Nikolas Cruz back in court as judge berates newspaper's attorney

Judge Elizabeth Scherer considers contempt case against newspaper

By Peter Burke - Local10.com Managing Editor, Todd Tongen - Anchor/Reporter

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was back in court Wednesday afternoon as a Broward County judge berated an attorney for a South Florida newspaper.

Broward County Judge Elizabeth Scherer scolded the attorney for the SunSentinel after the newspaper published details about Cruz's educational background that were supposed to be redacted to protect his privacy.

"You all manipulated that document so that it could be un-redacted," Scherer told attorney Dana Markham. 

Markham defended the paper's actions, calling it lawful and citing other similar court cases.

"Legally speaking, you may be OK, but what about ethically speaking?" Scherer said.

Markham argued in favor of the public interest and the "failures by the system that are undoubtedly going to be explored in the trial."

Scherer said she found the explanation unacceptable and said the paper "acted in bad faith."

"If you're the lawyer that the SunSentinel is saying they met with before they published it, [who] told them, 'Go ahead and publish it,' I find that to be an ethical violation on your part under the Florida Bar," Scherer said. "Maybe the SunSentinel does not have any ethical rules that they have to follow, but you as a lawyer do have those rules, and if you gave them that advice, then shame on you."

Scherer also blasted the two SunSentinel reporters who published the story in question for failing to show up in court.

"Somebody is considering contempt proceedings, which could include a fine or jail," Scherer said. "They didn't feel like making themselves available because it wasn't important?"

The newspaper's lawyer said they did nothing illegal. 

"And, in fact, the SunSentinel was notified by at least one member of the public that the information was available on the school board website," Markham said. 

Scherer wasn't convinced by that explanation and said the paper violated the spirit of her order and did so maliciously.

"So you are saying you knew exactly what I meant, but because I didn't write these specific words, the SunSentinel can do whatever they want regardless of the possible constitutional violation of not only Mr. Cruz, but the 34 listed victims in this case, who are all entitled under the Constitution to a fair trial?" Scherer asked.

Scherer said she would consider the school board's request that the paper be held in contempt of court.

Cruz's court appearance came on the same day that students returned to campus for the start of the new school year.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted murder in the Valentine's Day shooting at the Parkland school. His attorneys have offered a guilty plea in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors are pursuing the death penalty.

Cruz's brother, Zachary Cruz, was also in the courtroom during the hearing, as were attorneys for the school board.

"The attorneys made it clear that it was their intent to put the judges on notice of the fact that the confidential information had been disseminated to the public in violation of their orders that the information should remain redacted," Broward County Public Schools said in a statement after the hearing. "In filing the petition, it was never the school board's intent to pursue contempt proceedings against the SunSentinel or the individual reporters, as such matters are more properly handled by the judges presiding over the litigation."

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