Zimmerman to Ask Florida to Pay Legal Costs
George Zimmerman is losing his lawyer, but not before Mark O’Mara will try to get the state of Florida to reimburse them for up to $300,000 in legal costs incurred defending Zimmerman’s unsuccessful prosecution for the death of Trayvon Martin.
Zimmerman’s lead lawyer, Mark O’Mara, told CNN on Sept. 11 that he will not be representing the notorious Floridian in any more of his legal struggles, which now include a possible separation from his wife Shellie after a reported domestic violence incident on Sept. 16.
Zimmerman was not arrested after the incident — which involved Shellie alleging Zimmerman had a gun, her father possibly being hit, and her iPad smashed — and no charges have been filed, but she has filed for divorce.
O’Mara on Sept. 17 said that Zimmerman did nothing wrong in the dispute, which he called typical for divorcing couples, but reiterated that he is not representing Zimmerman. “I’ve come to know them as a family, and it’s not a good idea to get in between them,” O’Mara reportedly said.
O’Mara has also said he will finish representing Zimmerman in his effort to recoup the legal costs, however, as well as his suit against NBC for defamation.
No Statute for Recovery
The legal costs O’Mara is seeking include expert witness fees, travel expenses and transcript fees from the criminal trial that resulted in Zimmerman’s acquittal in July. O’Mara told CNN that he will ask for somewhere between $200,000 and $300,000 but doesn’t expect to get that much.
The news that Zimmerman will ask the state to pay his costs surprised many, but it’s fairly standard for criminal defendants in Florida, according to CNN. Casey Anthony made a similar request after her 2011 acquittal of the murder of her 2-year-old child.
But a criminal law expert in California says what O’Mara and Zimmerman are doing is unprecedented. “States typically do not have provisions that allow a defendant who has been acquitted to recover anything,” observes Ted Tedford of the Law Offices of James R. Tedford II in Pasadena, Calif.
Absent some kind of prosecutorial misconduct, acquitted defendants can’t sue the state, and neither California nor Florida has a statute allowing them to get their costs back. However, he says, O’Mara has a plan.
O’Mara is actually making his request to the Florida Justice Administrative Commission (JAC), which handles the appointment and payment of attorneys for indigent clients — those too poor to pay for lawyers.
Zimmerman’s financial situation has been the subject of much discussion, ever since he began fundraising after he was first indicted. He and Shellie got in trouble with one of his first judges for allegedly lying about how much money they had during the bail process; he was sued by a security company for unpaid bills; and his defense team said it was almost out of money just before the trial began.
“O’Mara is essentially trying to create a new precedent because of the intrinsic unfairness in the situation where prosecutors bring frivolous or meritless cases that end up in an acquittal, but only after the defendant incurs substantial legal fees including costs of expert witnesses, investigation, courtroom visual aids,” Tedford says.
Zimmerman and his lawyer are “essentially requesting that the JAC reimburse them for costs associated with defending the charges,” he says, adding that a similar body exists in Los Angeles County, where lawyers who represent indigent criminal defendants can apply for payment of some of their costs.
“Sometimes when a defendant hires a private attorney, with the judge’s approval after a showing of indigency, the private attorney can utilize some of the funding to help pay certain court costs,” Tedford explains. Perhaps that’s what O’Mara will argue here, as it is up to the court in Florida whether to grant the request.