MELBOURNE, Fla. — A local organization is giving an award to Mark O'Mara, the Orlando-based lawyer who successfully defended George Zimmerman in the February 2012 shooting death of teenager Trayvon Martin.
O'Mara is scheduled to accept the award from the Republican Liberty Caucus at the organization's annual Constitution Day dinner on Sept. 14.
O'Mara also will speak at the event. The organization's award is called the Jefferson Cup – named for Thomas Jefferson – and it goes to an individual who speaks "truth to power," said Bob White, chairman of the Republican Liberty Caucus.
White has been friends with O'Mara since they both were students at what is now the University of Central Florida.
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"We give the award to someone for what they done, stood for or accomplished and we thought Mark would be very deserving of the award this year," White said.
"Frankly, it was the post-verdict press conference that Mark conducted where he challenged the media but also the judicial system itself. Those of us who watched that news conference said, 'Now there is a guy who spoke truth to power,' and we began to get the idea that perhaps he is somebody that we should honor with the Jefferson Cup for the way in which he took on the legal profession where he makes his living."
Glenn Dames, pastor of St. James AME Church and a local organizer of for rallies supporting Trayvon Martin's family, called the decision to award O'Mara "perplexing."
"It's a cause for pausing," Dames said after being told about the award. "As a pastor I continue to pray for unity but not just for unity but for a better understanding between all of us and for the minorities in this country. I also don't think that this is a coincidence."
O'Mara received his law degree from the Florida State University's College of Law in 1982. He was a state attorney with the Seminole County State Attorney's office from 1982 to 1984. He served as president of the Seminole County Bar Association in 2000.
Dames said he didn't anticipate any protests in relation to the award ceremony.
"It's their freedom to do so. I actually hope it will spur on some dialogue," Dames said.
The Republican Liberty Caucus was founded in 1992. The Central East Florida chapter, with about 60 members, was organized five years ago. It's a group within the Republican Party dedicated to less government, lower taxes, more personal freedom and responsibility and free and fair markets.