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Judge In George Zimmerman Case Refuses To Step Down

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The Florida judge presiding over the second-degree murder case of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain charged with killing Trayvon Martin, denied Zimmerman's motion to disqualify him from the case.

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester wrote in a letter Tuesday morning that the motion was "legally insufficient."

It was Zimmerman's second attempt to remove a judge on his case; the first was successful.

Mark O'Mara, Zimmerman's defense attorney, filed a motion in early July to disqualify Lester based on remarks the judge made during a bond hearing that O'Mara claimed were disparaging and highlighted bias against his client. Lester said during the July 5 bond hearing -- Zimmerman's second, after a bond granted in April was revoked and Zimmerman was rearrested -- that Zimmerman had "flaunted the system" by misleading the court to believe that he and his wife were broke, when the couple had in fact been sitting on $135,000 donated by supporters.

O'Mara said in his motion to disqualify Lester that the statements had caused Zimmerman to lose faith that he had any chance at a fair trial.

"Mr. Zimmerman has lost faith in the objectivity of this Court and has a reasonable, well-founded fear that he will not receive a fair trial by this Court," O'Mara wrote.

George Zimmerman is charged with Martin's February 26 killing in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman and his attorney assert that he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense.

Lester, in an eight-page order filed in July that granted Zimmerman a second bond of $1 million, pointed to Zimmerman's earlier, questionable behavior, including concealing a second passport and the secret funds.

"Notably, together with the passport, the money only had to be hidden for a short time for him to leave the country if the defendant made a quick decision to flee," Lester said. "It is entirely reasonable for this court to find that, but for the requirement that he be placed on electronic monitoring, the defendant and his wife would have fled the United States with at least $130,000 of other people's money."

Zimmerman's wife, Shellie Zimmerman, last week pleaded not guilty to perjury charges related to statements she made in court regarding the family's financial state. Shellie Zimmerman's arraignment was scheduled for yesterday afternoon, but neither she nor her lawyer were required to attend.

In April, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler recused herself from the case, citing a conflict of interest. Recksiedler's husband, attorney Mark NeJame, works with an attorney who referred Zimmerman to O'Mara.

In disqualifying Zimmerman's motion to have him removed, Lester cited Recksiedler's decision to step down, writing in a footnote that while she too found the motion against her "legally insufficient," she did so "out of an abundance of caution."

"Judge Recksiedler found that she did not have an interest that could be substantially affected, nor was there any allegation that she was or would be exposed to extra-judicial information through her husband's employment," Lester wrote. "She therefore found that these assertions were legally insufficient."

Her recusal, he continued, was based on the "totality of the circumstances."

As for the motion against him, Lester said that he could not address the merits of the assertions in it.

"The Court is not permitted to deny the allegations supporting the motion as untrue, reject them as unfounded, or comment upon them at all," he said. "To do so establishes independent grounds for disqualification."

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