Zimmerman Lawyers Were Once Supporters Of Judge Who Has Knocked Them About Florida Courtroom
Years before they would endure a televised pummeling in the Florida courtroom of Judge Debra Nelson, the two lawyers representing accused murderer George Zimmerman actually donated money to the prickly jurist’s first election campaign, records show.
In 1999, Republican Governor Jeb Bush appointed Nelson, a lifelong Democrat, to fill a vacancy in the 18th Judicial Circuit (covering Seminole and Brevard counties). When Nelson ran the following year for a full six-year term, she donated 85 percent of her campaign’s $151,000 war chest.
The balance of Nelson’s contributions came that year from scores of Florida attorneys and law firms. Division of Elections records show that the judicial candidate’s financial supporters included Zimmerman lawyers Mark O’Mara and Don West, both of whom have felt the 59-year-old Nelson’s wrath over the past several weeks.
O’Mara gave $250 to Nelson’s campaign, while West--who has tangled frequently with the jurist as he has defended Zimmerman against charges that the neighborhood watch volunteer murdered Trayvon Martin--donated $100.
It is apparently too late, however, for either man to seek a refund from Nelson, who won the 2000 election with 72 percent of the vote.
Pictured above bookended by O'Mara and West, Nelson ran unopposed for reelection in 2006 and 2012. While registered to vote as a Democrat from her Sanford home--which is about three miles from where Martin was shot to death--Nelson has appeared on the ballot with no specific party affiliation.
Nelson sought no contributions in her last two races, though she did loan her 2012 campaign $50,000 last January. But after paying a $5687.12 qualifying fee and an $18 bank charge, Nelson repaid herself $44,294.88 on May 1. It is unclear why she loaned so much money to her campaign, only to have it returned three months later.
Nelson, who was admitted to the Florida bar in 1979, earns around $142,000 as a Circuit Court judge (likely far less than what she would make in private practice). In a financial disclosure form filed last year with Florida’s Department of State, Nelson--seen above in her official court portrait--reported that her net worth was nearly $574,000.
While Nelson is, for the moment, the country’s most famous judge, her celebrity will eventually wane and she will return to the kind of mundane docket that makes courthouses everywhere hum. Which likely will not upset a public servant who, when she first ran with O’Mara’s and West’s support, declared, “I think I have a lot to offer the community. I love the law. I am fair and just and an impartial person."