Judge Debra Nelson: Zimmerman-fans loved her until they hated her

When Debra Nelson, the Florida state court judge in the trial of George Zimmerman for the death of Trayvon Martin, was named as the replacement for the first judge that Zimmerman’s defense team had removed, she was described positively as a tough-minded, no-nonsense jurist, one who had been appointed to the bench by former Florida Governor Jeb Bush.

Legal observers who knew of Nelson’s judicial reputation said that Zimmerman’s lawyers might one day be sorry they’d gotten rid of Judge Kenneth Lester, ending up with Judge Nelson as a replacement through a random lottery selection.

It turns out that those in the know may have been right.  In spite of the verdict, Judge Nelson did her job, to the chagrin of Zimmerman-defenders everywhere.

As Judge Nelson showed her tough judicial mien throughout the trial, the haters didn’t waste any time revising their assessments, calling her a snippy, quick-temperered Chris Farley doppelgänger. You can always count on a woman’s critics, in almost any profession, to suggest that she’s ugly (and that her mother dresses her funny) when they disagree with her decisions.

Judge-Debra-SNo one has yet called Nelson, who was also a former federal court arbitrator, a “scold,” but I figure that’s just a matter of time.

Those who feel that the defense team didn’t get a fair shake have criticized her for not taking pity on the attorneys because they’re working long hours. Some are even claiming that she walked out of the courtroom in the middle of arguments, but if you watch the video, it’s actually the defense team that kept arguing after the court was clearly called to be in recess. Not a good way to impress the judge.

Interestingly, it’s that sort of attorney conduct that Judge Nelson’s critics aren’t focusing on as they try to make a public opinion case for Zimmerman, who, even if he won in court, has not won over much of America. Maybe they’ve forgotten that under Florida’s Guidelines for Professional Conduct, in the section dedicated to Trial Conduct and Courtroom Decorum, it states:

“A lawyer always should interact with parties, counsel, witnesses, jurors, or prospective jurors, court personnel, and judges with courtesy and civility, and should avoid undignified or discourteous conduct that is degrading to the court or the proceedings.”

Trust me, it is never a good thing when a judge has to “remind” a lawyer of the rules of conduct, because that means you’re on the verge of getting yourself removed from the case, being held in contempt or, depending on the behavior, being disbarred.

Even as the trial was coming to a close, the live-tweets from the courtroom were clear evidence that Zimmerman attorney Don West didn’t believe that civility or adhering to the rules of courtroom decorum were doing any good for his client:

Judge is scolding [Don] West for disregarding rules of conduct in the courtroom.#Zimmermantrial

— TJ Holmes (@tjholmes) July 11, 2013

Judge to West: you continue to disagree after this court issues a ruling. #Zimmermantrial

— TJ Holmes (@tjholmes) July 11, 2013

West is no newbie. He obviously knows that judges — and this judge in particular — demand courteous and civil conduct, and some level of deference.  When a judge issues a ruling, there is never a good reason to keep arguing. That’s what the appeals process is for.

It’s a fine line between being a zealous advocate for your client and behaving in a way that could be considered contempt of court, but given some of the defense team behavior during the trial, it certainly feels like someone has at least put their toes on the wrong side of that line.

So I wonder if Zimmerman’s attorneys, and West in particular, weren’t engaging in questionable courtroom behavior on purpose to give him a chance at an appeal for a new trial, had he lost?

That idea isn’t as crazy as it sounds.  That opening statement ‘knock knock’ joke alone, that West told in seriously questionable taste and trial strategy, would have probably be included in the first paragraph of any Zimmerman appeal had he been found guilty.

I’d suggest that the Judge Nelson naysayers take a step back and examine whose conduct during this trial has really been questionable.

(Originally published on Joanne Bamberger’s (aka PunditMom) “The Broad Side,” cross-posted with permission.)


Joanne Bamberger, aka PunditMom, is the founder and editor of The Broad Side. Joanne is a writer, author, speaker, commentator, and political/social media strategist. An acknowledged expert on women, social media and politics, Joanne was one of the first journalists to recognize and shine a spotlight on the growing power and influence of women online through storytelling and community building. Twitter: @JLCBamberger.

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17 Responses to “Judge Debra Nelson: Zimmerman-fans loved her until they hated her”

  1. Byron says:

    State laws can be a sham. This one is bad, but the judge made it worse by giving the wrong instructions to the jury. couple that with this juror writes a book thing and I see MISTRIAL in the forecast. Don’t lose heart just yet.

