Judge Recuses Herself In Zimmerman Case
by Frederick Leatherman
As I predicted in my last post, Judge Jessica Recksiedler of the Seminole County Circuit Court in Florida signed an order today granting George Zimmerman’s motion to recuse her from presiding over the Zimmerman case.
I did not need a crystal ball or a book of spells to predict the outcome since, by advising counsel that she had a potential conflict of interest about which they might not have been aware without her telling them, she basically invited the motion to recuse and I do not believe she was the least bit offended by the motion.
The potential conflict is that her husband is employed by a criminal defense lawyer, Mark NeJame, who has been a television commentator about the case. Someone in Zimmerman’s family contacted him about representing Zimmerman after Zimmerman fired the two lawyers who were representing him. He declined to take the case, in part because he had expressed opinions about it on television, and he recommended several lawyers, including Mark O’Mara, whom Zimmerman subsequently retained.
I do not believe Judge Recksiedler had an actual conflict of interest, but I would be surprised to discover that she and her husband had not discussed the case, especially after NeJame was contacted about representing Zimmerman before the prosecutor, Angela Corey, charged him with murder second degree.
Judges are supposed to abide by a code of judicial conduct and, in addition to recusing themselves when they have an actual conflict of interest, such as a financial interest in the outcome of a case before them, they are supposed to maintain the appearance of fairness and impartiality, regardless of what they may think about a case, the lawyers, and the litigants. Since there is a possibility that someone might question her impartiality, due to her husband’s connection to NeJame, she decided to disclose it in order to maintain the appearance of fairness.
For all I know, she might not have wanted the case anyway because she is relatively new to the bench and inexperienced. She may have used the situation to get out of it. I do not know that for certain and merely present it here as a possibility.
Jennifer Preston of the New York Times reports that,
Judge Recksiedler will be replaced by Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr., 58, who was first elected to the court in 1996. Mr. Lester graduated from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in accounting. He received a law degree from the University of Florida.
Zimmerman’s motion to be released on bail pending trial is set for Friday. I imagine Judge Lester will proceed with the hearing, unless he has a conflict with his schedule that necessitates rescheduling the bail hearing. Those types of hearings do not usually require a lot of preparation time for a judge.
Judge Lester will also have to schedule a hearing for the pending motion filed by various news organizations, including the Miami Herald, to unseal the court file.
The issues at the bail hearing will be whether Zimmerman is a flight risk or a danger to the community and whether there are conditions of release that could be imposed that would not endanger anyone in the community and assure that Zimmerman makes all his court dates.
Since he turned himself in, I think he’s shown that he probably is not a flight risk and it’s possible that he might be released subject to the following conditions:
1. Reside at home and wear an ankle bracelet and GPS locator at all times;
2. Not possess a firearm;
3. Remain in contact with his lawyer;
4. Check-in daily with the court’s pretrial supervision officer and follow any orders the officer might impose; and
5. Post a cash bail in some substantial sum of money (apparently, murder second degree is not a bondable offense).
A bond is a promise to pay a certain sum of money in the future, if the defendant fails to show up in court when he is supposed to be there.
Let’s say bail is set in the amount of $100,000. It probably will be substantially higher but $100,000 is an easy number with which to work, so I will use it. Zimmerman could get out by posting $100,000 cash with the Seminole County Circuit Court Clerk, or if the offense were bondable, he could post an approved unencumbered real estate property bond with a fair market value of at least $100,000 together with a quitclaim deed quitclaiming the property to the Clerk of the Court and recording the transaction with anything but MERS. Yes, that’s snark. He would record the transaction in the county recorder’s office.
Or he could post 10% of the bail ($10,000 cash) with a bail bondsman and property worth $100,000. When someone goes with a bail bondsman, the bondsman posts its promise, or bond to pay the full amount of the bail to the Clerk of Court, if the defendant fails to make his court appearances. The 10% cash amount up front is called the principal and bondsman gets to keep that as the fee for posting the bond, regardless if the defendant makes all of his court appearances.
The property that secures the bond that the bail bondsman posts with the Clerk is called the security or collateral and, if the defendant makes all of his appearances, the bail bondsman will return it to the person who posted it when they showed up with the 10% cash fee.
Since murder is not a bondable offense in Florida, however, the bail bondsman option is unavailable to Zimmerman and he will have to come up with the cash.
But he has to pay the lawyer’s retainer first and I imagine that it is substantial, probably well in excess of $100,000. Whether there will be enough money left over to post a cash bond is anybody’s guess. I imagine that there has been some mad scrambling going on in the Zimmerman family to get together enough cash to do both. We will have to wait and see what happens.