Ruthless judge resigns after defendant whom she lambasted dies from breathing problems three days later
Ehrlich resigned late Friday from her current position after some in the legal community criticized the judge for her behavior that day.
A Florida judge was reported to have unfairly criticized a woman in a wheelchair who was having breathing problems from two medical conditions. The said woman died at home three days after the encounter resulting in the resignation of the judge.
Judge Merrilee Ehrlich of the Broward County Circuit insulted 59-year-old defendant Sandra Faye Twiggs who was facing the court for misdemeanor charges from a family dispute, reported Fox News.
It seems that the Ehrlich berated Twiggs to such an extent that it prompted her public defender Howard Finkelstein to call for her to be banned from presiding over criminal cases in the future.
Twiggs was arrested for domestic violence in Lauderhill April 13, according to the arrest report. Her defense attorney believed it was all a misunderstanding. Gordon Weeks, Finkelstein's chief assistant, told the Miami Herald: “It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment.”
In the video, one can see Twiggs asking about receiving breathing treatments. The judge can be heard responding to her by shouting her down and saying,"I’m not here to talk about your breathing treatments ... I am not going to spend all day with her interrupting me."
The wheelchair-bound defendant appeared before Judge Ehrlich during the hearing in bond court, according to a video feed from the North Broward Bureau.
At another point in the video, Ehrlich can be heard saying: “You’ve already said too much!”
According to the Sun-Sentinel, Jack Tuter, the Broward Chief Administrative judge, said on Saturday that he's instructed Ehrlich not to return to the courthouse because of her treatment of Twiggs. “In light of recent events, we have decided Judge Ehrlich will be told not to return to the courthouse as her retirement is effective June 30,” Tuter said. “I will be working this weekend to find a substitute to cover Judge Ehrlich's [family court] division.”
In the meanwhile, Twiggs, who had been released on bail and was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases and asthma, passed away in her sleep on Wednesday.
“We never knew anything about this video until yesterday,” Carolyn Porter, Twiggs’ goddaughter, told the Florida publication. “She tried to tell us how they treated her, but she had anxiety, and every time she tried to talk about it, she couldn’t breathe.”
The public defender wrote in an April 20 letter to Tuter that Ehrlich was "bullying" other defendants the same day. “She raised her voice to many defendants, berated the attorneys and was impatient and exasperated during the proceedings,” Finkelstein wrote.
He called Ehrlich's behavior as “embarrassing” and lacking “civility,” while describing her as “aggressive and tyrannical.” Anna Lee Twiggs, the sister of the defendant, told CBS Miami that her sister said: “Anna, they treated me like a dog in the courthouse. They didn’t let me talk. The judge was so cruel.”
“When she came home from being in there she was never the same,” Carolyn Porter, Twiggs’ goddaughter, told CBS Miami.
An outraged Carolyn said she had a question for Ehrlich: "To see a person begging you for help and trying to talk to you and you treat them like a dog, for what reason?"
“I was outraged,” Finkelstein told the Sun-Sentinel. “What I saw there was somebody that is not mentally and emotionally fit to sit in judgment of human beings. ... Nobody should suffer attacks like that because a judge is having a bad day.”
When Anna saw the video of the April 14, tears couldn't stop rolling down her cheeks. She said that her sister Sandra didn't have a criminal record and this experience affected her so much that she couldn't handle the pressure. She found Sandra dead in her bed in the early hours of Wednesday.
Bill Gelin, an attorney who runs the JAAB blog site, told the newspaper that he contacted the Twiggs family to confirm her death on Friday.
“No one had spoken to them or apologized on behalf of the legal system for the despicable way Twiggs was treated until I called,” said Gelin. “This was sickening to me, so I did it for them.”
Judge Ehrlich was elected in 2008. She has a website which lists her degrees and her experience as a volunteer, mentor, law lecturer, prosecutor and drug counselor. In the website, she mentions that she believes a judge must have these attributes: "Wise and sensible, learned in the law and in life, honorable and humble, a lover of the truth, justice and people, and most of all, courageous."
That being said, Carolyn believes that the tyrannical judge did not show any of those attributes while presiding over her Sandra's case. Although authorities have acknowledged the fact that she was mistreated, Carolyn said that it is too late now.