Many judges in the court system are often stern, seemingly trying to help those who appear before them understand the ramifications of their actions. But, there is a fine line between administering cold, hard truth to a defendant and the abuse of judicial power. One judge found that out the hard way.
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Judge Merrillee Ehrlich, who works in the Broward County circuit, resigned after footage of her berating a woman in a wheelchair – who seemed to simply be trying to respond to the judge’s questions in the courtroom – has gone viral.
Sandra Faye Twiggs, a 59-year-old woman who was in the middle of a family feud with her daughter, was on the receiving end of Ehrlich’s tirade when her case was heard by Ehrlich on Tuesday. Twiggs suffers from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and has severe asthma.
According to the Miami Herald, Twiggs was arrested on April 13 for scratching her daughter. This was the first time Twiggs had ever been in trouble with the law.
During the court hearing, Twiggs was asked by Ehrlich if she was still living with the victim in the same home. Since her 19-year-old daughter didn’t live with her full time she tried to explain the home situation.
In turn, Ehrlich blew up and said: “Excuse me! Don’t say anything beyond what I am asking you!” Twiggs, who said she had trouble getting her medicine into the jail, was coughing sporadically and holding her head during the court proceeding. She was given water by the judge only to be verbally attacked again moments later.
Twiggs asked the judge if she could get her medicine for her pulmonary disease. The judge retorted, “Ma’am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!”
Ehrlich continued to belittle and undermine Twiggs. At one point, Ehrlich said: “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.”
Twiggs was eventually released from jail a day later. By Friday she had passed away. Her public defender, Howard Finkelstein, was blown away by how rude and unprofessional Ehrlich was.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment,” Gordon Weekes, Finkelstein’s chief assistant said in a statement. “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.”
The Herald reported that following the court hearing, Finkelstein sent a letter to Broward’s Chief Judge in which he wrote: Ehrlich “demonstrated aggressive and tyrannical behavior and revealed her lack of emotional fitness to sit on the bench.” He added that the judge’s behavior was “shocking, and an embarrassment to Broward County.”
Ehrlich has resigned, although it’s unclear when her resignation will take effect.