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Nancy Smith

What If Sandra Faye Twiggs Were Your Mother?

April 25, 2018 - 6:00am

Not many stories bring me to my knees. But what happened to one 59-year-old woman appearing for a Broward County bond hearing in first-appearance court April 15 shot straight through my heart.

It is the story of one of Sandra Faye Twiggs' worst and last days on this earth.

It's also the story of a bullying circuit court judge, Merrilee Ehrlich, caught red-handed and black-hearted, refusing to allow wheelchair-bound Twiggs a moment to get a breathing treatment, refusing to consider her asthma and COPD as a condition of frailty, refusing to let her speak -- instead unleashing an entirely unwarranted "aggressive and tyrannical" tantrum.

You have to see it to believe it, and I hope you will.

This is the age of social media. Thank heaven the entire incident was captured on video and distributed everywhere in South Florida it needed to go. An excerpt is reproduced on this page. 

Ehrlich has been on the bench in Broward County for 10 years. Fortunately, she won't be there even 10 minutes longer. Too many people saw, too many people responded. She resigned under pressure on Friday. Merrilee Ehrlich is gone.

That's the good news.

The bad news, the news that cut me to the bone, is that three days later -- uncontrollably disturbed by how Judge Ehrlich had attacked her and flailed her arms and yelled, interrupting even herself -- Sandra Faye Twiggs' lungs and heart gave out and she died.

Twiggs' goddaughter Carolyn Porter said that before her death, Twiggs “tried to tell us how they treated her, but she had anxiety, and every time she tried to talk about it, she couldn’t breathe.”

Broward Chief Administrative Judge Jack Tuter said Saturday Ehrlich will not return to the courthouse. She was scheduled to retire this summer and had filed her paperwork just a few weeks before the incident.

Tuter said he would contact Twiggs’ family to apologize personally.

“I am saddened and disappointed in the way Judge Ehrlich behaved on the video. Her behavior cannot be condoned,” he said.

Said Porter after viewing the video, "To see a person begging you for help and trying to talk to you and you treat them like a dog, for what reason?"

The judge was not interested in learning how Twiggs, a woman in poor health, had ended up in a wheelchair and in jail. When Ehrlich said the domestic dispute was over a fan, Twiggs' defense attorney said the conflict was more complicated than that but he never had much chance to explain because Ehrlich told him not to interrupt.

Twiggs had filed a restraining order against her 19-year-old daughter's boyfriend. She and her sister disapproved of him and were trying to protect her, according to news accounts. Ballard was living at her mother's home, but she had also been living with her aunt.  

As the defense attorney and Ehrlich discussed the case, Twiggs began to cough and held her head. Ehrlich ordered someone to get her water, and when Twiggs tried to tell Ehrlich about her health care needs, Ehrlich shouted again. 

"I am not here to talk about your breathing treatment ..." Then, to Twiggs' attorney, "I am not going to spend all day with her interrupting me."

Twiggs' sister Anna Twiggs, who found Sandra dead Wednesday morning, said her sister didn't have a criminal record and the experience affected her so much, she physically couldn't get over the court experience afterward.

Public Defender Howard Finkelstein said he had no idea how badly Twiggs was treated until he watched the video.

“What I saw there was somebody that is not mentally and emotionally fit to sit in judgment of human beings," the public defender said. "Nobody should suffer attacks like that.”

Finkelstein asked Tuter to remove Ehrlich from the bench, and in the letter he wrote to the chief judge Friday, he questioned Ehrlich's "lack of emotional fitness." Finkelstein described her treatment of Twiggs as "shocking and an embarrassment to Broward County."

He wrote, "Canon 3B.( 4) of the Code of Judicial Conduct provides that a 'judge shall be patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants. Her embarrassing demeanor yet again reveals that she lacks the civility and professionalism to sit on the bench."

I'll say.

Ehrlich was first elected in 2008. Her website lists her education at Oxford, Boston and Nova universities, and her experience as a law lecturer, mentor, volunteer, drug counselor and prosecutor. She also mentions the attributes that she believes a judge should have: "Wise and sensible, learned in the law and in life, honorable and humble, a lover of the truth, justice and people, and most of all, courageous."

