Created on Wednesday, 28 August 2013 Written by KYLE HIGHTOWER, Associated Press
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — George Zimmerman's attorney said Tuesday that he is going to ask the state of Florida to pay for some of his client's non-lawyer legal bills, including for experts, printing and court reporters, and that the price tag could reach $300,000.
Zimmerman was acquitted last month of all charges in the 2012 fatal shooting of Miami teenager Trayvon Martin. The decision in the nationally televised trial touched off protests across the country.
Since he was found not guilty, Zimmerman is entitled under a Florida law to recoup the defense costs, minus private attorney fees, said his lawyer Mark O'Mara. It also says that any costs already paid can be refunded with the approval of a judge, he said.
"I just think it's patently unfair that the state by overcharging a case they could not prove at trial gets to cost either Mr. Zimmerman, or me, or the donors a whole bunch of money that they're not responsible for," said O'Mara, who also said the defense team has not totaled the expenses yet.
Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder.
To receive trial expenses, Zimmerman's attorneys must submit them with the Judicial Administrative Commission, which is the state's agency that reviews them and decides what expenses are reimbursable.
When Casey Anthony was acquitted of murder in the death of her daughter in 2011, the JAC paid more than $100,000 of the expenses incurred during her defense. But it also refused to pay about $12,000 of submitted costs.
The State Attorney's Office has not received a motion on the reimbursement of costs, but if it does it will respond in court, said spokeswoman Jackelyn Barnard.
O'Mara, who normally bills at $400 per hour, said neither he nor any of his fellow attorneys have been paid. At O'Mara's rate alone, for 40 hours per week and 16 months of work, his costs would be more than $1 million.
Though he and his fellow defense lawyers took the case pro bono, he said after all the money issues are settled, he'd like to be paid something. State statute on acquittal fees prohibits Florida from paying for privately secured counsel. So any pay for the lawyers' services would likely come from money they are seeking to recoup from prosecutors.
In a motion, the defense claims prosecutors held back evidence before the trial, and O'Mara estimates that he and co-counsel Don West spent more than 200 hours trying to secure those documents. They want to be paid for their time. Any money awarded in that motion would go directly to the attorneys.
"That's the only way we could get attorneys' fees paid for by the state in any form or fashion," O'Mara said.
He said he anticipates the hearing on the possible sanctions, which hasn't been scheduled yet, could take up a few days, and he plans to call state attorney Angela Corey and Zimmerman prosecutors to the stand.
As for the expenses he is seeking from the JAC, O'Mara said he only anticipates that $50,000 will be authorized. For the rest, the defense has the option of suing the agency, which would then put the final decision in the hands of circuit court judge. All other costs would be Zimmerman's responsibility. O'Mara said he isn't sure how much Zimmerman is still raising from donations to his website, but that it has slowed since his acquittal.
"George incurred this cost, period. His donors have helped out with those costs, but to the extent that that doesn't cover it, then he's going to have to figure out a way to pay these people back," O'Mara said. "Some of these experts were willing to work with us because they realized the magnetism of the case and the absurdity of the prosecution against him."