The judge in the Nikolas Cruz case lashed out at a newspaper’s attorney Wednesday after the outlet published information on the defendant’s educational background.
“Your actions are shameful,” said Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer.
The Broward County School Board had filed a motion against the Sun-Sentinel because the outlet published details about Cruz’s education background. These details were intended to be redacted to protect the defendant’s privacy, but could still be read because of an unexpected technical glitch. The blacked out parts became visible when pasted to another computer file.
Now the board wants the outlet and reporters Paula McMahon and Brittany Wallman to face contempt proceedings. They argue that publishing the details violated court orders.
Things started off on the proverbial bad foot. Scherer was visibly annoyed at learning that neither McMahon nor Wallman were at court Wednesday. The Sun-Sentinel‘s attorney said they weren’t aware that the court ordered their appearance.
“Well, certainly, I’m going to be discussing the possibility of holding them in contempt,” said Scherer, who acknowledged there was no order. “I would think they would want to be present. But okay.”
The Sun-Sentinel‘s attorney argued that the information was made public, and the glitch was only revealed because the PDF file was converted to a Word document. This is common practice, she said. The judge shot this down, and argued most people wouldn’t know how to do this.
“I had no idea you could do that,” Scherer said. “The normal people in this community, I guarantee you–the average person does not know you can do that. You all manipulated that document so that it could be unredacted.”
The attorney argued that no law was broken, but the judge insisted that the newspaper knew that certain information was off-limits for publication. This could have risked the trial and violated both Cruz’s and the victims’ privacy rights.
“Legally speaking, you might be okay,” said Scherer. “But what about ethically speaking?”
She ripped into the attorney, and suggested that if this lawyer gave the Sun-Sentinel that bad advice, then it might have violated rules under the Florida bar.
“Shame on you,” said Scherer, later adding, “Your actions and the actions of the Sun-Sentinel are misleading.”
Scherer took the motion for contempt proceedings under advisement.
Cruz is charged with killing 17 people, and attempting to murder 17 others during a mass shooting at the Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School last February 14. His defense voiced a willingness to plead guilty, but want prosecutors to take the death penalty off the table.
Cathy Russon and Ronn Blitzer contributed to this report.
Note: The article has been adjusted for clarity.
[Screengrab via CBS Miami]