Florida Supreme Court Removes Judge From Case Fearing Bias

The Florida Supreme Court has removed Judge Elizabeth Scherer from a death penalty proceeding for displaying inappropriate sympathy for prosecutors during the sentencing trial of Nikolas Cruz, who was convicted of killing 17 people in one of the deadliest mass shootings in the history of the United States.

In accordance with the Supreme Court’s decision, Scherer will no longer be in charge of the death penalty proceeding for Death Row inmate Randy Tundidor Snr who submitted a request to have Scherer taken off his case.

Scherer oversaw the case of school shooter Nikolas Cruz, who was sentenced to life in prison for his attack on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018. During the trial, Scherer was accused of being overly friendly and sympathetic with prosecutors and was seen hugging members of the prosecution team and victims’ families while still in her judicial robe after the sentencing.

According to the Supreme Court, Scherer also frequently clashed with Cruz’s defense team during his sentencing trial, accusing them of insulting her and intentionally disobeying her rulings.

The defense argued that Cruz’s troubled upbringing and mental deficits merited a life sentence rather than the death penalty. They eventually got their wishes as jurors could not come to a unanimous decision regarding the option of sentencing him to death.

Citing concerns over bias, the Supreme Court pointed out that one of the prosecutors Scherer embraced during Cruz’s trial is assigned to Tundidor’s case.

The panel argued that Tundidor has grounds for a “reasonable fear” that Scherer would not give him an impartial hearing given her past actions. This decision aligns with the importance of impartiality in the judiciary, as judges are expected to remain neutral and not take sides during trials, and any hint of bias can result in a mistrial or an appeal.

Tundidor was sentenced to death in 2014 for stabbing his landlord, Joseph Morrissey, to death in 2010 after the latter asked him for overdue rent. He had then set Morrissey’s home on fire with the intent to kill his family, including his wife and 5-year-old son. However, they managed to escape.

Sentenced to death in 2010, Tundidor filed a motion to vacate his conviction and death sentence in 2019.