(photos courtesy of The Sun Sentinel’s Taimy Alvarez)
2:00 P.M. – Currently a roomful of national and international media, together with a full contingency of top lawyers, are waiting for a court reporter to show up for Nikolas Cruz’s 1:30 P.M. hearing.
Liz Scherer came out at 1:35 P.M. and apologized to everyone in attendance, explaining a court reporter couldn’t be located. Cruz was then taken down, after the judge left. At 1:45 P.M., with Cruz in the holding cell, Scherer announced it would be a minimum of thirty minutes until a court reporter could appear, and proceedings were recessed until 2:15 P.M.
After leaving the courtroom, we saw a court reporter on the seventh floor where Scherer’s courtroom is located, steno machine in hand, waiting for the elevator to take her to Bernie Bober’s courtroom on the 5th floor, also apparently in wait mode while a reporter could be located.
We’ll check back at 2:15 P.M. to see if the Cruz hearing will be held today. In the meantime, it’s about time judicial administration kicks it up a notch. As previously reported on JAABLOG, the court reporter staffing mess has been ongoing for far too long, and the 17th Circuit can hardly afford another embarrassment following so closely on the heels of Ehrlich’s star turn …
UPDATE 2:16 P.M. – the hearing has started, with speedy trial waived on the record …
Anyone looking to Jack Tuter as a beacon of change for the ailing Broward judiciary had better look elsewhere. Putting it another way, it’s best not to forget he cut his chief judge chops as an administrator under Vic Tobin and Peter Weinstein. The never-ending, in a class by themselves embarrassments that have been a fixture of the 17th Circuit for as long as anyone cares to remember will inevitably continue to recur, if what’s known of today’s roughly twenty-minute judicial summit is any indication.
First, what wasn’t discussed, according to multiple sources:
- Ms. Sandra Twiggs. There wasn’t even a moment of silence.
- A judicial rotation plan to conform with the Rules of Judicial Administration,* and to stem burn-out.
- Professionalism panels for judges to cut down on JQC complaints, contested elections, and the far too common meltdowns and ethical lapses that distinguish the Broward judiciary in terms of scope and volume from judicial circuits across Florida and the nation.
- Recent incidents involving Bobby Diaz and Barbara McCarthy.
- Tuter’s perceived preference of using transfer to the Criminal Division as “punishment detail“.
- Tuter’s perceived role in sparking Ehrlich’s resignation and corresponding inexcusable and cruel meltdown at First Appearances by notifying her of his intention to transfer her to the Criminal Division.
Next, what was discussed, according to multiple sources:
- High fives all around for the great job the majority of hard-working judges are doing, and a message of approval from the Chief Justice to same.
- An implied warning for judicial “leakers” to a blog that only wants to make them look bad, and a confirmation that the Chief Justice cancelled his trip to avoid a circus after the announcement appeared on the blog.
- The overall strong condition of the circuit, despite a handful of blog malcontents.
- Unspecified plans to improve things in the future and avoid pitfalls provided by a few bad apples.
- A focus on the large number of new young, talented judges who will be taking the circuit forward.
- The great strides in reducing the jail population, and in electronic scheduling for both civil and criminal.
- Tuter’s close working relationship with Howard Finkelstein.
Multiple sources agree this meeting was a morale booster, and not a forum to point fingers. Whether or not Tuter was simply playing to his base and not showing his cards shall be seen, but for now it seems his strongest public admonition for greater judicial accountability remains the April 23rd letter that’s posted below.
We’ve copied this entire post and emailed it to Tuter for review, in case we’ve gotten anything wrong or missed any important discussion points. If he writes back, we’ll update …
* The Rules of Judicial Administration encourage circuits to assign judges to different divisions over time in order to allow them to become generally familiar with all types of cases and fully develop their capabilities. (referencing Rule 2.215(b)(3), Florida Rules of Judicial Administration)
PIO WATERS: The chief justice will be unable to attend … The chief justice has no plans to visit Broward at this time.
*It’s unknown at this time if the meeting is still scheduled, however based upon the emails above, it’s apparent the Chief Justice will not be in attendance …
Thursday’s judicial meeting with the Chief Justice is not set in stone. The following email exchanges were between JAABLOG and Craig Waters, PIO for the Supreme Court, earlier today:
JAABLOG: Please advise what the agenda will entail and if public comment will be permitted.
