A Florida judge has stepped down after video surfaced of a her ruthlessly berating a chronically ill disabled woman who later died, following her release from jail. During a preliminary hearing last Sunday (April 15), Broward County Circuit Judge Merrilee Ehrlich, repeatedly scolded Sandra Faye Twiggs, a 59-year-old mother who was in a wheelchair and was arrested on a misdemeanor charge after a disagreement with her 19-year-old daughter.
Twiggs, had no criminal history and battled chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, along with asthma. She was arrested and booked on a domestic violence charge on April 13, for reportedly scratching her daughter during a disagreement. Her lawyer said that the incident was a misunderstanding.
In the court recording, Ehrlich begins yelling at Twiggs while asking questions that she stumbles to answer. “Excuse me! Don’t say anything beyond what I am asking you!” Ehrlich warns.
Growing more exasperated, Ehrlich continues to lash out at Twiggs, who appears frail and begins coughing during the court appearance. “Ma’am do you need water? Just nod your head,” she orders before telling someone in the court to get her water, but interrupts Twiggs when she attempts to inform her of her health ailments. “Ma’am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!”
Twiggs’ daughter found her dead in her bed a day after she was released from jail.
In a letter to Broward County’s chief judge, public defender Howard Finkelstein, lambasted Ehrlich’ for displaying “aggressive and tyrannical behavior” that “revealed her lack of emotional fitness to sit on the bench.”
“She raised her voice to many defendants, berated the attorneys, and was impatient and exasperated during the proceedings,” Finkelstein wrote. “Her handling of two misdemeanor cases at first appearance on Sunday, April 15 was shocking and an embarrassment to Broward County.”
Amid mounting scrutiny, Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter told Ehrlich “not to return to the courthouse” due to her treatment of Twiggs. Ehrlich is due to retire on June 30.
According to the Miami Herald, Twiggs had trouble getting her medicine in jail and came home “starving, dizzy and borderline breathless.”
“My mom is gone and there is nothing I can do about it. I’m now a teenager who will have to bury her mother, ” Michelle Ballard, her daughter, told the Herald.
Twiggs was so “devastated” by the jail treatment that she could barely speak, a friend said.
“They treated me so bad, all I wanted was some medical attention,” her sister, Anna Twiggs, recalled Twiggs saying.
The family believes that the judge’s treatment, and the night in jail, contributed to Twiggs’ death.
See footage of the court hearing and the family’s reaction below.