The Florida Supreme Court Monday publicly reprimanded Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who oversaw Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz‘s penalty trial, for showing bias toward the prosecution.
The unanimous decision from the state’s highest court adopted the recommendation of the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which found she had “engaged in inappropriate behavior.”
The commission criticized Scherer for stepping down from the bench and hugging several prosecutors shortly after she had sentenced Cruz, 24, to life in prison.
In her defense, she told the state commission, which is tasked with investigating allegations of judicial misconduct, that she had also offered hugs to Cruz’s lawyers.
“In limited instances during this unique and lengthy case, Judge Scherer allowed her emotions to overcome her judgment,” the 15-member commission wrote in their report filed June 2.
Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland on Feb. 14, 2018, in one of the deadliest mass school shootings in U.S. history.
During the six-month penalty trial to determine whether Cruz would get the death penalty, Scherer frequently sparred with defense lawyers on live television.
The jury didn’t vote unanimously for death, leaving Scherer no choice but to sentence the mass murderer in November to life in prison.
The commission also found that Scherer had “unduly chastised” members of the defense team and wrongly accused one of Cruz’s attorneys of “threatening her children.”
“[Scherer] admits that her conduct fell below what is reasonably expected of a trial judge and had the potential to damage the perception of the judiciary and our system of justice in ways that cannot be easily cured,” the commission wrote.
The 46-year-old former Broward County circuit judge, who retired last month, was randomly assigned to Cruz’s case. It was her first death penalty matter.
Due to her conduct during the Cruz trial, Scherer was disqualified from a death-row inmate’s case in April at the request of his defense attorney.