Judge’s hugs after Parkland school shooter sentencing become controversial

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – When the judge hugged prosecutors after the Parkland school shooter’s sentencing hearing ended Wednesday, some lawyers who followed the case closely were worried about the fallout.

Broward County District Judge Elizabeth Scherer presided over the case while there were live cameras in the courtroom. There are videos of the sudden boundaries and heated exchanges she has had with the public defense team for years.

The hugs followed two days of no-holds-barred testimony that allowed the grieving families of the victims to vent — despite Weeks’ objections. Attorney David Weinstein, a partner with Jones Walker Waechter in Miami, said Scherer was reacting to an emotional day.

“Public defenders can now argue, based on the hugs that were observed by the prosecution team, that she may no longer be impartial,” said Weinstein, who has experience as a district and federal prosecutor.

The grieving families of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School did not stop. There were tears, insults and slander. Some targeted Nikolas Cruz and others also attacked the defense team.

Related Story: The defense attorneys’ association disapproves of the judge’s handling of the Parkland school shooter’s defense

Scherer’s interaction with the defense culminated in a tense exchange with Public Defender Gordon Weeks that resulted in her being ordered to “Go sit down!” The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys asked Chief Judge Jack Tuter to handle his treatment.

Related Story: The video shows a heated exchange between the judge, the defender of the Parkland shooter

Judge Elizabeth Scherer hugs Jennifer Guttenberg after the hearing for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz at the Broward County District Court in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2022. Guttenberg’s daughter, Jaime, was killed in the shooting last year 2018. Cruz was sentenced to life in prison for killing 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 families of the victims, 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 1200 school building.

Fred Guttenberg called for Weeks’ resignation over his court comments.

Related story: Fred Guttenberg calls for resignation of public defender over comments during hearing

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

“The optics of it are not really helpful,” Bogenschutz said, adding, “There are some people who would be a little concerned about that … I think the defense attorneys in this county will deal with that.”

Related Story: Florida Bar Investigates Parkland School Shooter’s Assistant Public Defender

Read the letter


> Here’s what happened Day 1 of the sentencing hearing

> Here’s what happened Day 2 of the sentencing hearing


Victim impact statement without limitations

The family of murder victim Christopher Hixon

Debra Hixon

Natalie Hixon

Thomas Hixon

Ines Maria Hixon

Parents of murder victim Scott Biegel

Linda Biegel Schulman

Michael Schulman (Caution: Explosive)

Mother of murder victim Helena Ramsay

Anne Ramsay

Family and girlfriend of murder victim Joaquin Oliver

Patricia Padauy Oliver

Manuel Oliver

Andrea Ghersi

Victoria Gonzalez

Mother of murder victim Nicholas Dworet

Annika Dworet

Sister of murder victim Alaina Joann Petty

Meghan Petty

Father of murder victim Alexander Schachter

Max Schachter

Parents of murder victim Jaime Guttenberg

Jennifer Guttenberg

Fred Guttenberg

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 from Carmen Schentrup’s parents

Mother: April Scentrup

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

Parents of wounded survivor Benjamin Wikander: Bree and Eric Wikander

Mother of Injured Survivor Samantha Speaker: Ellyn Mayor

Interactive graphics

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