OTR Interviews

Is the trial judge anti-George Zimmerman?

Do the tense exchanges between Judge Debra Nelson and Zimmerman defense attorney Don West - and rulings favoring the prosecution - reflect bias?


This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," July 11, 2013. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: We are live outside the Sanford, Florida, courthouse where the Zimmerman trial has gotten pretty heated. Lots of testy exchanges between Judge Debra Nelson and the lawyers. So is the judge out of order or the lawyers? Take a look.


JUDGE DEBRA NELSON, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN TRIAL JUDGE: How much longer do you think how long this will take? I have had a jury sitting there until 9:00. I stayed late last night so I could get this accomplished and I was told I didn't have. We will be in recess until tomorrow morning.

DON WEST, ZIMMERMAN DEFENSE ATTORNEY: It's 10:00 at night. We started this morning. We had full days every day, weekends, depositions at night.

NELSON: Have you made a decision, sir, as to whether or not you want to testify in this case?

WEST: Your honor, I object to that question.

NELSON: OK, overruled. Have you made a decision as to whether or not you want to testify or not?

WEST: I object to that question.

NELSON: Overruled.

WEST: The case isn't concluded yet.

NELSON: I understand that. And I've asked Mr. Zimmerman if he needed more time to talk to his attorneys. And if he does, I will afford it to him.

WEST: On Mr. Zimmerman's behalf.

NELSON: I am asking your client questions, please, Mr. West.

WEST: I object of the court inquiring of Mr. Zimmerman as to his decision about whether or not to testify.

NELSON: Your objection is overruled. You continually disagree with this court every time I make a ruling.

WEST: We had a double level of security. We know that.

NELSON: And I know any seven-year-old can learn the passwords and get into that because they do it all the time.

If I have made a mistake in this case, you will appeal. If there is a conviction, it will get appealed to a higher court and they can review it to determine whether or not I made a mistake.

WEST: This was a trick. Doesn't the judge realize this was a trick?

NELSON: My intention right now is to get through the rest of the jury instructions, because if we have any arguments about the others I would like to get them resolved. We will come back to this one.


VAN SUSTEREN: Our legal panel is back. Diana, since you are a lawyer in Florida I will go to you. Let me say one thing. I have certainly heard judges a lot worse. However, is he presumed innocent, and it's her job to be a referee and not ever be a bully, even if she's annoyed by the attorneys. What do you think, since you practice here?

DIANA TENNIS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Thank you so much. Let me say first of all that I have known Don West for 20 years and I do not know that person this morning. He was so close to the line, I swear to you.

VAN SUSTEREN: The lawyer was.


VAN SUSTEREN: So you are on Judge Nelson's side?

TENNIS: No, no, no. It's been building up for so many weeks, and he's been so downtrodden. But I swear, he's like the Zen guy. I've never seen him upset.

Let me say this, I thought the night she made them work until 10:00, telling them you will be back at 8:00 and then walking out on them when they were telling her I can't do it, unreasonable, unacceptable. But all of that goes away when she does not let the state of Florida argue third degree felony murder, because let me tell you --


TENNIS: Hold on. This is a permissive category two. They should have been on the watch for it. They were not.


TENNIS: Honestly, when you read it, she could have let them go that way. She could have legally in the state of Florida. She gave them that this morning. She is forgiven to me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bernie, bottom line, the question is not has she obnoxious to the lawyers when the jury is not there, but has she been fair?

BERNIE GRIMM, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: You're right, the judge has to be essentially the referee of the empire. I haven't watched the trial. Ted has seen some, Diana has seen a lot of it, I trust you guys' judgment on that.

I love this guy, West. I didn't come out of blocks real hot about him because he told a knock-knock joke in opening, which really troubled me in a case like this. He is a cool cat. He doesn't raise his voice, he's not disrespectful. Too bad for the judge. This guy's job is to zealously represent his client within the bounds of the law. If an ethical violation is the goal line, your heels should be on it the entire trial.

VAN SUSTEREN: And she ought to -- even if the lawyers are annoy her, she ought to, since the defendant's life is on the line, life in prison, they need to make a record when they object, they ought to be a record.

TED WILLIAMS, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY/FORMER DC HOMICIDE DETECTIVE: Look, I don't have any problem of anybody making a record. But you have to give respect and you have to get respect, and you have to respect the court. Hold on, Greta, there were times that he was out of line.

VAN SUSTEREN: You know what? Ted, when she was pummeling the defendant about whether or not he is going to testify or not, that was so - - that was so over the top.


WILLIAMS: That was a 100 percent wrong, not only wrong. I don't have a problem with that. I know what happened today. She was trying to keep control of her courtroom and she was right about this today.

HAMMER: You are all soft out on the east coast. Come out to the west coast. Until a judge throws someone in jail, we've all seen that, until a judge threatens somebody with jail, until real bad stuff goes, this is somebody working 12 hours a day, the lawyers are too. She has six women on the jury, five with kids at home. God bless her for moving this case along.

VAN SUSTEREN: God bless her for moving the case along, but when a defendant is sitting there and she's pummeling him with questions whether he's going to testify and the defense isn't over, and that's such an important question. And she's pummeling about him, she was dead wrong on that.

HAMMER: He's had a very fair trial. Bernie is right, his defense attorney has done a great job.

GRIMM: Agreed.

WILLIAMS: But think about this -- when a judge makes a ruling, and when she rules, his or her ruling, and then for you to say something afterward, that's inappropriate.


VAN SUSTEREN: Diana has to practice here, so we give her a pass.

HAMMER: She knows who has the power.