Ehrlich displayed none of those attributes in the video I saw.

I've asked myself over and over what I would do if Sandra Faye Twiggs had been my mother, my sister, my friend -- anyone in my life I loved.

What would I have done -- what would I do now, after the fact -- if I'd seen her beg the court for a time-out to help herself breathe, yet the judge who had all the power over the moment failed to react with even a modicum of compassion, didn't want to know, wouldn't listen and virtually squashed her like a bug?

I think I might spend the rest of my life doing what I could to pull the weeds in the judiciary's overgrown garden. People often tell me indifference and callousness on the bench aren't outliers, they're the norm. But I don't think I ever took it as personally as I did when I viewed the video taken April 15 in Merrilee Ehrlich's courtroom.

I have no more words, frankly. Shame on the legal community if Sandra Faye Twiggs' story fails to start a conversation.


Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith  


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It's wonderful that nobody would want to see their mom in jail or court. They're not pleasant places to be. Sad fact is that her own daughter put her there. Everybody seems to forget that her own adult teen called the cops because her mom scratched her during a dispute over a fan. It seems everyone including the extended family wants to lay blame on this judge totally ignoring that the daughter set these events in motion.

That is exactly what I think! We do not know what happened in that dispute with her daughter during the physical fight. This woman was already sick. Too easy blame the rude judge. Can you imagine if we would die if we get in contact with rude people? We would be all dead by now.

Though what you say about rude people may be true. Though it was a family dispute. That's not the focus. Facts. This woman was mistreated cruelly by this savage bitch. And to ignore the obvious is heartless.

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Nancy, Thank you so much for your article. This Judge has destroyed my life and obstructed of justices on so many level during my divorce case. The case has been going on since August of 2016 when my wife of 13 years alledge that I kidnapped our 3 minor children because she wanted to move to California. Because my case is still active and Judge Erhlich was supposed to precede over our last day in trial it is a blessing that she has been requested not to return. However, It has come to my attention that opposing counsel for my wife has requested Judge Merrilee Ehrlich continue on the bench for the remaining of our divorce case despite her Judicial bias and public disgrace for the Honorable Court. The April 11, 2017 Second Interim Order this Judge used a lot of powerful language by the Judge against me that provides clear examples of incompetence by providing my wife full control to operate a school which she has no legal licenses under Florida Law to operate. The Judge found me to be in willful and intentional violation of the Court’s first Interim Order dated March 2, 2017. She put the Wife in charge of the School, saying that the Wife “. . . shall run the business.” She precluded me from having anything to do with the business that I co-founded and operated for 10 years, the finances of the business or otherwise until further Order of the Court. She prohibited me from contacting anyone and telling them that the School is shut down. She said that “you are to have no connection to the School until further Order of the Court”.The Judge expressed her concern that that I was “undermining” the parties’ biggest marital assets. She followed that statement by saying that “I do not find you fully credible . . . .” On March 3, 2017 my estranged wife was arrested for domestic violence and battery in front of our minor children. The BSO officers investigated and completed a probable cause affidavit and arrested my wife where she was supposed to have no contact. On April 19th the Judge proceeded to have a trial where no due process was provided and I was forced out onto the streets with no spousal support. Opposing counsel intentionally provided an incorrect email address and two months later the Judge vacated the ordered but the wife refused to move out of the marital residence. It has been over a year now that I have been searching for steady employment, on welfare and medicaid, and seeing my children on an unfair and uneven timesharing schedule. Despite having no criminal history or any arrest whatsoever and a Directors Credential from DCF the Judge ordered me to supervised time sharing until that order was vacated on May 31, 2017. I have borrowed money from friends and family AND now my legal bills are at a point that is insurmountable. My attorney who is only limited in appearance for the three day trial that was set and monies owe to Brinkley Morgan for representation. The Judge has been: Unjust and Unfair in handling the case. Opposing counsel has delayed trial when she was not prepared on March 19th, 2018 Judge has caused irrevocable damage to my children and I. Judge has ignored evidence pertaining to GAL (Bruce Warner) and collusion. I was forced to represent myself because wife was given full control of the school and all of my income. There is something pretty “spectacular” going on, in a negative sense, with the Judge’s treatment of ordinary citizens and treatment of everyone like a criminal or guilty. The Judge has ignored all instances of wife breaking of her orders of preserving the marital asset and remuneration. I have no confidence in Judge Merrilee Ehrlich especially since in a Florida Divorce Case, There is no jury. The Judge has enormous discretion. And, with “temporary relief”, such as what has gone on so far in my case, extreme prejudice exist. I am hoping for a re-trial. AND I wondering if it would make sense if a retrial could be at the court’s expense. I can only imagine how bad the family of Sandra Twigg must feel today. At least I am strong enough to live another day and hope for Justice but this Judge has raped me of my livihood and questioned my every contribution to my family and marriage of 13 years as if she was handling a criminal case. Thank you Nany Smith and my heart goes out to the Twiggs family. It’s Judge Erhlich should so just how me and my children has suffered as a result of her unethical and corrupt behavior.

