Florida Judge Jessica Recksiedler, who was assigned the Trayvon Martin shooting case, revealed a possible conflict of interest tied to her husband, a lawyer who works with a TV legal analyst with ties to the defendant.
The judge asked defense lawyer Mark O’Mara to file any request that she step aside by next week so she can rule before an April 20 bond hearing. At that proceeding, O’Mara is set to ask that his client, George Zimmerman, be released on his own recognizance while he awaits trial on a murder charge.
Recksiedler’s husband works with Mark NeJame, a television analyst for CNN initially contacted by Zimmerman’s family in their search for a defense lawyer, the judge disclosed at a hearing in Sanford yesterday. NeJame referred Zimmerman to O’Mara.
“It’s my understanding that Mr. Zimmerman had contacted Mark NeJame to represent him prior to you Mr. O’Mara,” the judge said at the hearing. “As I’ve disclosed previously, my husband works with Mark NeJame.” Her husband, Jason Jarrett Recksiedler, “does, however, practice only civil law. He’s never practiced criminal law and does not practice criminal law at this time,” she said.
O’Mara, who appeared along with state lawyers by teleconference, told the judge he was concerned about NeJame’s role as an analyst, and that NeJame had gotten Zimmerman’s family to sign an agreement allowing the analyst to disclose that he had talked to them. O’Mara said he hadn’t seen the agreement.
“When Mr. NeJame decided to act as an analyst and not take on the case ... he suggested that I might be a better choice,” O’Mara said. “He has a connection with the family that I haven’t understood yet.”
O’Mara later said that NeJame’s “role is going to be quite significant as an analyst and it is going to be more and more difficult I think, to maintain the proper separation.”
NeJame, the judge’s husband and Florida State Attorney Angela Corey didn’t immediately return calls yesterday seeking comment on the hearing.
Zimmerman, who claimed self-defense in the February shooting death of Martin, 17, is scheduled to be arraigned May 29 on a charge of second-degree murder.
Zimmerman, 28, was charged April 11. He appeared April 12 in an initial court appearance at a Sanford prison handcuffed and wearing a dark-colored jumpsuit. He said only “yes sir” to acknowledge to Judge Mark Herr his representation by O’Mara during the five-minute hearing.
The judge found sufficient evidence to support the murder charge, clearing the way to send the case to Recksiedler, a trial court judge. Zimmerman wasn’t present at yesterday’s hearing.
Zimmerman is being held in protective custody and faces as long as life in prison if convicted. O’Mara has said his client will plead not guilty.
In the affidavit Herr reviewed before ruling there was probable cause for the murder charge, state investigators said Zimmerman referred to Martin and alleged burglars in his community by several expletives, and called them “punks” while on the 911 call the day of the confrontation.
He chased Martin, who was unarmed, against the warning of a police dispatcher and struggled with the teenager before shooting him once in the chest, investigators alleged in the affidavit.
State officials said Martin’s mother reviewed the tapes of other 911 calls and determined that a voice crying for help was that of her son, the investigators said in the filing.
Zimmerman shot Martin on Feb. 26 in Sanford, a central-Florida town of 54,000 people north of Orlando.
Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enables individuals who feel threatened in a public place to “meet force with force,” rather than back away, a statute that strengthens any traditional self-defense assertion, criminal attorneys said.
The law prevented police from arresting Zimmerman in February, officials said at the time, and may play a role in derailing the prosecution, according to Florida defense lawyers, who said the defendant may be able to raise the issue both before, and during, any trial.
Patrick McGuinness, an attorney in Jacksonville, said Florida statutes allow defendants to present evidence to a judge before trial that they acted under the Stand Your Ground law.
If the judge agrees with the defense, the case would be immediately dismissed.
“The statutes, as now drafted, permit counsel if they wish to seek a pre-trial determination of whether the defendant is entitled to immunity from prosecution,” McGuinness said in an interview. They must “demonstrate to the court’s satisfaction, by a preponderance of the evidence, that they are entitled to immunity. If the court rules in their favor, that will effectively end the prosecution.”
The case is State of Florida v. Zimmerman, 1712FO4573, Circuit Court of the 18th Judicial Circuit (Seminole County).