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Who Exactly Is the George Zimmerman Trial Judge? A Few Things You May Not Have Known about Debra Nelson


Who gave to her campaign?

SANFORD, FL - JULY 9: Judge Debra Nelson asks attorneys to project an animation image while listening to testimony from forensics animation expert Daniel Shoemaker, in the courtroom in a hearing after the 21st day of the George Zimmerman trial in Seminole circuit court, July 9, 2013 in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman has been charged with second-degree murder for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Credit: Getty Images

Judge Debra Nelson has elicited a number of headlines in the closing days of the George Zimmerman murder trial, including snapping at a defense objection and walking out of a late-night session while the defense was making an argument.

Judge Debra Nelson. (Credit: Getty Images)

Now here are a few things you may not have known:

  • Nelson is a lifelong Democrat, according to The Smoking Gun, but was appointed in 1999 to fill a vacancy in the 18th Judicial Circuit (covering Seminole and Brevard counties) by none other than Florida's Republican Governor at the time, Jeb Bush.
  • She's registered to vote as a Democrat from her Sanford home--about three miles from where Trayvon Martin was shot to death--but has appeared on the ballot with no specific party affiliation, the Smoking Gun adds.
  • "She will make certain rulings that may be more favorable to the prosecution," Kimberly Priest Johnson, a Dallas-based federal criminal defense lawyer, told WTSP-TV.
  • When a woman stood trial for snatching a baby from a Florida hospital in 2008, Nelson wasn't moved by the fact that the infant was missing for only about an hour. She sentenced the 39-year-old kidnapper to 30 years in prison, WTSP-TV reports.
  • "Lawyers appearing before her know that her reputation is to be a law-oriented, no-nonsense judge," an Orlando defense attorney who argued a civil case before Nelson told WTSP-TV. "We know not to cross that line."
  • Records show that for her first election campaign, Nelson's "financial supporters included Zimmerman lawyers Mark O’Mara and Don West... 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," the Smoking Gun reports.
  • Nelson ran unopposed for reelection in 2006 and 2012 and sought no contributions for them, though the Smoking Gun reports she loaned $50,000 to her 2012 campaign "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 was admitted to the Florida bar in 1979 and 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 reported that her net worth was nearly $574,000.
  • The Smoking Gun notes the following Nelson declaration during her first campaign: “I think I have a lot to offer the community. I love the law. I am fair and just and an impartial person."

Here's a video collection of "Judge Debra Nelson Moments" from WTSP-TV:

(H/T: The Smoking Gun, WTSP-TV)



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