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Judge Slammed for ‘Inappropriate’ and ‘Inexcusably Improper’ Decision to Hug Prosecutors at the End of Parkland Shooter’s Sentencing


After the Parkland school shooter was formally sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without parole for murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, the judge in the case controversially decided to hug members of the prosecution team.

As trial watchers can attest, Judge Elizabeth Scherer has dressed down members of Nikolas Cruz’s defense team numerous times during the penalty phase and sentencing proceedings. On one occasion, she ripped the defense for “unprofessionalism.”

“I have never experienced a level of unprofessionalism in my career,” she said.

Now legal observers, many of them defense lawyers, are saying much the same of Scherer’s decision to hug prosecutors. Many described Scherer’s actions as “inappropriate,” “inexcusably improper,” biased, unfair, and bizarre.

In the end, of course, the defense team achieved its goal — a life sentence for their client instead of capital punishment — so you won’t see them running to an appellate court with a link to this article. Rather, any complaint — assuming one is filed — would occur before a judicial conduct board and, if necessary, recommended to the Florida Supreme Court.

Florida Code of Judicial Conduct says that a judge “shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety” in all of their activities.

“A judge shall not allow, family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct of judgment. A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge covey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge,” the rules say.

In this instance, the judge was clearly wearing a robe in a courtroom hugging parties to one side of the case and not the other — but after the proceedings had concluded in favor of the defense.

Wherefrom the warm relationship between judge and the prosecution at the end of the often emotional death penalty case? An elected jurist, Judge Scherer is not only a decade-long former prosecutor but she also worked for longtime State Attorney Michael J. Satz, who headed the prosecution team in this case. And the judge surely knows each of the veteran assistant state attorneys she embraced.

Satz appeared to be walking in the other direction as the hugs occurred.

[Image via Law&Crime Network]

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Matt Naham is the Senior A.M. Editor of Law&Crime.