The Florida Supreme Court has publicly reprimanded Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who presided over the penalty trial of Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, for showing bias toward the prosecution. The unanimous decision by the state’s highest court followed the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which found that she had engaged in “inappropriate behavior.”
The commission criticized Scherer for displaying bias by stepping down from the bench and hugging several prosecutors shortly after sentencing Cruz to life in prison. In her defense, she stated that she had also offered hugs to Cruz’s lawyers.
The commission’s report, filed on June 2, stated that “in limited instances during this unique and lengthy case, Judge Scherer allowed her emotions to overcome her judgment.” The penalty trial, which lasted six months, aimed to determine whether Cruz would receive the death penalty for murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on February 14, 2018.
During the trial, Scherer frequently clashed with defense lawyers on live television. When the jury did not unanimously vote for the death penalty, Scherer was left with no option but to sentence Cruz to life in prison in November.
The commission also found that Scherer had “unduly chastised” members of the defense team and made wrongful accusations against one of Cruz’s attorneys. They emphasized that her conduct fell below the expected standards for a trial judge and could damage the public’s perception of the judiciary and the justice system.
Scherer, who retired last month, was randomly assigned to Cruz’s case, and it was her first death penalty matter. Due to her behavior during the trial, she was disqualified from another death-row inmate’s case in April, at the request of the defense attorney.
Overall, the Florida Supreme Court’s public reprimand reflects the seriousness of the allegations of bias in the high-profile case.