A new judge has been assigned to the case against George Zimmerman.

Thursday, the 18th Judicial Circuit Court announced that Criminal Administrative Judge Debra Nelson has been assigned to the Zimmerman case, replacing Judge Kenneth Lester after Zimmerman's defense team requested his removal.

The replacement comes just one day after the Fifth District Court of Appeal ruled in favor of Zimmerman that Judge Lester could be considered biased in the case against Zimmerman, who is charged with second-degree murder for the deadly shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February.

In its decision Wednesday, the appeals court said Judge Lester went too far when he called Zimmerman a "manipulator" of the law, and hinted that he could hold him in contempt of court after Zimmerman did not disclose his access to more than $100,000 during his first bond hearing.

Judge Nelson has been serving as a judge in Florida's 18th Judicial Circuit, which covers Seminole County and Brevard County, since 1999. Before that, she practiced law in Orlando.

Nelson graduated from the University of South Florida in 1975. She then earned her law degree from the South Texas College of Law in 1979, and was admitted to the Florida Bar that same year.


About Judge Debra Nelson

Source: 18th Judicial Circuit Courts


  • University of South Florida - B.A. Psychology, 1975
  • South Texas College of Law - J.D., 1979

Professional History:

  • Admitted to the Florida Bar, 1979
  • Admitted to the Texas Bar, 1979
  • Admitted to the U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, 1981
  • Admitted to the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, 1981
  • Admitted to the U.S. District Court, Middle District of Florida, 1985
  • Admitted to the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Florida, 1985

Employment History:

  • January 1980 – July 1983
    Broward County State Attorney's Office, Ft. Lauderdale, FL
    • Chief Prosecutor Misdemeanor, Hollywood Court, Felony Prosecutor.
  • July 1983 – March 1986
    Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Staff Counsel, Tallahassee.
    • Represented the Department in all personnel legal matters, employment discrimination, labor disputes, administrative law and civil litigation.
    • Appeared before federal and state courts and administrative hearing officers.
    • Registered lobbyist for the Department. Legal advisor on Cabinet issues.
  • March 1986 – August 1992
    Borroughs, Grimm, Bennett & Griffin, P.A., Orlando, FL.
    • Commercial litigation practice.
    • Partner, September, 1988 – August 1992.
    • Head of litigation department, December 1989 – August 1992.
  • August 1992 – June 1999
    Debra Steinberg Nelson, P.A., Orlando, FL.
    • Litigation practice including: contract disputes, mortgage foreclosures, corporate disputes, family law (dissolution of marriage, custody, paternity), probate litigation fraud, unfair and deceptive trade practices, employment disputes, employment discrimination, real property disputes, aviation litigation, construction defects, mechanics liens, constitutional law claims, adversary proceedings in bankruptcy, administrative proceedings, class action lawsuit, and appellate matters.
    • Arbitrator for the United States District Court, Middle District of Florida, 1992–1999.

Judicial History:

  • Appointed Circuit Judge 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida, by Governor Jeb Bush – May 1999.
  • Elected Circuit Judge 18th Judicial Circuit of Florida, September 2000 with 72% approval rate of the voters in Seminole and Brevard Counties.
  • Juvenile Delinquency Division, June 1999 – July 2000
  • Civil, Family and Probate Division, July 2000 – June 2002; July 2004 – June 2007
  • Felony Division, July 2002 – June 2004; July 2007 – present
  • Administrative Judge in the Juvenile Division, Seminole County, November 1999 – June 2000.
  • Administrative Judge for Seminole County, July 2000 – July 2001
  • Administrative Judge in the Family Division, Seminole County, July 2000 – June 2001
  • Administrative Judge in the Probate and Guardianship Division, Seminole County, July 2001 – June 2002
  • Administrative Judge for Appeals, Seminole County, July 1999 – June 2007
  • Administrative Judge Professionalism Committee, July 2009 – present
  • Acting Chief Judge, Seminole & Brevard Counties, July 2003 – June 2005
  • Preside over Seminole County Adult Drug Court, October 2002 – March 2005
  • Served on Florida Supreme Court Pro Se Committee
  • Served on 18th Judicial Circuit Conflicts Committee
  • Served on Family Court Steering Committee Summit on Redefining Florida's Family Courts
  • Serve on Seminole County Court Operations Committee, June 2009 – present
  • Serve on Trial Court Budget Commission - December 2010 – present

Organizations, Committees and Commissions

  • Florida Bar Criminal Rules Committee 2007–Present
  • Florida Bar Family Rules Committee 2004–2007
  • Florida Bar Civil Rules Committee 1999–2004
  • Seminole County Bar Association
  • Brevard County Bar Association
  • Volie A. Williams Inns of Court, President July 2004 – June 2005
  • Seminole County Community Leaders and Elected Officials

Awards and Recognitions

  • "Firm but Fair Administration of Justice to the Children of Seminole County" awarded by: The Office of the Public
  • Defender, Office of the State Attorney, Guardian Ad Litem Program, Attorneys and Court Personnel, June 30, 2000–2001
  • Seminole County Community Child Advocate of the Year Award, 2001
  • Office of the State Attorney "Leadership Award", 2010
  • Martindale Hubble "A.V." Attorney Rating