Judge’s hugs after Parkland school shooter’s sentencing become controversial

When the judge hugged the prosecutors after the Parkland school shooter’s sentencing hearing ended, some attorneys who followed the case closely were concerned.

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When the judge hugged the prosecutors after the Parkland school shooter’s sentencing hearing ended on Wednesday, some took issue with her behavior.

The hugs followed two days of testimony that without restrictions allowed the grieving victims’ families to vent. Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, said Broward County Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer could have been reacting to an emotional day.

”The public defenders may now argue, based on the embraces that were observed of the prosecution team, that she may no longer be impartial,” said Weinstein, who has experience as both a county and federal prosecutor.

Related story: Defense lawyers association disapproves of judge’s treatment of Parkland school shooter’s defense

Scherer’s interaction with the defense culminated in a tense exchange with Public Defender Gordon Weekes that resulted in her ordering him to “Go sit down!” The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers asked Chief Judge Jack Tuter to address his treatment.

Related story: Video shows heated exchange between judge, Parkland shooter’s defense

Judge Elizabeth Scherer hugs Jennifer Guttenberg following the sentencing hearing for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Guttenberg's daughter, Jaime, was killed in the 2018 shootings. Cruz was sentenced to life in prison for murdering 17 people at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School more than four years ago. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun Sentinel via AP, Pool) (© South Florida Sun Sentinel 2022)

After the hearing ended, Scherer also hugged the victims’ families, including Fred and Jennifer Guttenberg, the parents of 14-year-old Jaime Guttenberg, who Cruz shot in the back as she ran away from him on the third floor of the school’s 1200 building.

Fred Guttenberg demanded Weekes’s resignation over his comments in court.

Related story: Fred Guttenberg demands public defender’s resignation over remarks during hearing

Attorney David Bogenschutz, of J. David Bogenschutz & Associates in Fort Lauderdale, agreed with Weinstein and said that once a case is over, people have a tendency to let down.

“The optics of it are not real helpful,” Bogenschutz said adding, “There are some people who would be a little concerned about that.”

Bogenschutz said the judge’s decision to hug the prosecutors could create a problematic issue with perception.

“I think the defense attorneys in this county will latch onto that,” he said.

Especially for the trial’s defense team, who have sparred with the judge over the years.

“The perception is what the public defender’s office is going to work off of, and if they perceive there is a bias, then they might file a motion to recuse or disqualify the judge on every case where they represent a defendant in the courtroom,” Weinstein said.

Related story: Florida Bar investigates Parkland school shooter’s assistant public defender

Read the letter


>Here is what happened on Day 1 of the sentencing hearing

>Here is what happened on Day 2 of the sentencing hearing


Victim impact statements without restrictions

The family of murder victim Christopher Hixon

Debra Hixon

Natalie Hixon

Thomas Hixon

Ines Maria Hixon

The parents of murder victim Scott Biegel

Linda Biegel Schulman

Michael Schulman (Warning: Expletives)

The mother of murder victim Helena Ramsay

Anne Ramsay

The family and girlfriend of murder victim Joaquin Oliver

Patricia Padauy Oliver

Manuel Oliver

Andrea Ghersi

Victoria Gonzalez

The mother of murder victim Nicholas Dworet

Annika Dworet

The sister of murder victim Alaina Joann Petty

Meghan Petty

The father of murder victim Alexander Schachter

Max Schachter

The parents of murder victim Jaime Guttenberg

Jennifer Guttenberg

Fred Guttenberg

The father and brother of murder victim Gina Montalto

Anthony Montalto III

Anthony Montalto II

The family of murder victim Alyssa Alhadeff

Parents: Lori and Ilan Alhadeff

Grandmother: Theresa Robinovitz

Grandfather: David Robinovitz

Uncle: David Alhadeff

Grandmother: Representative reads Vicky Alhadeff’s statement

Representatives read statements of Carmen Schentrup’s parents

Mother: April Schentrup

Father: Philip Schentrup

Injured survivors and their families

Samantha Fuentes was injured in the classroom where Helena Ramsay and Nicholas Dworet died

Stacey Lippel was injured near where her colleague Scott Beigel was killed

The parents of injured survivor Benjamin Wikander: Bree and Eric Wikander

The mother of injured survivor Samantha Mayor: Ellyn Mayor

Interactive graphic

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."

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.