News groups fight to open Fla. teen shooting files

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Associated Press

Posted on April 16, 2012 at 8:01 AM

Updated Monday, Apr 16 at 2:31 PM

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — News organizations in Florida, including The Associated Press, challenged on Monday the sealing of records related to the second-degree murder case against George Zimmerman in Trayvon Martin's fatal shooting. Meanwhile, Zimmerman's attorney wants the current judge to step down because of a potential conflict of interest in the case.

The organizations, led by The Miami Herald, filed a motion in Seminole County Circuit Court.

Zimmerman attorney Mark O'Mara asked for the records to be sealed last week, when his client was charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 fatal shooting of Martin, 17.

Zimmerman, 28, is pleading not guilty and says he acted in self-defense.

Hearings for both requests have not immediately been scheduled. If a new judge is assigned to the case, Zimmerman's bail hearing — originally scheduled for Friday — could be pushed back.

Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler last week revealed the potential conflict in the case that relates to her husband, who works with Orlando attorney Mark NeJame.

NeJame was first approached by Zimmerman's family to represent the neighborhood watch volunteer. But the attorney, who also is serving as a CNN legal analyst in the case, declined and referred them to O'Mara.

"What I don't want to happen is to wait a month or two, and then we find out that what we thought is a potential conflict is an actual conflict," O'Mara told reporters outside the Seminole County Criminal Justice Center.

Florida court officials released a statement Monday afternoon confirming that O'Mara's request had been filed and "would be ruled on in the appropriate manner."

Regarding the challenge by the media groups, records such as full police reports, autopsy reports and transcripts of witness interviews are normally public under Florida law.

Zimmerman's case doesn't meet the standards that are typically used to create an exemption to those laws, according to the motion filed by the news organizations.

Those standards allow the sealing of records if their public release would create an imminent threat to the administration of justice, if there are no alternatives for protecting a defendant's right to a fair trial and if closing the records protects the rights of the person being tried.

"The closure order and the manner in which it was entered are contrary to law," the media organizations said in the motion.

A spokeswoman for the special prosecutor in the case said her office was reviewing the media motion but had no immediate comment. O'Mara didn't immediately return an email seeking comment on Monday.

The delay in an arrest for almost a month and a half inspired protests nationwide.

Yet special prosecutor Angela Corey's decision to file a charge against Zimmerman was not the result of public outcry, Florida Gov. Rick Scott said Monday.

"I don't think Angela gets influenced by things other than what the facts are," he said. "She's somebody that cares about victims, she wants due process for everybody involved, she wants to get the facts out. She makes decisions based on the facts and on what's right."

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