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Zimmerman Judge Must Step Aside, Court Rules

George Zimmerman's judge must step aside because of bias, a Florida appellate court ruled Wednesday.

The ruling means a new judge will soon preside over Zimmerman's second-degree murder case in the killing of unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, according to a website set up by Zimmerman's defense team.

Zimmerman's lawyer Mark O'Mara filed a motion in July to disqualify Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. But Lester denied the motion, finding it "legally insufficient."

O'Mara appealed to Florida's Fifth District Court of Appeal, which disagreed with Lester's finding.

Under Florida's Rules of Judicial Administration, a motion to disqualify a judge is "legally sufficient" if it alleges facts "that would create ... a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial trial," the appellate court explained, citing a Florida case that settled the matter.

The court's two-page decision is posted at the Zimmerman defense team's website.

In requesting that George Zimmerman's judge step aside, O'Mara had argued that Judge Kenneth Lester Jr.:

  • Made "gratuitous, disparaging remarks about Mr. Zimmerman's character" in his order granting bail,
  • Pushed for Zimmerman "to be prosecuted for additional crimes,"
  • Offered personal opinions about prosecutors' evidence, and
  • Threatened Zimmerman with future contempt proceedings.

Prosecutors countered that if Judge Lester had really been biased, he wouldn't have granted Zimmerman's bail request. The 28-year-old neighborhood-watch captain is currently free on $1 million bail.

"While this is admittedly a close call," the appellate court's opinion states, "upon careful review we find that the allegations, taken together, meet the threshold test of legal sufficiency."

Now that George Zimmerman's judge must step aside, O'Mara has 20 days to ask a court to reconsider or vacate any of Judge Kenneth Lester Jr.'s prior rulings, according to Florida's Rules of Judicial Administration. The chief circuit judge in Sanford, Fla., will now appoint a successor judge, according to the appellate court's ruling.

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