South Florida state court Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who oversaw the Parkland school shooter’s case, has been disqualified from presiding over another death penalty proceeding involving Randy Tundidor Sr. The Florida Supreme Court ruled that Scherer had shown inappropriate sympathy for prosecutors during Nikolas Cruz’s sentencing trial last year.
As a result, Scherer will no longer be involved in post-conviction matters for Tundidor, who was sentenced to death in 2014 for the brutal murder of his landlord. In addition, the court stated that her behavior raised concerns of potential bias, which would undermine a fair and impartial hearing for Tundidor.
Parkland school shooting judge booted from new death penalty case https://t.co/WMRE6jD6ah pic.twitter.com/oAzVTqUutn
— New York Post (@nypost) April 14, 2023
Scherer had numerous heated exchanges during the Cruz trial with the defense team. After sentencing, she left the bench in her judicial robe and hugged the victims’ families and prosecution team members. Assistant State Attorney Steven Klinger, one of the prosecutors Scherer embraced, is currently assigned to Tundidor’s case, which he is appealing.
Given her past actions in the Cruz case, the Florida Supreme Court panel determined that Tundidor had grounds to reasonably fear that Scherer would not give him an impartial hearing. Cruz, responsible for one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history, ultimately received a life sentence instead of the death penalty after the jury failed to reach a unanimous decision.
Scherer’s removal from the Tundidor case was based on the court’s determination that her previous behaviors would create a well-founded fear of not receiving a fair and impartial proceeding in the eyes of a reasonably prudent person.
In 2010, Tundidor and his son attacked his landlord Joseph Morrissey over a rent dispute. Tundidor brutally stabbed Morrissey, 46, while his wife and five-year-old son were tied up in another room. The father and son then attempted to burn down the house, intending to kill Morrissey’s family. However, they managed to escape the fire. A Broward County jury sentenced Tundidor to death in 2014.
Randy W. Tundidor’s objection to Judge Scherer’s involvement in his case partly stemmed from her display of affection toward prosecution team members during the Parkland shooting penalty phase. Tundidor argued that Scherer, a former prosecutor herself, was inappropriately close to the team, thus raising questions about her impartiality.
The Supreme Court of Florida’s ruling on Thursday clarified that Tundidor did not have to prove Scherer’s bias or inability to be impartial. Instead, the law focuses on whether a litigant may reasonably question a judge’s impartiality, not the judge’s perception of their ability to act fairly and impartially.
The justices ultimately concluded that Scherer could not preside over Tundidor’s case. The disqualification of a high-profile judge like Scherer reminds us of the importance of impartiality and fairness in the legal system.