On Monday, the Florida Supreme Court publicly chastised the judge who presided over the penalty trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz for demonstrating prejudice toward the prosecution.
The unanimous ruling followed the Judicial Qualifications Commission’s recommendation in June. That panel determined that Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer violated many judicial behavior norms in her interactions with Cruz’s public defenders during last year’s trial.
Cruz received a life sentence for the 2018 m*rder of 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School after the jury could not unanimously agree that he merited the deαth penalty.
Scherer “unduly chastised” lead public defense Melisa McNeill and her team falsely accused one Cruz attorney of threatening her child, and improperly embraced members of the prosecution in the courtroom after the trial ended, according to the 15-member commission.
The group, comprised of judges, attorneys, and citizens, admitted that “the worldwide publicity surrounding the case created stress and tension for all participants.”
Regardless, the commission stated that judges must “ensure due process, order, and decorum, and always act with dignity and respect to promote the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”
Scherer announced his retirement from the bench at the end of last month. The Cruz case was the 46-year-old former prosecutor’s first capital m*rder trial since being nominated to the court in 2012. After the massacre, Broward County’s computerized system randomly assigned Cruz’s case.
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The parents and spouses of the victims praised Scherer’s handling of the matter, saying she treated them with professionalism and kindness. However, her disagreements with Cruz’s attorneys and others garnered condemnation from legal analysts.
Scherer exited the bench after sentencing Cruz, 24, to life in pr!son without the possibility of release, and hugged members of the prosecution and victims’ families. She informed the panel that she also offered to hug the defense team.
In April, the Supreme Court removed her from handling post-conviction motions of another defendant, Randy Tundidor, who was sentenced to death for murder in the 2019 ki!!ing of his landlord.
One of the prosecutors, in that case, had also been on the Cruz team, and Scherer asked the prosecutor how he was doing during a hearing in the Tundidor case a few days after the Cruz sentencing. According to the court, Scherer’s behavior suggested she could not be fair to Tundidor.
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