Judge could step down in Trayvon Martin case
SANFORD, Fla. -- A day after being assigned the George Zimmerman murder case, Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler announced a possible conflict of interest that could force her withdrawal.
Her husband is a partner at the law firm of Mark NeJame, who has been hired by CNN to provide analysis for the case, one of the most racially charged in the country.
The judge made the disclosure Friday, saying Zimmerman's attorney or the special prosecutor might want her to step down.
No one has made that request yet, but Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, said he might do so next week. If he does, she's almost certain to step aside.
NeJame acknowledged that Zimmerman called his office March 15, saying he needed a lawyer. NeJame declined, he said, largely because he has daughters ages 4 and 6, and several other businesses.
Two weeks later, he signed a contract with CNN, he said. Then, earlier this week, when Zimmerman inquired again through a friend, NeJame said he recommended O'Mara.
The judge's husband, Jason Recksiedler, is a partner at NeJame's firm, heading the personal-injury section, NeJame said.
If Jessica Recksiedler steps aside, Zimmerman's bond hearing, which was scheduled for April 20, likely will be rescheduled.
The defendant is being held without bond in the Seminole County jail, charged with second-degree murder.
He's the Neighborhood Watch volunteer who killed Trayvon Martin, an unarmed black 17-year-old, on Feb. 26 as the high-school junior walked through Zimmerman's gated community.
Zimmerman told police he fired in self-defense after Trayvon attacked him. He's expected to defend himself using Florida's "stand your ground" law, which says a defendant is allowed to use deadly force if he has a reasonable fear of death or great bodily injury.
Recksiedler has had recent experience with that law. Two weeks before Trayvon's death, she dismissed an aggravated-assault case against a 45-year-old Oviedo man after a "stand your ground" hearing.
Michael David Adkinson shot and wounded his neighbor, Raul Castro Rosa, on May 18. According to court records, after an argument, Rosa banged on Adkinson's front door and window, went into the garage and banged on the interior door so hard that he left dents.
Adkinson then opened the door after having picked up a small handgun. Rosa saw it, charged him, broke a crutch over his head and tackled him, records say.
The gun then went off and a bullet ricocheted off a wall and hit Rosa in the shoulder, Adkinson told the police.
Robert Buonaro was Adkinson's lawyer.
"She's a smart judge," he said Friday. "I've been doing this for 40 years. I was very impressed."
Recksiedler, 39, has the least criminal-law experience among Seminole County's felony-trial judges.
She was elected in 2010 and has been on the bench 15 months. Her assignment then and now has been felony cases.
She grew up in Seminole County, the daughter of a school administrator. She graduated from Florida State in 1994 with a degree in accounting and Stetson University College of Law in 1997.
She immediately went to work for the State Attorney's Office in Orange-Osceola but stayed just nine months.
In private practice, she specialized in civil cases, including insurance defense work, and is a board-certified trial lawyer, meaning she's an expert at jury trials.
"She's doing a good job. She's concise, and she runs a tight ship," said Senior Judge O.H. Eaton Jr., the retired 25-year veteran whose spot on the bench she now holds. "I am very, very happy that somebody as qualified as she is decided to run for the job."
Attorneys who appear regularly in her court were reluctant to talk for attribution, but she's popular with many criminal-defense attorneys.
She currently is assigned one of Seminole's most sensational first-degree-murder cases, that of Nioshka Bello, a young Casselberry mother charged with strangling her 2-year-old child with her bra in a fit of rage and despair.
Recksiedler recently found Bello mentally competent and ordered her returned to the Seminole County jail from a state mental hospital, where she was sent after a suicide attempt.
In another widely followed case, Recksiedler sentenced Pamela Hardy, an Altamonte Springs mother, to 11 years in prison for spanking a 9-year-old boy and his 6-year-old sister -- children she had recently adopted. The siblings were spanked so hard and so often, they were left bruised and bloody.