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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The attorney who helped get George Zimmerman acquitted of murder charges said Tuesday that he expects an ethics inquiry opened by the Florida Bar will find nothing wrong in how he handled a defense fund and social media during the case.
Mark O’Mara said on his website that the inquiry was opened before the trial when his office contacted the bar for advice on how it should go about managing the fund and website it set up to assist it in Zimmerman’s second-degree murder case in the shooting of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. The issue was deferred until after the trial and O’Mara said he is “certain that matter will be closed shortly, and that the conclusion will suggest that we handled these new and novel approaches in an appropriate and ethical way.”
Florida bar spokeswoman Francine Walker said in an email that the complaint was at the “staff investigation level” and that she couldn’t provide further information due to confidentiality rules. O’Mara said everything his office did regarding the defense fund and on social media was transparent from the start.
“The Florida Bar opened an inquiry, which included very specific questions regarding our policies for each and how we were conducting ourselves,” O’Mara said in the statement. “We responded promptly and to The Florida Bar’s satisfaction, and the entire matter was deferred until after the trial. Although no further action has been taken since the verdict, the file has remained open.”
Of more than 7,000 files opened this year by the Florida bar looking into attorneys’ conduct, roughly 200 have led to discipline. Zimmerman in February 2012 shot and killed Trayvon Martin, who was black, in Sanford, a gated community outside Orlando.
The case sparked a nationwide debate about race and self-defense. Zimmerman was accused of racially profiling Martin and said he shot the teen to protect himself. O’Mara said the reason his office informed the bar initially was because there were no listed rules governing how an attorney should manage fundraising or social media websites they decided to create. The website was also used as a landing post to distribute information to various media outlets covering the case.
Zimmerman’s case was initially taken on by O’Mara pro bono, but he made the decision early on to begin soliciting funds on Zimmerman’s behalf from the public to assist in the defense. The site raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, but none of it went to pay Zimmerman’s attorneys. O’Mara, who no longer represents Zimmerman in criminal matters, has since billed Zimmerman for $2.5 million for the hours he and co-counsel Don West spent on the case.