The state judge in Florida who oversaw the penalty trial for the Parkland school shooter last year was reprimanded by the state’s Supreme Court earlier this week, after they found that she had engaged in conduct that was improper.
Elizabeth Scherer, the circuit judge who oversaw the trial, admitted that she violated the state’s code of judicial conduct. She also agreed to the public reprimand following an investigation conducted by the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission found that she appeared to have partiality toward the prosecution in the case.
Scherer was assigned to the Parkland shooter’s case randomly. In 2022, she sentenced the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, to spend the rest of his life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Cruz killed 17 people during the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located in Parkland, Florida. The jury in that case opted against sentencing him to death.
Yet, the judicial commission found in its investigation that the judge embraced both the victims and prosecutors improperly after the sentencing took place. They also found she didn’t take an action to stop victims’ family members from hurling “vitriolic comments” at the defense counsel Cruz had, while also chastising the defense’s lawyers over how they handled announcing the end to one of the presentations they gave during the hearing.
The commission singled out one instance in which Scherer accused one of the attorneys for Cruz of making threats toward children, when that attorney said:
“Judge, I can assure you that if they were talking about your children, you would definitely notice.”
The judge then told the attorney he had violated “about every rule of professional responsibility” for making those comments. Then, she told that attorney that he had to go sit in the back of her courtroom, which was away from where his client was sitting, according to the court filings.
Due to the unfair sympathy that Scherer had shown to prosecutors in that Parkland school shooter trial, the state Supreme Court had removed her from overseeing the post-conviction hearings for Randy Tundidor earlier this year.
Tundidor was ultimately sentenced to death after he was convicted of murdering his landlord back in 2019.
In the unanimous decision to remove Scherer from that case, the Florida Supreme Court justices wrote:
“Immediately after sentencing Cruz, Judge Scherer left the bench and, while still in her judicial robe, exchanged hugs with the victims’ families and members of the prosecution team.”
The big problem with that, of course, is that all judges are supposed to stay neutral during any trial as well as all sentencing hearings – no matter who the defendant is or what they have been accused or convicted of.
On June 30, Scherer decided to resign from the bench altogether. She did so with a short resignation letter that said it “has been a privilege to serve the people of the State of Florida as a member of the judiciary for over 10 years.”