Dominique Louis I hope they give you a whole new trial you deserve one! I had her too she doesnt care to hear a word of your case and lets her pref. lawyer be the "Judge" and write the ruling.

Thank you Dominique

This is an incredibly sad story and clearly a desperate plea for help--from someone, anyone. Men are often treated very unfairly in family/custody issues, notwithstanding the stacked deck of a mentally unstable judge. I wish you the best of luck, Sir. :'(

This judge likely has been behaving this way for quite some time, and there are thus many more victims. I find it amazing that none of the staff members of the Broward court system, such as prosecutors, bailiffs, court reporters, etc., have apparently never spoken-up about this self-serving tyrant. While I applaud the swift action of chief Judge Jack Tuter in pushing this judge into early retirement, one cannot help but wonder how this abhorrent behavior was tolerated for so long. A good housecleaning may be in order.

South Florida Corruption Please help them out There's been a Go Fund Me page set up for the family of Sandra Twiggs to help pay her funeral expenses. Please donate. As you can see by the goal, they just need it. PLEASE, AT LEAST SHARE THIS LINK.

When I look at this video I see my mom sitting there. I’m gonna be honest. I would probably hunt down that woman or anyone else who treated my mom like this and the end result was the same.

The Broward County Justice system in first treating this woman as non guilty as is guaranteed by our Constitution. Then furthermore this "judge" went all in against her in one of the most despicable questionings I have ever seen. I'm glad she resigned and her name will now live in infamy because of the death of a woman. I'm 100% certain she was not administered her necessary medicine while in custody and died because of it. Broward County officials should be up for manslaughter if nothing less. If you go to jail, you are not given your drugs. It's standard and when people die, white or black, it needs to be talked about.

Despicable behavior. She is abusing her powers as a judge. She not a judge she’s a total bitch!

We were the ones that posted the video on YouTube & Jaab blog where we knew Howard Finkelstein would see it. We got another judge the same way in January so figured he'd pay attention and he did. We posted it on YouTube on Tuesday the 17th. At that time no one knew she had passed. Don't think she passed till Tuesday night. So you know we did not publish it just for views. We posted the entire days of her, Sat & Sun. as we do with all the bond court videos. We've published all since first of the year. What we want everyone to know is we contacted the Broward Sheriff to ask if there was an investigation underway over her treatment or lack of it at the jail and we just got a response about half an hour ago. Here it is: Good evening, There is no investigation underway. Ms. Twiggs didn’t die in custody. Be well, Joy Oglesby Public Information Officer Broward Sheriff’s Office Work: (954) 831-8300 Fax: (954) 797-0927 Twitter: @bso_joy Our response to that is--BS, the whole world saw this woman, IN CUSTODY, trying to tell the judge she wasn’t getting what she needed. If you want to check out the entire video go to our YouTube channel or Blog. Just Google our name, you'll find it easy. To the site owner, thanks for spreading the word.

