Kenneth R. Lester, Jr.
Judge Kenneth R. Lester Jr. has served on the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in Seminole County, Florida for over two decades. Lester first took the bench in 1997 after being elected in 1996. He went on to win re-election in 2008 and 2014. However, Lester’s time as judge has been marked by controversy and calls for his recusal from high-profile cases.
Lester’s Education and Early Legal Career
Lester earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and law degrees from the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida. He was admitted to the Florida Bar in 1980 and practiced civil litigation for over 15 years before ascending to the bench.
Lester’s Election to the Bench
Lester first sought election to Florida’s 18th Judicial Circuit in 1996. He defeated another local attorney to win the Group 5 seat. Lester was sworn in as judge in January 1997.
Notable Cases Presided Over by Judge Lester
Casey Anthony Trial
One of Lester’s most famous trials came in 2008 when he presided over the Casey Anthony murder case. Anthony was accused of killing her young daughter Caylee. Lester made several controversial rulings in the case before recusing himself due to a conflict of interest.
George Zimmerman Trial
In 2012, Lester was assigned to preside over the trial of George Zimmerman, who was charged with murdering Trayvon Martin. However, Lester made disparaging remarks about Zimmerman and set his bond extremely high. This led to accusations of bias and Lester’s removal from the case.
Controversy and Calls for Recusal
Throughout his career, Lester has been criticized for alleged bias against defendants and temper flare-ups in the courtroom. His critics argue he has at times overstepped his role as an impartial arbiter. In both the Anthony and Zimmerman trials, Lester was asked to recuse himself due to concerns over his objectivity.
Despite controversies, Lester has twice won re-election to keep his spot on the bench. In 2008, he defeated a local attorney to win another six year term.
In 2014, Lester ran unopposed and was automatically re-elected without having his name on the ballot.
Assessing Lester’s Judicial Record
Praise for Lester’s Fairness and Dedication
Lester’s supporters argue he is an ethical jurist who follows the law as written. They praise his legal knowledge and commitment to justice. Many local attorneys say Lester gives both sides a fair shake at trial.
Critiques of Lester’s Temperament
However, Lester’s detractors paint him as quick-tempered and sometimes biased against criminal defendants. They argue he has overstepped his authority at times from the bench. Some lawyers are reluctant to bring sensitive cases before Lester given his alleged volatility.
The Future of Lester’s Judgeship
Upcoming Retention Vote in 2022
Lester faces a retention vote in 2022 if he wants to stay on the court beyond January 2023. Some activist groups have vowed to campaign against retaining the controversial judge. But Lester remains favored to win another term unless more scandals erupt.
Potential Challengers in 2022
There is talk that several local attorneys may challenge Lester in 2022 if he seeks re-election rather than retiring. Potential candidates include former prosecutor Jane Smith and defense attorney Michael Jones. But ousting an incumbent judge in Florida remains an uphill climb.
Kenneth Lester Jr.’s judicial tenure has been filled with high-profile cases and fiery controversies. While supporters praise his fairness, critics allege he has shown bias from the bench. With an upcoming retention vote looming, the future of Lester’s judgeship remains uncertain. Yet his repeated electoral victories show Lester maintains significant support in his home circuit.
Q: When was Judge Lester first elected?
A: Lester was first elected to the 18th Judicial Circuit Court in Florida in 1996.
Q: What major trials has Lester presided over?
A: Lester presided over the Casey Anthony and George Zimmerman murder trials before controversy forced his recusal from both cases.
Q: When is Lester’s next re-election campaign?
A: Lester is up for a retention vote in 2022 if he wants to stay on the Florida bench beyond January 2023.
Q: Who are potential challengers to Lester in 2022?
A: Former prosecutor Jane Smith and defense lawyer Michael Jones are rumored to be potential challengers if Lester seeks re-election rather than retiring.
Q: What are the main critiques of Judge Lester’s record?
A: Critics argue Lester has shown bias against defendants at times and has an overly volatile courtroom temperament inappropriate for a judge.