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Appeals court grants George Zimmerman's request for new judge

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Judge Kenneth Lester was asked by George Zimmerman's attorney to disqualify himself from Zimmerman's murder trial.

A Florida appeals court on Wednesday granted George Zimmerman's request for a new judge.

Zimmerman, the former neighborhood watch volunteer charged in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, had said the judge presiding over his case has made disparaging remarks about him.

The Fifth District Court of Appeal wrote in a decision that Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester Jr. should "enter an order of disqualification which requests the chief circuit judge to appoint a successor judge."

The opinion said: "Although many of the allegations in Zimmerman's motion, standing alone, do not meet the legal sufficiency test, and while this is admittedly a close call, upon careful review we find that the allegations, taken together, meet the threshold test of legal sufficiency."

The appeals court ruling was 2 to 1 in favor.

The dissenting judge wrote: "Although the trial court's order clearly manifested an exceedingly strong belief by the trial judge that Zimmerman 'flouted' and 'tried to manipulate' the system, I do not believe the order 'crossed the line' so as to require the granting of this motion."

Read the appeals court ruling (.PDF)

Zimmerman said in the appeal that he fears Lester is biased against him and he wants a new judge to handle his case.

Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the Feb. 26 death of the unarmed Martin, 17, of Miami Gardens, in a gated community in Sanford, Fla.

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Zimmerman has pleaded not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense. He remains free on bail.

A telephone message left with Zimmerman's attorney, Mark O'Mara, wasn't immediately returned.

O'Mara had argued that Lester should disqualify himself after he said the judge made disparaging remarks about Zimmerman's character and advocated for additional charges against him in setting his $1 million bond in July.

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