: Zimmerman 'stressed, nervous'
Florida prosecutor's tough style
Cosby on the Trayvon Martin case

Florida law requires a judge to consider whether the records closure is needed to "prevent a serious and imminent threat" to justice, the media members argued.

The court must also find that there is no alternative to sealing the records that would provide a fair trial and that the action would not be "broader than necessary to accomplish this purpose," they said.

Zimmerman's attorneys did not address those issues or present any evidence, the motion said.

Older brother: Trayvon was a happy teen

"In case after case in Florida, courts -- including the United States Supreme Court -- have held that prominence and publicity are not synonymous with prejudice and impartiality, and have cautioned against assuming that all potential jurors follow the news and retain what they read and watch," the media filing says.

Jurors who can't set aside their biases created by exposure to pretrial publicity can be screened out during jury selection, the media motion argued.

Besides CNN, several broadcasting and newspaper companies -- including the publishers of USA Today, The Miami Herald and The New York Times -- are part of the effort to unseal the documents.

O'Mara said Monday that he favors keeping documents sealed in this case in large part because of concerns that witnesses might be contacted and in danger if certain information is released.

"(Our) overall philosophy (is) to keep the information flow concentrated within the court system," he told CNN. "It's much better handled there."

As to his client, O'Mara said he speaks "at least a couple times a day" with Zimmerman, whom he described as doing well physically but "frightened."

Zimmerman is scheduled to return to court Friday for a bail hearing.

O'Mara says that he hopes his client will be eligible for bond after that hearing and eventually be allowed to go free until the trial. If he does get out, though, the lawyer said there are legitimate fears about Zimmerman's safety.

"There have been a lot of emotions that have come forward in this case, and some of those emotions have shown themselves in bad ways," O'Mara said.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
George Zimmerman
February 6, 2014 -- Updated 0150 GMT (0950 HKT)
Let's get ready to ... mumble.
January 25, 2014 -- Updated 0135 GMT (0935 HKT)
George Zimmerman, who sold his first painting on eBay for a whopping $100,000, is at it again.
September 29, 2013 -- Updated 1841 GMT (0241 HKT)
George Zimmerman's estranged wife said that while she respects the jury's not guilty verdict in his second-degree murder trial, she now has doubts about his innocence.
July 28, 2013 -- Updated 1711 GMT (0111 HKT)
George Zimmerman's defense team says people should delve into the "substance" of other comments made by a juror who claimed the man who killed Trayvon Martin "got away with murder."
July 28, 2013 -- Updated 1712 GMT (0112 HKT)
A juror in the George Zimmerman trial says she feels the man who killed Trayvon Martin "got away with murder."
July 24, 2013 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Four days after he was acquitted of murder, George Zimmerman stepped out of seclusion to help a family.
July 28, 2013 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
Florida law kept George Zimmerman from being held accountable in last year's shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, the teen's mom said.
July 25, 2013 -- Updated 0210 GMT (1010 HKT)
Vowing to keep fighting for his son Trayvon -- even after Zimmerman was acquitted of murder -- Tracy Martin said that his family wants to turn "negative energy" surrounding their plight "into a positive."
July 20, 2013 -- Updated 1654 GMT (0054 HKT)
The nation has a long history of self-defense laws. Almost every state allows some version of the "castle" defense, as in "a man's home is his castle."
July 18, 2013 -- Updated 0443 GMT (1243 HKT)
The woman known as Juror B37 in the George Zimmerman trial released a statement exclusively to CNN pushing for new laws.
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 2057 GMT (0457 HKT)
One of the jurors who acquitted George Zimmerman said she had "no doubt" he feared for his life in the final moments of his struggle with Trayvon Martin.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 1254 GMT (2054 HKT)
George Zimmerman "didn't do anything unlawful" and was "justified" in shooting 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, according to one of the jurors who acquitted Zimmerman.
July 17, 2013 -- Updated 0504 GMT (1304 HKT)
The friend who was on the phone with Trayvon Martin when his fatal confrontation with Zimmerman said she is upset at his acquittal on murder charges.
July 16, 2013 -- Updated 1349 GMT (2149 HKT)
His trial's over. And now it turns out that George Zimmerman might need the same thing millions of Americans are looking for: a job.
July 15, 2013 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
An employee of the Florida State Attorney's Office who testified that prosecutors withheld evidence from George Zimmerman's defense team has been fired.
July 15, 2013 -- Updated 1402 GMT (2202 HKT)
This might sound like a legal conundrum.
July 15, 2013 -- Updated 1310 GMT (2110 HKT)
Suspected racism in the justice system, deep-seated, secretive and historic, was the crux of the case for millions, writes Tom Foreman.
March 30, 2012 -- Updated 1533 GMT (2333 HKT)
Just like most any other teenager, Trayvon Martin enjoyed listening to music and going to the movies, friends and family said.
July 2, 2013 -- Updated 1938 GMT (0338 HKT)
With a single phrase, Rachel Jeantel, that friend of Trayvon Martin's, may have lit a fuse in the trial of his accused killer.
ADVERTISEMENT