Mostly Cloudy
59°FMostly CloudyFull Forecast

Zimmerman judge expected to step aside this week

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:17 a.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2012 10:18 a.m. CDT

SANFORD, Fla. (MCT) — Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler Wednesday is expected to surrender control of the George Zimmerman second-degree-murder case.

Her replacement will be chosen from among three remaining felony judges in Seminole County, including:

—John Galluzzo, a longtime Oviedo lawyer who has represented two dozen murder defendants while in private practice.

—Kenneth Lester Jr., a 15-year veteran judge who gave Michael Reynolds two death penalties plus a life prison sentence for beating and stabbing a Geneva couple and their 11-year-old child to death in 1998.

—Debra S. Nelson, a 13-year judge who was a civil-litigation specialist in private practice.

Court officials issued a statement Tuesday saying Recksiedler is expected to decide what to do no later than Friday. But the picture should become clearer Wednesday, when Recksiedler is expected to sign an order taking herself off the case.

Defense attorney Mark O’Mara on Monday filed paperwork asking her to step down because her husband is a partner of attorney Mark NeJame, who is under contract with CNN to provide analysis of this case.

Zimmerman, 28, is in the Seminole County Jail, charged with second-degree murder. On Feb. 26, he fatally shot Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, whom he spotted walking through his neighborhood.

Sanford police did not arrest Zimmerman, prompting public outrage and setting off demonstrations in Sanford and major cities across the country.

Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, the state attorney in Jacksonville, had him arrested last week on a charge of second-degree murder, and Recksiedler was assigned the case.

The judge was in Daytona Beach on Tuesday, temporarily filling in on the 5th District Court of Appeal. But Central Florida lawyers agreed she has little option but to grant O’Mara’s motion because of the possible conflict of interest.

Several courthouse sources said that would happen today.

Here are some more details on her potential successor.

John D. Galluzzo

Galluzzo, 56, is a criminal-trial specialist. Before becoming a judge, he represented more than two dozen murder defendants, according to his job application.

He was appointed to the bench in 2006 by then-Gov. Jeb Bush, but only after going through the selection process and being named a finalist five times.

He has spent much of his tenure since then handling civil and juvenile cases.

His mother and father were Italian immigrants who never got beyond the seventh grade. Galluzzo worked his way through the University of Central Florida, where he received a criminal-justice degree in 1979 and then a law degree at Nova Southeastern University.

He’s a former assistant state attorney who spent the bulk of his career in private practice. His office manager was his wife.

He’s a former Pop Warner football coach; board member of Kids House of Seminole County, a refuge for abused children; and has been honored by the Florida Supreme Court for his work with abused children.

Kenneth R. Lester Jr.

Lester, 58, is a veteran of high-profile cases. In 2003 he presided at the trial of Reynolds, a day laborer found guilty of flying into a rage over a dispute about a used trailer frame and savagely killing a Geneva couple and their 11-year-old daughter.

In another case, Lester sentenced ax murderer John Michael Buzia to death for attacking a 71-year-old Oviedo man who had hired him as a handyman.

And Lester eased into the outside world a schizophrenic Oviedo woman, Stephanie Gardner, who had been locked in a state mental hospital for a decade after being found not guilty by reason of insanity in the shooting deaths of her mother and father.

Lester ordered her released to a Jacksonville group home in 2001.

Debra S. Nelson

Nelson, 57, was about to have lawyers begin their opening statements at the trial of suspected hospital baby-snatcher Jennifer Latham when the woman decided to enter a guilty plea.

Latham had walked into the maternity ward of Central Florida Regional Hospital in Sanford, put on scrubs and lifted the child from the mother’s arms, then drove away. Latham was stopped a few miles down the road, with the child safe in the back seat.

Prosecutors wanted Latham sent to prison for life. Nelson chose 30 years.

Nelson also received media attention in 2006 when she threw out a $28 million jury award given a woman who had sued her gynecologist, accusing him of so badly botching an operation for minor incontinence that the woman had to catheterize herself twice a day.

The two sides later settled.

In the Zimmerman case, the new judge already has hearings stacking up. On Friday, Zimmerman is expected to appear and ask to be released on bail. He’s being held without bail at the Seminole County Jail.

And several media companies, including The Orlando Sentinel, The New York Times and CNN, want to ask the judge to unseal the court file and give the public access to the evidence gathered by the state.

Previous Page|1|2|Next Page

Get breaking and town-specific news sent to your phone. Sign up for text alerts from the Morris Daily Herald.

More News

Watch Now

Player embeded on all MDH instances for analytics purposes.

[SPONSORED] Come check out the fall selection at That Perennial Place

More videos »