A Florida judge has been reprimanded after scolding a wheelchair-bound defendant who died days later.
Judge Merrilee Ehrlich berated Sandra Faye Twiggs in a recorded hearing on April 15. Twiggs was making her first appearance in front of the court for a domestic violence charge.
In the video, the court hears that the 59-year-old Twiggs has no prior convictions, and was in court after a domestic dispute with her daughter. As the proceeding continues, Twiggs is seen coughing and struggling, and the judge asks if someone can offer the defendant some water.
After the judge asks Twiggs to nod if she needs a glass a water, the woman nods and says that she also needs a breathing treatment.
Judge Ehrlich then unleashes, saying “Ma’am, I’m not here to talk to you about your breathing treatment.”
Eventually, Ehrlich released Twiggs without bond and told her that she would need to check in with the court following her release, saying, “You have to arrange for someone to carry you if you cannot get there yourself.”
Twiggs had suffered from COPD, and died in her sleep a few days after her court appearance.
Following the release of the video, Chief Judge Jack Tuter of the 17th Circuit Court in Fort Lauderdale released a statement saying: “I am saddened and disappointed in the way Judge Ehrlich behaved on the video. Her behavior cannot be condoned. In light of recent events, we have decided Judge Ehrlich will not return to the courthouse as her retirement is effective June 30. I will be working to find a substitute to cover Judge Ehrlich’s division.”
Tuter added, “All our citizens, no matter what might bring them to the courthouse, deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.”
Twiggs’ family said that when she returned home from court, she was “never the same.” Her sister, Anna Lee Twiggs, said that Sandra Faye told her, “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.”
Anne Lee said, “I love my sister and I miss my sister dearly. The judge was so nasty to my sister. She didn’t allow my sister a breathing treatment when she needed one.”