Trayvon Martin case: Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr. named as new judge in Zimmerman trial

Circuit Judge Kenneth Lester, Jr. has been named as the new judge in the trial of George Zimmerman, the second-degree murder defendant in the case of Trayvon Martin.

Zimmerman faces a bond hearing on Friday at 9 a.m., over which Judge Lester will preside to determine if Zimmerman will be granted bail and to set the bail amount. Zimmerman killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26 in Sanford, Fla. with a registered handgun. The African-American teen was unarmed.

Controversy over the Sanford police department’s decision not to charge Zimmerman for the shooting led to nationwide outrage, which some believe sparked the investigation resulting in Zimmerman’s arrest. Scrutiny over how his trial will be handled remains high.

Lester was assigned to the case through random rotation. He replaced Circuit Judge Jessica Recksiedler, who had originally been assigned to the trial. Recksiedler recused herself today, because Zimmerman’s attorney Mark O’Mara requested that she step aside over a potential conflict of interest.

Recksiedler’s husband is a partner in the firm of Mark NeJame, an attorney who has been hired to analyze the Zimmerman trial for CNN. NeJame was also under consideration to represent Zimmerman before O’Mara was chosen.

In addition, a second judge stepped aside immediately after Recksiedler, Circuit Judge John Galluzzo. Galluzzo was next in the rotation, but has practiced law with O’Mara. Zimmerman’s attorney is also the godfather of one of Galluzzo’s children.

All criminal judges in Seminole County are assigned at random according to a rotation system. Judge Lester will hold Zimmerman’s bond hearing in Recksiedler’s court room, number 5D, at the Seminole Criminal Justice Center on Friday.

Lester, 58, has been a judge for 15 years, having won his judgeship in 1997 against an incumbent.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, ”[h]e is popular with attorneys,” “has a reputation for doing things quickly,” and “has a great deal of experience with criminal trials, including high-profile cases.”

Lester is noted for handing down death sentences for murder, although life in prison is the toughest sentence for Zimmerman’s charge of murder in the second degree.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb