A Florida judge has reportedly resigned after denying breathing treatments to an incarcerated disabled woman who died three days later.
WPLG reported that, during an April 14 hearing, Broward County Circuit Judge Merrilee Ehrlich is taped berating Sandra Faye Twiggs, 59, as she explains where her daughter lives and her need for breathing treatments.
Her family told the news station that Twiggs used a wheelchair and had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma. Twiggs was reportedly arrested April 13 for scratching her 19-year-old daughter during a dispute over a fan. Her family said Twiggs had no criminal record; her attorney believed the domestic violence arrest was a big misunderstanding, the station reported.
Ehrlich started out by asking Twiggs if she and her daughter lived in the same house. Twiggs was met with hostility as she attempted to explain that her daughter didn’t live with her full-time.
“Excuse me! Don’t say anything beyond what I am asking you!” Judge Ehrlich said before asking Twiggs’ attorney, Broward County Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, who was at a different location, if he could speak to his client.
Ehrlich continued her rant about appropriate court decorum as Twiggs coughed and gasped for air. The judge then told Twiggs to nod her head if she needed water. Twiggs says yes and says she also needs a breathing treatment.
“Ma’am, I am not here to talk to you about your breathing treatment!” Ehrlich yelled.
The judge then set her sights on Finkelstein, demanding that he handle his client.
“Will you say something, counsel, 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,” she said.
The lawyer told Twiggs to “stay silent for a moment” as Ehrlich went on to ask again about Twiggs’ daughter’s living situation. She asked Twiggs if she needed her daughter to help at home and if she wanted her daughter to continue to stay at the home. Twiggs responded yes to both questions.
“You’ve already said too much!” Judge Ehrlich yelled as Twiggs tries to understand the conditions of her release.
Twiggs’ sister, Anna, told WPLG that her sister was devastated by how she was treated in court. Anna said Sandra was found dead in her bed Wednesday morning, a day after she got out of jail.
“To see a person begging you for help and trying to talk to you and you treat them like a dog, for what reason?” Twiggs’ other sister, Carolyn, tearfully said of Ehrlich.
Twiggs’ attorney echoed those sentiments, describing Ehrlich as “aggressive and tyrannical” in a written request to Chief Judge Jack Tuter to remove her from the bench.
“It is not appropriate for anyone to endure that kind of treatment,” Finkelstein’s chief assistant, Gordon Weekes, told The Miami Herald.
“All that was required was a bit of patience, and a bit of respect to allow this lady to speak, to gather herself and to breathe.”
The Herald reported that Ehrlich has since resigned. However, it’s unclear when the Broward County judge put in her resignation or when it goes into effect.
Anna recalled, “She [Sandra] said, ‘They treated me so bad,’ and she said, “All I wanted was some medical attention and some help.”
[Featured Image: Broward County Circuit Court video screengrab]