A Broward County circuit judge has been fired just days after berating a soft-spoken, gasping defendant in a wheelchair who later died.
Courtroom video captured the fiery exchange that Judge Merrillee Ehrlich had with Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, earlier this month.
Twiggs, who suffered from asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, was arrested after getting into a fight with her 19-year-old daughter over a fan, according to the Miami Herald. It was Twiggs’ first brush with the law and she faced only a misdemeanor domestic violence charge.
The video shows the judge speaking to Twiggs over a satellite. She asks Twiggs whether she and her daughter live in the same house. Twiggs tried to answer because her daughter only lives with her some of the time. Ehrlich became enraged that Twiggs did not answer with a simple yes or no.
"Excuse me! Don't say anything beyond what I am asking you!"
Then, Ehrlich berated Twiggs’ lawyer, asking him to teach her how to address her.
"Will you say something in the microphone so that she can hear you and you can give her instructions about propriety in the court?" the judge says. "I'm not going to spend all day with her interrupting me."
The video shows Twiggs politely attempt to explain that she is having breathing issues.
"Ma'am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!"
She probably should have.
Carolyn Porter, a family friend told the Miami Herald that after two days in jail, Twiggs was starving and breathless. Porter said she didn’t have access to her medications behind bars. One day after being released, last Wednesday, she was found dead in her bed.
As a result, Broward's elected public defender Howard Finkelstein called for Ehrlich to be banned from the criminal courthouse. He called her aggressive and tyrannical, according to the Sun-Sentinel in Fort Lauderdale.
“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,” Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter said, according to the Sun-Sentinel. “I will be working this weekend to find a substitute to cover Judge Ehrlich's [family court] division.”
[Photo: Broward County Circuit Court]