Twice, attorneys for Anthony Borges have tried to get prosecutors and defense lawyers thrown off the Nikolas Cruz case.
Twice, the survivor of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School has been turned away by Broward Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer, who ruled that the he lacks the “legal standing” to make such a demand.
Now the hero teen’s lawyer is preparing to take his argument to a higher court.
Alex Arreaza, the attorney representing the 15-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student — who took five bullets as he blocked a classroom door against Cruz who killed 17 and injured 17 during the Feb. 14 shooting spree — has vowed to appeal Scherer’s ruling.
“She could have denied the motion,” said Arreaza. “But to say the victim of a crime lacks standing is stunning.”
The legal question is only part of Arreaza’s approach to a larger issue — the Borges family’s plan to sue the school district and the Broward Sheriff’s Office for failing to protect the student body of the Parkland high school.
School safety has been a part of the public debate ever since the school shooting — superintendent Robert Runcie is holding a public forum at Plantation High School, 6901 NW 16thStreet on Wednesday, April 18, to hear from parents and review policies that were in place before and since the massacre. Doors open at 6 p.m.
Arreaza usually practices criminal defense, but he has been known to take on civil cases. Borges’ father, Royer, hired Arreaza to navigate the lawsuit while keeping tabs on the criminal case, the attorney said.
Florida law allows a victim to address the court with concerns “when relevant.” The Borges family’s concerns are relevant because, in their view, the State Attorney’s Office and the Public Defender’s Office have an inherent conflict of interest — in 2012, both signed off on a multi-agency school discipline agreement that Arreaza blames for blinding officials’ eyes to the threat posed by Cruz.
Prosecutors and defense lawyers deny any conflict of interest.
“Without any need to address the merits of the claims,” Scherer wrote in a March 21 decision, Arreaza and Borges are in no legal position to ask for the prosecutors and defense lawyers to be thrown off the case.
Arreaza asked her to reconsider. On April 4, she turned him away again.
Arreaza has made no secret of the fact that the school discipline agreement will be at the heart of the Borges family’s civil lawsuit. While most of the public conversation after the shooting has focused on the availability of guns, Arreaza said the 2012 agreement deserves a share of the blame for the massacre.
“Take the gun debate out of the equation,” he said, “and you still have the atmosphere that created Nikolas Cruz… They had plenty of times they could have intervened and even arrested Cruz. They chose not to.”
An official statement from the school district, dated March 2, disputes Arreaza’s claim, and Runcie said in an interview Friday that the attorney is mistaken.
The 2012 school discipline agreement provides for students to be arrested if they commit serious offenses, he said, but it also allows alternatives to the criminal justice system when they do things that would otherwise earn a suspension.
Those students, Runcie said, are placed in something called the PROMISE program, which stands for Preventing Recidivism through Opportunities, Mentoring, Interventions, Support and Education. The program keeps students in school, supervised, when they otherwise would have been barred from campus and left on their own, Runcie said.
About 90 percent of the students who go through the program do not get suspended again, Runcie said.
Nikolas Cruz wasn’t in that program, Runcie said. And if he had committed a felony on campus, he would have been arrested and enrolled in an alternative school such as the Whiddon-Rogers Education Center, whose students are in law enforcement custody.
“Kids are arrested on a regular basis,” Runcie said.
Arreaza said Runcie is trying to cover for the official failure to recognize the threat posed by Cruz.
Florida government agencies are entitled to six months’ notice of intent before they can be sued. Arreaza sent the Borges family’s notice on March 6, less than three weeks after the shooting.