- Judge Elizabeth Scherer chided the defense for calling only a fraction of her expected witnesses.
- Broward’s office of public defender says she has a longstanding animosity towards the lead defender.
- The motion cited Florida’s Judicial Code of Conduct, which says the judge’s impartiality could be called into question.
On Friday, attorneys for Florida school gunman Nikolas Cruz asked the judge in his murder case to resign, two days after she chastised them for abruptly dropping their case after calling only a fraction of the expected witnesses.
District Judge Elizabeth Scherer has a long history of animosity toward lead defense attorney Melisa McNeill, according to a motion by Broward’s office of public defender.
The motion cites Florida’s Judicial Code of Conduct, which states that a judge must retire when his impartiality is reasonably challenged, including but not limited to cases where the judge found a personal bias or bias against a party or the lawyer of a party has . Scherer’s repeated inappropriate and unwarranted attacks on defense attorneys undermine public confidence in the justice system, defense attorneys say, and have also led to Cruz fears he will not receive a fair trial.
In response, prosecutors said Scherer was respectful of both sides.
Cruz’s attorneys had told the judge and prosecutors that they would subpoena 80 witnesses, but they surprisingly rested at the start of Wednesday’s court session after only about 25 of them were subpoenaed.
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There were a total of 11 days of defense testimonies, with the last two focusing on experts discussing how his birth mother’s heavy drinking during pregnancy may have affected the development of his brain, leading to his killing of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland led years earlier.
Lead Counsel McNeill’s unexpected announcement sparked a heated debate between her and Scherer, who, without warning to her or the prosecution, called the decision “the most inappropriate, unprofessional way to try a case.”
The 12-member jury and ten alternates were not present but waited outside the courtroom. Because of the sudden announcement, prosecutors were unable to begin their rebuttal process.
Scherer then accused Cruz’s attorneys of disrespecting everyone involved, particularly the jury, for wasting their time in court.
Cruz, 23, pleaded guilty in October to the February 14, 2018 murders of 14 Stoneman-Douglas students and three staff members. His trial, now in its second month, will only determine whether he is sentenced to death or life in prison without the possibility of parole. The jury must be unanimous to hand down a death sentence.
Cruz told Scherer he agreed with the decision after his attorneys rested.
Prosecutors have said their rebuttal case will take more than a week to prepare. The trial is now tentatively scheduled to begin on September 27th and end in the week of October 10th.