Public defenders must continue to represent accused Parkland school shooter: Judge

Posted at 12:45 PM, May 03, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-03 12:49:14-04

A judge in Broward County has ruled that Nikolas Cruz's public defenders must remain on the case in defense of the confessed Parkland school gunman.

Elizabeth Scherer, judge for Florida's Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court, denied the motion by the public defender's office to withdraw from representing Cruz.

After learning that Cruz may collect $432,000 from his late mother's annuity, the public defenders asked to withdraw from the case – citing that, by statute, they can "only represent the poor and indigent."

Howard Finkelstein and his chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, of the Broward County Public Defender's Office filed a notice seeking to withdraw as state law dictates public defenders can only represent defendants who cannot afford private attorneys.

But, in her order, Scherer noted the defendant had not yet sought to obtain the money, so “a change in the defendant’s current financial circumstances has not been demonstrated.”

Cruz, 20, is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder for the Feb. 14, 2018, shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 17 counts of attempted murder. He faces a possible death sentence.

Cruz may not receive the money from the annuity as it is likely that the victims' families who are suing Cruz will claim the money should go to them and judges will have to determine who gets the money.

Even if the money were transferred to him, Scherer ruled, there are other issues that may prevent him from having access to the money to hire attorneys – including the lawsuits.

The State Attorney's Office and families of the victims opposed the public defenders’ move to withdraw from the case, saying it would cause an unnecessary delay for the trial.

Scherer said she is hoping for trial to begin sometime soon after the new year.

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