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Parkland Shooter Trial Judge Refuses to Recuse Herself After Calling Out ‘Insulting’ Defense Team in Court


The judge overseeing the criminal prosecution of the man accused in the mass shooting attack at a high school in Parkland, Florida, says she is staying on despite the defense’s complaints about her.

Attorneys for Nikolas Cruz, 23, recently argued that Judge Elizabeth Scherer was biased against their client and should step down. On Monday, she refused.

“The allegations set forth in the instant motion are legally insufficient to merit disqualification,” Scherer wrote.

Cruz pleaded guilty last year to attacking Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Feb. 14, 2018 and murdering 17 people with a semiautomatic rifle. Over the course of his sentencing trial, prosecutors have refused to budge on seeking the death penalty, and have highlighted the premeditated and horrifying elements of the murders.

His defense has been working to get him the lesser sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole. Attorneys say his biological mother exposed him to drugs and alcohol in the womb. They rested their case on Wednesday.

Scherer, however, found the defense’s move a bit too sudden, as Cruz’s team was only halfway through an 80-person witness list; by resting its case earlier than anticipated, it put prosecutors — who were set to begin their rebuttal case on Sept. 27 — on the spot.

“I just want to say, this is the most uncalled for, unprofessional way to try the case,” Scherer said of the defense after the lawyers announced that they were resting their case. “You all knew about this, and even if you didn’t make your decision until this morning, to have 22 people plus all of this staff and every attorney march into court, be waiting as if it’s some kind of game — now I have to send them home. The state’s not ready. They’re not going to have a witness ready. We have another day wasted. Honestly, I have never experienced a level of unprofessionalism in my career. It’s unbelievable.”

Cruz attorney Melisa McNeill of the Broward Public Defender’s Office stood up on behalf of the defense.

“I have been practicing in this county for 22 years,” McNeill said — but Scherer cut her off.

“You know what, I don’t want to hear it,” the judge said.

“Well, judge, you’re insulting me on the record in front of my client, and I believe I should be able to defend myself,” McNeill responded.

“You can do that later,” Scherer said. “You can make your record later, but you have been insulting me the entire trial, so — blatantly. Taking your headphones off. Arguing with me. Storming out. Coming late intentionally if you don’t like my rulings. So, quite frankly, this has been long overdue; so please be seated.”

Scherer’s rebuke apparently prompted another surprise move from the defense: over the weekend, Cruz’s lawyers filed a motion asking Scherer to disqualify herself from the case. The lawyers took issue with her scolding from earlier in the week, as well as how she construed the timeline of events for jurors.

“So, we did not anticipate that the defense would be resting today,” she had told the jury last week. “Therefore, the State is not prepared to go forward with the rebuttal case until the 27th. If I had known earlier that this was going to be happening, I would have — I would not have dragged you all in here.”

In its motion, Cruz’s lawyers said they had followed the letter of the law.

“The defense had absolutely no legal obligation to advise the State or Court in advance of its intention to rest its case,” the defense wrote. “Moreover, the jury has to be present for the defense to rest.  Finally, the Court tied itself to the State when it indicated ‘we did not anticipate’ and then ‘therefore, the State is not prepared.’  In essence the Court blamed the defense and gave the jury an excuse for the State’s inability to move forward for nearly two weeks.”

They also brought forward an affidavit written by Cruz himself, in which he said the court “repeatedly insulted my lawyers throughout the trial and has caused me to believe it is biased against me and my lawyers.”

In the document, Cruz expressed that he did not believe he would receive a fair trial.

“I am seriously concerned about Judge Elizabeth Scherer’s impartiality and ability to be neutral in a proceeding where my life is literally at stake,” the affidavit said.

Cruz further said that Judge Scherer exhibited many “negative and disparaging non-verbal actions” as well, “including rolling her eyes when my lawyers are speaking or wish to speak” and “turning her head in a dismissive manner when my lawyers are speaking or trying to speak.”

Aaron Keller contributed to this report.

[Images via Law&Crime Network]

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