FORT LAUDERDALE (CBSMiami) — A Broward Circuit Court judge, under fire for the way she treated a sick inmate who later died, is not returning to work.
Judge Merrilee Ehrlich was scheduled to retire soon but Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter told Ehrlich Saturday not to return to the courthouse because of the way she treated Sandra Twiggs.
The wheelchair bound Twiggs, 59, appeared before Judge Ehrlich last week on a misdemeanor domestic violence charge involving a fight with her daughter, where Ehrlich repeatedly snapped at Twiggs as she tried to explain she suffered from COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and needed breathing treatments.
The judge told Twiggs “I’m not here to talk about your breathing treatment.”
When Twiggs again tried to tell the judge she needed medical attention, the judge snapped at her angrily, telling her to just listen.
“Ma’am, don’t even say yes. Just listen,” said the judge.
She allowed Twiggs to be released without bond for the domestic violence charge, explaining that Twiggs would need to check in with a court office after her release. “You have to arrange for someone to carry you if you cannot get there yourself,” Ehrlich said.
Twiggs died in her sleep a few days later at home.
Twiggs’ family said they were disgusted after they watched how the judge treated her in the video. When Twiggs got home from jail her sister Anna said, she was extremely upset.
According to her sister, Anna Lee Twiggs, Sandra said, “Anna, they treated me like a dog in the courthouse. They didn’t let me talk. The judge was so cruel. I needed a treatment and she (Twiggs) just kept on gasping for air as she was telling me this and she was so devastated.”
“When she came home from being in there she was never the same,” said Carolyn Porter, Twiggs’ goddaughter.
Ehrlich was scheduled to retire this summer and had filed her paperwork just a few weeks before the incident, according to Judge Tuter.
Tuter said he would contact Twiggs’ family to apologize.
“I am saddened and disappointed in the way Judge Ehrlich behaved on the video. Her behavior cannot be condoned,” he said.
Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein called it “aggressive and tyrannical behavior and revealed her lack of emotional fitness to sit on the bench,” in a letter to Judge Tuter.
He also wrote about a second hearing in which Judge Ehrlich’s bullying continued.
In that hearing, which was also a misdemeanor allegation, the Judge snapped at Nefreteri Tamalo while trying to make a bond determination.
According to Finklestein, the Judge was informed Tamalo had no income and was a stay-at-home mother to her nine-month old child. But when Judge Ehrlich stated the baby’s father was at home to care for the child, a panicked and crying Tamalo tried to correct the mistake, but the Judge angrily silenced her. The Judge wouldn’t listen to the defendant who was concerned about her child. When Tamalo tried to speak again, the Judge yelled, “Ma’am, be quiet or be removed. Be quiet.”
Finklestein wrote, “The Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a “judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants.” Judge Ehrlich’s shameful behavior could not be further from these dictates. Her embarrassing demeanor yet again reveals that she lacks the civility and professionalism to sit on the bench. It is Judge Ehrlich, not Ms. Twiggs or Ms. Tamalo, who needs instructions about courtroom decorum. Judge Erhlich should never again preside over First Appearance Court or any criminal our juvenile delinquency proceeding.”