A Broward County circuit judge has resigned after the unexpected death of a defendant whom she mercilessly berated in an arm-waving, finger-wagging tirade in her courtroom earlier this month.
Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, was pushed into court in a wheelchair last Sunday, April 15, where she faced misdemeanor charges stemming from a domestic dispute with her daughter, the Miami Herald reported. Twiggs, who suffered from asthma and chronic lung disease COPD, was frail and struggling to explain her ailments, but that didn’t stop Judge Merrillee Ehrlich from tearing into her before erupting into a full-on diatribe.
Twiggs died three days later, with news of her death surfacing Friday. Ehrlich’s resignation followed soon after, though it’s unclear when her withdrawal was provided and when it will take effect, according to the newspaper.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment,” said Gordon Weekes, chief assistant to elected Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein. “… All that was required was a bit of patience and a bit of respect to allow this lady to speak, and to gather herself and to breathe.”
Instead, Twiggs passed away, “and never had the opportunity to have her dignity restored,” Weekes added.
Finkelstein himself described Ehrlich’s demeanor as “embarrassing … aggressive and tyrannical.”
“I was outraged,” he told the Sun-Sentinel. “What I saw there was somebody that is not mentally and emotionally fit to sit in judgment of human beings. … Nobody should suffer attacks like that because a judge is having a bad day.”
In footage of the April 15 encounter, Ehrlich appears on the left in a split screen while Twiggs, who was seated in a wheelchair, is barely visible above a lectern on the opposite side of the screen during her appearance at the county court house, the Miami Herald reported. When Ehrlich asks Twiggs if she and her 19-year-old daughter, the alleged victim, live in the same home, Twiggs tries to answer but is quickly cut off.
Deviating from a simple “yes” or “no”, Twiggs was in the middle of explaining that her daughter does not stay with her full time.
“Excuse me! Don’t say anything beyond what I am asking you!” the judge snaps, before asking Twiggs’ lawyer to demand she stops talking.
Coughing, Twiggs then tries to tell the judge she needs treatment for her pulmonary issues. Goddaughter Carolyn Porter said the 59-year-old had trouble getting her medications while she was in jail. This was of no consolation to Ehrlich.
“Ma’am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatments!” she erupts. Ehrlich then commands Twiggs’ lawyers to teach her some courtroom manners, saying, “…Will you say something in the microphone so that she can hear you and you can give her instructions about propriety in the court? I’m not going to spend all day with her interrupting me.”
The judge ultimately disposed of Twiggs’ case, allowing her to be released without bond for the domestic violence charge. Porter told the Miami Herald that after her god mother was released from jail and allowed to go home, she was “starving, dizzy and borderline breathless.” She said Twiggs was so devastated after the encounter that she was struggling to catch her breath.
Twiggs died in her sleep the following morning, a day after she was released, the newspaper reported.
“My mom is gone and there is nothing I can do about it,” said Twigg’s daughter, Michelle Ballard. “I’m now a teenager who will have to bury her mother.”