Judge Elizabeth Scherer is the judge presiding over Nikolas Cruz’s Stoneman Douglas school shooting case. She’s a Broward County Circuit Judge, and depending on what happens this week, you may be hearing a lot more about her. Cruz’s case is expected to go to a grand jury this week, as he faces 17 counts of premeditated murder. The grand jury is expected to hand down an indictment. Cruz’s lawyers have already said they would offer a guilty plea in exchange for a life sentence. But if prosecutors don’t accept a plea deal (or if the victims’ families tell the prosecutors they don’t want it), then they’ll push for the death penalty. This would mean Cruz’s case would go to trial before a jury. And that could end up being a long process. Here’s what you need to know about Judge Scherer.
1. Scherer Has Been Serving as a Broward County Circuit Judge Since 2012
Gov. Rick Scott appointed Scherer in 2012 when she was 36, replacing Broward Circuit Judge David Krathen. Krathen had retired to return to private practice. In 2014, she ran unopposed. Her term ends January 4, 2021. When Scott appointed her, he said about the judge: “Liz is committed to the principle that the judiciary must say what the law is, and not what it should be. She has an excellent record as a prosecutor and will prove to be a hard working, fair and intelligent judge.”
In 2014, Scherer signed a SWAT warrant allowing the Hallandale Beach Police Department to raid the home of Howard Bowe, a suspected drug dealer, The New Times Broward-Palm Beach reported. Police shot Bowe while he stood in his kitchen, unarmed. While he was in the hospital, he was charged with “resisting arrest without violence.” The SWAT warrant was based on a report from a confidential informant. About signing the warrant, Scherer said: “I just follow the law.”
Scherer was an assistant state attorney in Broward for about 11 years before her appointment. According to her bio, she graduated from Florida State University with a bachelor of arts in English and went to law school at the University of Miami. She was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2001. She started out with an internship at the Broward state attorney’s office, and originally had no interest in criminal law. But after a few months, she was hooked.
Outside of work, Scherer is on the board of directors for Voices for Children, and for Saint Anthony Catholic School Friends for Education, and she volunteers as a faculty member at Saint Anthony Catholic School. In 2013 she was named Judicial Advocate of the Year.
2. Her Father Represented Bush During the Florida Ballot Dispute in 2000
Scherer told Daily Business Review that she and her dad think a lot alike. “I think we have a lot of the same ways of putting the pieces of a puzzle together, so to speak, in a way that’s sort of hard to explain. When it clicks, it clicks.”
Scherer’s father is William Scherer, a well-known litigator in Fort Lauderdale. He was part of George W. Bush’s legal team during the election ballot dispute in 2000. He was in the news frequently during that time. At one point, he became so upset about a board’s lack of consistency in determining voters’ intent on ballot chads that he was almost removed from a counting room, the New York Times reported. He kept challenging decisions about individual ballots, and was told that no party had the right to interrupt. ”I think I’d like to have you have me removed. I want that on the record,” he said in response. He later said that Al Gore had only picked up as many votes as he did because of inconsistencies.
William Scherer also recovered $170 million for victims of a $1.2 billion Ponzi scheme.
Elizabeth Scherer’s two brothers are also attorneys. Her brother, William R. Scherer III, is an entertainment lawyer. And John J. Scherer is a partner in their father’s firm, while also owning a construction company.
3. Scherer’s Ex-Husband Faced Drug Possession & Trafficking Charges That Were Later Dropped
Scherer’s former husband, Anthony Mercer, faced charges of drug possession and trafficking in May 2009, NBC Miami reported. Mercer was arrested in a Florida warehouse after he was found with a pound of marijuana, an ounce of cocaine, and 21 prescription pills. A police report said that he admitted to planning to sell the drugs to pay the rent. He bonded out of jail the day after his arrest, and Scherer filed for divorce the same day. They had been separated for three months, said a spokesman for the Broward State Attorney’s office where Scherer worked. They had been married for seven years and had a three-year-old daughter when Mercer was arrested. In August, seven felony charges against Mercer were dropped, and the State Attorney’s office did not disclose why, the Sun Sentinel reported. Mercer’s case had been transferred to Palm Beach County to avoid any conflict of interest. Some of the charges that Mercer faced included a trafficking charge that had a minimum mandatory sentence of three years. The state declined to file any charges but two misdemeanors.
4. When Cruz’s Defense Asked Her to Step Aside, Scherer Instead Said That She Will Preside Over All Future Hearings
In the Nikolas Cruz case, Cruz’s lawyers asked Scherer to step aside, arguing that she had shown favoritism toward the prosecutors, the Sun Sentinel reported. They said her decision to disclose the contents of a confidential motion to the State Attorney’s Office was evidence of that. These included pleadings involving the lawyers’ efforts to gain access to Cruz during his first weekend in jail. Scherer, however, believed the prosecutors should be able to see the motion (which Broward Circuit Judge Carlos Rebollo had previously ruled could stay confidential.) The defense attorneys claimed that prosecutors had never asked for access to the sealed records, overturning a ruling before it was appealed.
On February 28, Scherer denied that request, SFGate reported. In fact, on March 1 Scherer issued an order asserting that all future hearings, excluding requests for warrants, would be heard by her unless she wasn’t available on a particular day, the Orlando Sentinel reported. Scherer has also said that she will not entertain any motions without both the prosecutors and defense lawyers present.
5. Scherer Once Blasted the State’s Department of Children for a Decision that Led to a Child’s Death
Scherer is not afraid to speak her mind. In 2013, she blasted the Department of Children and Families and its foster care operator, ChildNet, for not protecting a four-year-old child, CBS Miami reported. Antwan Hope, Jr. died while at his mother’s during an unsupervised visit. His mom, who had a history of mental illness, had lost custody over a year earlier. Scherer said: “The court gave very clear instructions both orally and by written order that the child was not to spend unsupervised visits with his mother until a home study was filed with the court and approved by the Guardian Ad Litem program… Neither this court nor the guardian ad litem program were provided with a home study until June 11, 2013. The first issue is the Department is in violation of this court’s order and I want to know who made that decision… Who signed off on a home study for a mother who had an outstanding criminal warrant and could have been picked up at any time while she was with her child? … The mother had violated court orders. She had been picking up her child without permission, she was missing therapy sessions and she had failed to meet with the Guardian Ad Litem. If all of this had been brought to my attention the visit would have never happened”