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Judge in Trayvon Martin case asked to step aside

George Zimmerman's attorney sees a possible conflict of interest. Meanwhile, media outlets seek to unseal court documents.

April 17, 2012|Times staff and wire reports
  • George Zimmerman, center, appears for a bond hearing last week with his attorney, Mark O'Mara.
George Zimmerman, center, appears for a bond hearing last week with his… (Gary Green, Pool Photo )

SANFORD, Fla. — As George Zimmerman's attorney filed a motion for the judge in the Trayvon Martin murder case to step aside, several media outlets sought Monday to unseal court documents.

Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch volunteer, is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of the unarmed African American teenager on Feb. 26 in Sanford. The case has sparked national demonstrations and raised questions about race and gun control. Zimmerman, who is white and Latino, says he acted in self-defense.

His attorney, Mark O'Mara, filed a motion in Seminole County Circuit Court asking Judge Jessica Recksiedler to step aside because of a possible conflict of interest: Her husband is the law partner of Mark NeJame, CNN's legal analyst on the case.

Zimmerman's family first approached NeJame about representing Zimmerman, 28. NeJame declined and referred them to O'Mara.

O'Mara had said Friday that he was on the verge of requesting a different jurist. On Monday, he told reporters he and Zimmerman had discussed the situation and decided to do so.

Recksiedler is almost certain to grant the motion. Under Florida law, all a person needs to show is a reasonable belief that the judge might not be fair.

Last week, O'Mara had asked that access to the court file and future discovery documents be restricted, and the office of special prosecutor Angela B. Corey agreed.

Normally such documents would be public in Florida.

Monday's media motions came from companies including the Associated Press, the Miami Herald, Tribune Co. — parent company of the Los Angeles Times — the Tampa Bay Times, the New York Times, NBC, CNN, E.W. Scripps Co. and Gannett Co., as well as the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation.

In separate motions, the media organizations argued that the records should not have been sealed when Zimmerman made his first court appearance last week. The organizations are seeking a hearing to argue that they — and their responsibility to inform the public — should have been considered first.

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