Parkland school shooter’s defense asks judge to step away from case over ‘disdain’

The Parkland school shooter's defense filed a motion on Friday asking the judge in the case to disqualify herself.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Parkland school shooter’s defense asked Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer on Friday to “disqualify” herself from the case, according to a 22-page motion filed in Broward County court.

The defense claims the motion was filed in response to Nikolas Cruz’s fears after Scherer admonished Chief Assistant Public Defender Melisa McNeill in open court.

Cruz’s statement: “I am seriously concerned about ... Scherer’s impartiality and ability to be neutral in a proceeding where my life is literally at stake.”

The defense is alleging that Scherer’s animosity towards Cruz and McNeill is influencing the way that she rules on motions and objections that will impact the jury and the evidence.

McNeill delivered her opening statement on Aug. 22 and said on Aug. 23 in court that her team had over 80 witnesses to call. When McNeill said on Sept. 14 that she was resting after only presenting 26 witnesses in 11 days, Scherer accused her of “unprofessionalism.”

“I have been practicing in this county for 22 years,” McNeill said.

Scherer interrupted her and said, “I don’t want to hear it!”

“Well, judge you are insulting me on the record in front of my client,” McNeill said. “I believe that I should be able to defend myself.”

The nearly three-minute exchange between Scherer and McNeill happened before the jury entered the courtroom but with Cruz and some of the relatives of the victims present.

“You have been insulting me the entire trial, so blatantly, taking your headphones off, arguing with me, storming out, being late intentionally if you don’t like my rulings, so quite frankly this has been long overdue,” Scherer said.

McNeill responded in the motion by saying Scherer’s statement was “the zenith of the cumulative disdain the court has publicly expressed.”

Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, is not working on Cruz’s case, but he has been following it closely.

“This has been brewing within the defense camp all trial. They have telegraphed their feelings a number of times before, that they believe the Judge is biased against their client,” Weinstein said.

Most recently it came up in the dispute that they had regarding the admissibility of the images of “hate.” The ruling on that motion was still pending.

“While the fact that the Judge did not make her comments earlier in the week in front of the jury plays a large role in determining if a motion for mistrial should be granted,” Weinstein said.

Scherer asked the attorneys in the case to return to court at 1:30 p.m., on Monday, and the jurors to return on Sept. 27 when the prosecution plans to be ready for rebuttal.

“The judge will deny their motion and it will become another issue on appeal,” Weinstein said. “But it will certainly have a chilling effect on how the Judge reacts to both sides in open court.”

The defense and the prosecution agreed to be ready for closing statements after the first week of October.

Related filing page

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Watch a video of the tense exchange

About the Authors:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."

Louis Aguirre is an Emmy-award winning journalist who anchors weekday newscasts and serves as WPLG Local 10’s Environmental Advocate.