Florida Asked To Reimburse George Zimmerman For Court Costs
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More than a month after he was acquitted on murder charges, George Zimmerman - or at least, his lawyers - are headed back to court. Zimmerman is the neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin. His lawyers are asking the state of Florida to reimburse their client for court costs incurred during his murder trial; costs, they say, might be as high as $300,000. NPR's Greg Allen reports.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Under Florida law, a defendant who's acquitted in a trial is not liable for any court costs. Zimmerman's lawyer, Mark O'Mara, says those are filing fees and other expenses incurred in presenting the case.
MARK O'MARA: So the costs you will incur for expert witnesses, court reporter fees, transcripts and travel expenses - everything that sort of needs to get done, to get ready for a trial.
ALLEN: O'Mara says his office is still calculating those costs, but he expects them to range between $200- and $300,000. When they have it ready, he says they'll ask Judge Debra Nelson to certify his request, and then it will go before a state body known as the Justice Administrative Commission.
The bill will include the costs and expense of four experts Zimmerman's lawyers hired to testify on the difficulty of identifying screams heard on a 911 call; also, the costs of an animation of the events leading up to the shooting that the defense used in its closing argument. O'Mara says he expects, though, that the commission will give Zimmerman just a portion of what he's requesting.
O'MARA: They take a very conservative line on this. And I know other cases I've had with them that they're very cautious about reimbursing for things like expert witnesses.
ALLEN: The general counsel for the Justice Administrative Commission, Cris Martinez, says her office receives just a half-dozen court orders a year, on average, requesting reimbursements from defendants who are acquitted. At the trial level, she says, those reimbursements typically are $50 to $100 - far below the hundreds of thousands of dollars Zimmerman is seeking.
O'Mara says he expects a legal fight with the commission over the costs. Not covered by the Florida statute, though, or by Zimmerman's reimbursement request, is O'Mara's legal fee, or that of his co-counsel, Donald West. And O'Mara says those totals are substantial.
O'MARA: Yeah, I'm certain that my bills are north of a million dollars; and that Don West's are probably somewhat behind mine, but not an enormous amount behind mine. You know, we both spent a lot of time, probably 40 hours a week, for most of 16 months. So do up the numbers.
ALLEN: Zimmerman has a legal defense fund, and some donations are still trickling in. O'Mara says whatever costs the court decides to cover will go into the fund, which still has outstanding debts to pay. At the same time, Zimmerman has been drawing on the fund for some of his living expenses. He's not currently working, and O'Mara says he doesn't expect his client will be able to pay his legal bills.
But while he's working on recovering these costs, O'Mara says he's also preparing another motion - one asking Judge Nelson to impose sanctions on state attorneys for hiding evidence in the case. Included in the requested sanctions - some $70,000 to reimburse defense attorneys for time they wasted because of prosecutors' actions. More than six weeks after the conclusion of the trial and his client's acquittal, O'Mara is still angry at the state.
O'MARA: I'm just quite frustrated by a prosecution who can charge somebody with a case they can't prove; cost him what's going to end up to be a couple of million dollars, with fees and costs, and then have no responsibility for it.
ALLEN: A spokesman for state attorney Angela Corey said her office had no comment on Zimmerman's reimbursement request. If a motion is filed, she said, the State Attorney's Office will respond to the request in the proper arena - the courtroom.
Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.
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