WATERS: The chief justice had only tentatively put this on his schedule. His travel itinerary is very tight right now and it still is not clear that he will be able to go … No agenda on our end. The chief justice has made a habit of visiting courthouses around the state as he travels.
JAABLOG: Also, is the Chief Justice available to be interviewed pertaining to some of the ongoing problems with the 17th Circuit, and in particular, the need for mandatory judicial rotation to stem burn-out?
WATERS: We are very aware of what is happening there. You can be assured that the Florida Supreme Court is looking into the matter in its administrative capacity, but its role is complicated by the fact that judicial ethics cases are legal matters that it must review in its judicial capacity, if a JQC case is brought against any judge in Broward.
The transcript featuring the pumping issue before Barbara McCarthy is in. Read it here. The issue: should a lawyer have had to absent herself from an ongoing trial to pump, or should the judge have allowed a break in the proceedings?
From an email to Jack Tuter this morning, arguing our position that breaks should have been given:
The fact remains that a young and dedicated attorney, whether lead counsel or not, should not have to make a choice between absenting herself from a trial where a man is facing a fifteen year maximum sentence or attending to her maternal obligations. I can tell you this matter has engendered a very angry response from those familiar with the situation long before I posted it, and the fact that a young lawyer may have acquiesced to the wishes and authority of an exacting judge does not, in my opinion, make it a positive for the judiciary. Having a second pair of trained eyes and ears in a fast moving and stressful trial setting is invaluable, and could make all the difference in the end, without even discussing the added stress and burden possibly placed on the lawyer’s performance who had to run about during the trial to express …
AGREE OR DISAGREE – YOU MAKE THE CALL!
2:36 pm – Television media is all over the Barbra McCarthy pumping story. Requests for comment by the judge were reportedly met by the JA with a message along the lines that the transcript would be available later today to help explain the full picture.
We had a very brief chance to review a few pages of the computerized transcript over the court reporter’s shoulder, and it seems to indicate a discussion during which it was clear that the lawyer in question would have to exit the courtroom to express her breast milk. A request to take a screen shot was denied. Whether or not the word “recess” was used wasn’t readily apparent, and McCarthy did offer some supportive words of understanding while seemingly making it clear that the trial shouldn’t stop.
Again, it was a very quick review of the record, we don’t have a copy, and since it’s not audio as in other courtrooms, the tone of the conversation is not discernible. Ultimately we’re told the lawyer did leave the courtroom on two occasions to pump during different days of the trial, so at some point during the proceedings the Defendant would have been without the eyes and ears of one of his lawyers. As stated before, whether it’s an appeal issue would depend on the full circumstances and a full reading of the entire trial transcript.
The case is State v. Anthony Searcy, 14-011944-CF10A. A verdict was reached on April 13, 2018, not last week as previously reported. The State failed to prove the charge of Burglary Dwelling, finding Mr. Searcy guilty of the lesser included offense of Trespass …
EHRLICH GONE – Merrilee Ehrlich is not staying until June 30th, notifying Jack Tuter via email today that her retirement is effective as of 5:00 PM today …
In one of the worst weeks for the 17th Circuit in years, details are emerging concerning a trial with Barbara McCarthy featuring a pair of female defense attorneys. One of the attorneys has a newborn, and requested time during the trial for a pump break.
Apparently, the attorney was told there wouldn’t be any recesses for pumping, resulting in the Defendant having to endure periods of the proceedings when one of his lawyers had to absent herself. Depending on the full circumstances, it could be an appeal issue.
Whether or not McCarthy was aware of the dangers to Mom and supply concerns associated with interrupting the pumping schedule before denying the request for a recess is unknown at this time. We’ll be sure to update when the picture gets clearer. (CLARIFICATION – McCarthy had no problem with the lawyer exiting the ongoing trial to accommodate pumping, but made it clear the trial would not be paused)
All in all a terrible few days for the Broward judiciary. Bobby Diaz, Merrilee Ehrlich, and now concerns over McCarthy acting very imprudently indeed. Morale in Criminal is at an all-time low, and with little oversight by the mainstream press, no end in sight …
Coming Soon – Does Jack Tuter look down on the Criminal Division?; Court reporter mayhem!