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When the Nikolas Cruz defense team suddenly rested its case in the death phase of Cruz’ Parkland murder trial – some 55 witnesses short of the 80 it had told the court it intended to call – the judge launched into an utter tirade against Cruz’ counsel: in open court.

The two at odds – Broward Circuit Court Judge Elizabeth Scherer and Broward Assistant Public Defender Melissa McNeill – have not been seeing eye-to-eye all trial long.

Now, the entire proceeding is in jeopardy, with the defense having moved to disqualify the judge, and the reversal of any ultimate jury finding a real possibility.

“There are no higher litigation stakes anywhere in America than the state’s invoking the machinery of death as punishment for crime,” Professor H. Scott Fingerhut told the Daily Business Review.  And naturally, the higher the stakes, the hotter the emotions.

“Obviously, the defense call to drastically cut short its presentation – as was its prerogative – caught everyone by surprise, and apparently was the last frustrating straw causing the court’s temper to flare.

“The balancing act that is keeping a death penalty case on course,” Professor Fingerhut continued ,”respecting everyone’s schedules, including the prosecution and jury, is no easy task, for any judge.

“That said, as liberty’s last champion, defense counsel’s ultimate fidelity is to the client.  And so this friction, between lawyer as zealous advocate, officer of the court, and seeker to improve the legal profession to accord fuller cups of justice, will continue to play out — often roughly — as long as there are disputes to resolve and human beings doing the resolving.”

In October 2021, Cruz pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people and injuring 17 others on February 14, 2018, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.  The death penalty phase of Cruz’ trial began on July 18, 2022, with the prosecution resting its case on August 4, 2022.  The state’s rebuttal is now scheduled to begin September 27, 2022, and end on October 7, 2022, with both sides’ closing arguments to follow beginning October 10, 2022.

Read the Daily Business Review article here.

Professor Fingerhut is Assistant Director of the Trial Advocacy Program at FIU Law.  He teaches Trial Advocacy, Pretrial Practice, and Criminal Procedure.  He is dually appointed as a Fellow in The Honors College at FIU, where serves as pre-law faculty advisor and teaches the upper-division seminar Observing Ourselves.  Rated AV Preeminent, Martindale-Hubbell’s highest peer rating, Professor Fingerhut practices criminal defense and represents applicants before the Board of Bar Examiners and lawyers facing Florida Bar discipline.  He is consistently ranked among Florida’s leading criminal defense attorneys, including Best Lawyers in America, and is a three-time FIU Law Professor of the Year.

Reach him at 305-348-8095 and

To find out more about Trial Advocacy at FIU Law, visit