A Florida judge loudly berated a defendant in a wheelchair, going on an epic rant that was so outrageous that at least one attorney has asked that she be banned from the courthouse. What’s more, the defendant was an elderly, out-of-breath, frail lady accused of a minor misdemeanor. The defendant died three days later, and the judge has since resigned.
As The Charlotte Observer reports, Merrillee Ehrlich, of Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit Court, was holding court on April 15, when defendant Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, was brought in on misdemeanor charges of scratching her daughter during a domestic dispute. Twiggs, who suffers from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), was frail and gasping for breath when she was brought before Ehrlich in a wheelchair.
Twiggs’ condition got little sympathy from the judge. Ehrlich asked her if she lived with her daughter; Twiggs’ response would have required more than a “yes” or a “no” because she doesn’t live with her full-time, but an apparently exasperated Ehrlich was not in a mood to brook any explanation.
“Excuse me! Don’t say anything beyond what I am asking you!”
Gasping for breath, Twiggs then tried to explain that she needs medical care. Ehrlich wasn’t having it.
“Ma’am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!”
After finishing with Twiggs, the judge directed her ire towards the next defendant, another domestic violence suspect who was trying to plead with her for leniency because she needed to care for her baby. Ehrlich wasn’t having any of that, either.
“Don’t talk! You have an attorney here talking for you! Ma’am, be quiet or be removed! Be quiet!”
So over-the-top was Ehrlich’s behavior that Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein’s office has asked the state’s judiciary to ban Ehrlich from the courthouse.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment. All that was required was a bit of patience, and a bit of respect to allow this lady to speak, to gather herself and to breathe.”
Within a few days of being harassed by Ehrlich, Ms. Twiggs died. Her daughter, Michelle Ballard, said that her mother was jailed for two days, during which time she failed to receive adequate food or medical care, and that she was brought before the judge starving and barely able to breathe. Ballard said that the trauma of her mother’s experience in the courtroom contributed to her death.
“I’m now a teenager who will have to bury her mother.”
“To see a person begging you for help and trying to talk to you, and you treat ’em like a dog for what reason?” Family of Sandra Twiggs upset at the way a Ft. Lauderdale circuit court judge treated their loved one. The judge is resigning amid controversy. pic.twitter.com/038GZaiEFo
— Madeleine Wright (@MWrightReports) April 21, 2018
Ehrlich has since tendered her resignation, although it is unclear when she did so or when her resignation will be effective. As of this writing, her name still appears on a list of judges in Florida’s 17th Judicial Circuit Court.