Why Judge Recused Herself from Zimmerman Case

By Andrew Chow, Esq. on April 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A Florida judge recused herself Wednesday from the George Zimmerman case because of a potential conflict of interest. A new judge has been assigned to take over.

Judge Jessica Recksiedler is set to be replaced by Judge Kenneth Lester Jr., the Orlando Sentinel reports. Recksiedler stepped aside after disclosing her potential conflict, and after Zimmerman's attorney made a formal request for her recusal.

So what was Judge Recksiedler's potential conflict? And what is the process to get a judge removed from a case in general?

Each state has its own rules about judicial conduct, conflicts of interest, and when a judge must step aside. In general, a judge cannot harbor any conflicts that could raise questions about her fairness.

Florida's Rules of Judicial Administration specify the possible grounds for a judge's recusal:

  • A party fears he or she will not receive a fair trial because of the judge's bias or prejudice;
  • The judge, or someone within a third-degree relationship to the judge (meaning a spouse, child, parent, sibling, grandchild, grandparent, uncle, aunt, niece, nephew, great-grandparent or great-grandchild), is a party to the case or interested in the result;
  • The judge is related within the third degree to an attorney in the case; or
  • The judge is a material witness in the case.

Florida's rules also allow a judge "to enter an order of disqualification on the judge's own initiative."

In Judge Jessica Recksiedler's case, her potential conflict involves her husband, who works at the same law firm as attorney and CNN commentator Mark NeJame, the Associated Press reports.

George Zimmerman's family initially contacted NeJame about legal representation. NeJame declined, and referred Zimmerman's relatives to another lawyer, according to the AP.

Concerns about Judge Recksiedler's husband's ties to NeJame are "legally insufficient" for disqualification, the judge wrote in her recusal decision, CNN reports. But "the totality of the circumstances provides a legally sufficient basis for this court to grant the motion to disqualify."

In light of Judge Recksiedler's recusal, Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. is set to preside at George Zimmerman's next court appearance: a bond hearing set for 9 a.m. Friday.

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