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How Judge Debra Nelson Became the Zimmerman Trial’s Breakout Star

The circuit court judge gave us some of the most entertaining moments in an otherwise grim trial

When the George Zimmerman trial finally comes to an end, we'll have to say good-bye to one of the more entertaining personalities involved in it: Judge Debra Nelson.

Nelson, described as "no-nonsense" and "tough-talking" by most, has given us some of the more entertaining moments in the trial, in which Zimmerman, a former security guard, is accused of murdering Trayvon Martin. With Zimmerman's fate in the hands of the jury on Friday, we'll soon see the end of Nelson on our television sets.

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Nelson's refusal to take any crap has been a welcome relief from the otherwise serious trial and its circumstances – a young black man is dead, killed in "self-defense" despite being unarmed, and Zimmerman is accused of targeting him because of the color of his skin rather than any real threat he posed. With the nearly non-stop trial coverage on CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and HLN, there's been plenty of opportunity to see her in action.

Take this exchange, for example:

JUDGE DEBRA NELSON: Please don't go off focus here.


NELSON: Don't no, no, me, either. Let's stop this right now. I have told counsel before, first of all, nobody talks over the other. The court reporter can only take one person down at a time. I will have not any speaking objections in the courtroom.

DON WEST, ZIMMERMAN'S DEFENSE ATTORNEY: I would like to make a speaking objection.

NELSON: You can't make an objection to your own question.

So who is she?

Debra Steinberg Nelson has been a Circuit Court judge in Florida's 18th judicial circuit since her 1999 appointment by then-Governor Jeb Bush. She quickly took control of the Zimmerman trial after she was assigned to replace Kenneth Lester Jr. in Aug 2012. She's handled the spotlight of presiding over the most-television trial of the moment well, being prepared and reigning in proceedings before they can spin out of control (like, say, the O.J. Simpson trial).

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Though Mark Geragos described Nelson as an "equal opportunity curmudgeon" on CNN on Thursday, her best moments have been in response to Zimmerman's defense team, growing more contentious as the trial wore on.

There was her above encounter with O'Mara and West. Then there was the time she couldn't get a straight answer out of Zimmerman regarding whether or not he would testify on his own behalf. West interrupted her questions with objections, which she curtly overruled. The third time West objected, Nelson responded with deliciously annoyed: "your objections are O-VER-RULED."

Perhaps best of all, she walked right on out of the courtroom while West protested that the long hours she was forcing them to work — it was 10 pm — were exhausting him. "I'm not physically able to keep up this pace," West whined. Nelson responded by closing the door on her way out of the courtroom.

Watch the video of that exchange:

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