South Florida Corruption We are located in Broward County. Don't know if links work here, for you tube our channel name is SouthFloridaCorruption-SFC There is a Go Fund Me Page set up for the family to pay funeral expenses. That's all they are asking for as you can see by the small amount of only $8,000.00. we'll put the link below so we don't get flagged for spam putting more than one link in a comment.

As promised, guess links don't work so copy and paste or go to YouTube for easy link. All our videos since that one we are putting the link. We're not looking for views on the video they only have raised as of now, $492 of $8,000 goal. There's been a Go Fund Me page set up for the family of Sandra Twiggs to help pay her funeral expenses. Please donate. As you can see by the goal, they just need it. PLEASE, AT LEAST SHARE THIS LINK.

Thank you Nancy, and bravo for giving the dignity here to Ms. Twiggs that she was unable to get in court. The legal community should be shamed, because I'm sure it wasn't the first time this bully judge unloaded on a helpless defendant. It's time the legal community do a better job at policing itself. Ms. Twiggs could be any of us.

"Judges" are 'political animals' after all; and they believe their "benches" place them "somewhere up near the Gods high up on Mt. Olympus". They not only insult people who appear in front of their "majestic selves", but they often also publically berate and insult attorneys (who were formerly 'friends and/or peers') in open court... "Political appointment" to a 'judicial bench' often creates "monsters" who believe themselves "untouchable". To allow THIS judicial monster to "retire and run away" (like FBI Director McCabe) is unconscionable,... and hopefully the victim's family will bring suit upon her sufficient to ameliorate their family's loss... and more importantly, to sufficiently remind that flawed & failed jurist of her 'actual' position in the "human race", for the rest of her "comfortably retired life"; and serve as an abject lesson to her former peersstill firmly ensconced up on "Olympus". (Let's see WHICH lawyer "steps up" to THIS legally abhorrent situation...!?!)

Judges have been put on a pedestal far too long, now. Black robes, standing while they enter the courtroom, calling them "Your Honor". It gives them a persona of importance. They are not. They are fellow human beings, appointed (and sometimes elected) to administer decorum and law inside a courtroom. They are the referees of a legal system, that's supposed to be fair, and IMPARTIAL. Jury's are supposed to be the final tally. This woman took the position to next level. Almost God like. I hope the Administrative Judicial review throws the book at her. She should be charged with manslaughter, because her actions caused the death of Ms. Twiggs. Time for judicial reform in Florida. The courts are for the people.

The behavior today's judges must endure far outweighs this one outburst. These judges who are in their position to primarily dispense punishment on criminals cannot have their courtrooms turn into counseling sessions on perps' emotional care. Imagine having to deal with these cretins day in and day out, very demanding job. Judge Ehrlich was already scheduled for retirement in one month. She deserves appreciation for her public service. I hope she enjoys her retirement and her well deserved retirement benefits.

I agree. Why is the blame being placed on Judge Ehrlich and not BSO lack of treatment. The Judge actually states she should’ve been in the infirmary and not in court at that time. The Judge instructed all defendants not to speak over and over and over, this was first appearance court only. BSO did not treat a very ill woman, that’s where the conversation should begin.

The "cretins" may well be on the OTHER END of YOUR "measuring stick"

Ehrlich should be denied any form of a judicial pension and any other post-retirement benefits. Truly a disgrace to the robe.

Nancy, your outrage is at this judge’s behavior is perfectly justified, while your attempt to shame the entire legal community for it, is not. As you accurately stated, the legal community, from the administrative judge who will apologize to the family, to the Public Defender, to the defense attorney, and others in the legal community, have expressed their outrage of this horrific behavior of a judge, who, btw, is no longer a judge, once this video went viral. Now, we can only hope w this experience of overreach you become consistent in your expressions of outrage at other elected officials in positions of great power who are likewise abusive towards those who can’t defend themselves; the disabled, disadvantaged, etc. and also you express shame for the multitudes who make excuses for it. I think you get the picture.


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nancy smith


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