  2. Byron says:

    Looks to me like she may have opened the door to mistrial.

  3. Byron says:

    People like me, that agree with our system and the way it works are TOO going to protest injustice, however it occurs. It was precisely this judge’s lackadaisical enforcement of the rules of court that caused this travesty of justice. She let this less than moral defense team get away with MURDER. Have you heard the 911 call yet. That perp, zman called the kid a “f–king coon” in a moment of exasperation when his fat out of shape a– can’t keep up. He probably made up his mind about what he’d do if he couldn’t win a physical altercation about that time too. I’d call it PREMEDITATED, let him plead to 2nd on the retrial. Oh, yes, there WILL be a retrial, this one’s headed for mistrial. And even barring that occurance, the “f–king coon” thing is enough to go to Civil Rights court.

  4. silas1898 says:

    “How do people like that sleep at night?”
    Single malt scotch, xanax or ambien, and a portfolio review. $$$$

  5. karmanot says:

    “the jury spoke” it sure did, one of its white bigots with a predetermined vote of innocence is now writing a tell-all cash in. Just sickening.

  6. What?! says:

    “Has not won over much in America”. Did you just make this up? The liberal media is not happy and a lot of blacks are up in arms, but there is no evidence to support that the majority of America doesn’t support Zimmerman. He got a fair trial and the jury spoke, like every other court case. The people that agree with our system and the way it works aren’t going to protest and be vocal about agreeing with it.

  7. Houndentenor says:

    I support the right of people who are accused to have competent defense in trial, but holy crap the last few years of televised trials and confirmed the worst stereotypes of defense attorneys. People like O’Mara really are the scum of the earth. Making out someone with no record to be a criminal and a thug in defense of someone with a record of violent assault? How do people like that sleep at night. Oh right, sociopaths don’t have a conscience to bother them.

  8. Houndentenor says:

    Yes, but the only witness who could testify as to who started the altercation is dead. Nice little loophole they’ve created there.

  9. Houndentenor says:

    I have a question for anyone who understands Florida law. How did they let in video of Zimmermann on Fox News when he wasn’t under oath and couldn’t be cross examined. The effect was that he got to testify without having to actually waive his fifth amendment rights. He got it both ways. He DID testify and then wasn’t cross-examined and his prior history of violence wasn’t used against him. Why was that allowed? At least the judge didn’t allow a video re-enactment of Zimmerman’s story which he didn’t testify to under oath.

  10. cole3244 says:

    after watching the press conf by the defense team after the verdict civility is not high on those lawyers priority list, and they were on the winning side, what would their reaction have been otherwise, one can only guess.

  11. karmanot says:

    “This is the society Floridians have created for themselves” Yep, what could anyone expect from a corrupt backwater like Florida. They elected a Medicare fraud criminal to the governorship.

  12. BillFromDover says:

    West seems like the type of guy that after taking a bat to a hornet’s nest, is the 1st to scream “Ouch”!

  13. BeccaM says:

    In this case, I felt that Nelson did a more than adequate job of serving as judge on the case, and appreciated the fact she overruled a number of attempts on the part of the defense team to submit hearsay evidence (to wit, the animation video).

    Ultimately, the case was up to the jury, who in turn had to be guided by Florida law. And we’ve learned Florida’s expanded ‘Stand Your Ground’ law explicitly permits you to stalk, confront, and then shoot someone, even on public property. Hell, if two guys get into a fist-fight in a bar parking lot, and one of them gets the upper hand physically, the guy losing the fight can pull out a gun and shoot the first guy dead. Most of all, it’s also very clear that Florida law allows people to racially profile others, and use the prejudicial fear as a justification to confront, and if resisted, to kill them.

    This is the society Floridians have created for themselves, and the system of laws. If they don’t want more unwarranted, unnecessary legal murders, well, they need to change those laws.

  14. sane37 says:

    I’m pretty sure that is removed with “Stand your Ground” BS.

  15. Joan says:

    I thought there was something in law that says the perpetrator of a crime such as this may not use the self defense plea!

  16. Naja pallida says:

    I’m not sure if it’s really her specifically, or just how things go with the judge of a heavily publicized case. As soon as we start treating legal proceedings as a reality show, all “characters” involved become easy targets for the underwear critics.

  17. Indigo says:

    Given that incompetent team of prosecutors and that sleazy defense team, Judge Nelson and the Martin family were the only people in that courtroom I’d care to take to lunch.

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