NEW: A bond hearing for George Zimmerman has been set for Friday
Judge Jessica Recksiedler approves a motion removing her from the case
The judge's husband is a law partner of a CNN legal analyst
Chief judge orders that Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. be appointed to preside
A bond hearing is scheduled for Friday in the case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, the court said Wednesday.
The new judge in the case, Kenneth Lester Jr., will preside, according to the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit.
The previous judge in the case approved a motion Wednesday to disqualify her after it was revealed that her husband works with a CNN legal analyst who has commented on the case.
Seminole Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler said in her decision that while the findings on each basis were “legally insufficient” for disqualification, “the cumulative effect of the events and the totality of the circumstances provides a legally sufficient basis for this court to grant the motion to disqualify,” a statement from the court said.
This week, Recksiedler is on temporary assignment from the Florida Supreme Court and is hearing oral arguments at the Fifth District Court of Appeal in Daytona Beach, court spokeswoman Michelle Kennedy said in a statement Tuesday.
Wednesday’s order directed the case to be returned to the chief judge for reassignment, who in turn ordered that Lester be appointed to preside over the Zimmerman case.
Zimmerman, 28, fatally shot Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26, a killing he has said was in self-defense. The case has stirred civil rights activists nationwide and drawn intense publicity.
The city of Sanford has scheduled a community meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at a church to provide members of the public an opportunity to discuss the incident, according to the Sanford mayor’s office. Mayor Jeff Triplett will be among officials attending, the office said.
Recksiedler said last week that she would entertain motions to disqualify her from the trial because her husband is a law partner of Mark NeJame’s. Zimmerman approached NeJame about representing him. NeJame is now a CNN contributor, providing analysis on this case.
NeJame said 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.
NeJame acknowledged Tuesday, “it’s an appearance of a conflict, an appearance of an impropriety” for Recksiedler to preside over the case. But he said he thought she did nothing improper by waiting for a request from attorneys instead of offering to recuse herself first.
“I don’t think she did anything out of the ordinary for this extraordinary situation,” he said.
Meanwhile, media organizations, including CNN, petitioned Recksiedler 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.
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.
In addition to 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.
Zimmerman defense attorney Mark 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 said. “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 he hopes his client will be eligible for bail 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.
Lester has served on the circuit court since 1996. He is currently assigned to the Criminal Division but has previously served in the Juvenile, Delinquency, Dependency, Probate, Guardianship, and Mental Health divisions of the circuit court.
A 2011 poll by the Central Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers rated Lester the top judge in the county in terms of legal knowledge and diligence. He had the second-highest overall score among Seminole County circuit judges in that survey, which also ranked the jurists for impartiality, freedom from bias and demeanor.
CNN’s Kelly Frank and Matt Smith contributed to this report.