Judge who hugged prosecutors after Parkland, Florida, shooter's trial is reprimanded
Nikolas Cruz pleaded guilty in October 2021 for the February 2018 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed.. Photo by Katherine Welles/Shutterstock.
The Florida Supreme Court on Monday publicly reprimanded a judge who hugged prosecutors after presiding in the penalty phase of the trial of Parkland, Florida, school shooter Nikolas Cruz.
The state supreme court publicly reprimanded Judge Elizabeth A. Scherer based on June 2 findings that she “unduly chastised defense counsel,” wrongly accused a defense lawyer of threatening her children, “failed to curtail vitriolic statements directed to defense counsel,” and embraced prosecutors after the sentencing.
“In limited instances during this unique and lengthy case, Judge Scherer allowed her emotions to overcome her judgment,” according to the findings and recommendation of discipline by the Investigative Panel of the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission.
Scherer made the accusation about threats after a defense lawyer stated, “Judge, I can assure you that if they were talking about your children, you would certainly notice.” The defense lawyer had made the statement after Scherer refused to curtail victim impact testimony that contained what defense lawyers perceived to be threats.
Scherer had agreed to the sanction and did not contest the findings and recommendation in the ethics case, according to a stipulation filed with the Florida Supreme Court. She retired from the bench at the end of June, the Associated Press reports.
The investigative panel said Scherer had in her commission testimony “acknowledged that her conduct during and immediately after the Cruz trial at times fell short of the high standards of conduct expected of Florida judges, and she admitted that her treatment of members of the defense team was at times not patient, dignified or courteous.”
Scherer had also told the commission that she offered to hug defense lawyers, as well as prosecutors. But she acknowledged that at some points, her conduct created the appearance of bias.
Scherer had “an unblemished record” before the trial, and her resignation was not a condition of her agreement to accept a public reprimand, the panel said.
Scherer had sentenced Cruz to life in prison without parole in November 2022, after jurors could not agree on the death penalty. Cruz had pleaded guilty in October 2021 for the February 2018 mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Fourteen students and three staff members were killed.
ABAJournal.com: “Defense lawyers for convicted Parkland, Florida, school shooter cry as victims’ parents testify”