Parkland school mass shooter makes first live court appearance
A court squabble has erupted over the handling of Nikolas Cruz’s inheritance from his late mother — a fight that could determine whether the school shooter is entitled to free representation from the public defender or must hire a private lawyer.
Boca Raton attorney Audra Simovitch filed an amended petition in Broward County probate court this week, alleging that Rocxanne Deschamps, a friend of Cruz’s mother who cared for Cruz and his younger brother after their mother died, should not be appointed to represent the estate. Simovitch is asking the court to appoint an independent personal representative.
Simovitch was retained by Nikolas as the probate attorney for the estate of his mother, Lynda Cruz, on Feb. 13 — one day before the Feb. 14 shooting rampage at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Nikolas, 19, walked into the school armed with a semiautomatic rifle and began randomly firing into classrooms, killing 14 students and three educators. He faces 17 counts of murder.
Since the tragedy, Cruz has been represented by the Broward County Public Defender’s Office. His brother, Zachary, 18, lives with Deschamps in Lantana.
Nikolas filed a petition on Feb. 23 asking that Zachary and Deschamps be appointed as co-representatives to administer his mother’s estate. He and his brother also authorized Simovitch to continue acting as their attorney.
But then things changed. A hearing scheduled in probate court was abruptly canceled last week, and Simovitch filed a motion alleging that Deschamps was trying to obfuscate various matters concerning the estate, court records show.
Simovitch, in Tuesday’s motion, details what she calls a litany of “red flags” that the court should consider alarming about Deschamps. It said Deschamps has in recent days worked against Simovitch in the lawyer’s effort to find out what the estate is worth and to share that information with the court and public defender.
Nikolas Cruz, who is 19, signed a letter on Feb. 20 authorizing Simovitch to work with the public defender — by providing copies of applicable documents and answering all questions about the estate. That would help determine whether he is eligible for a public defender or must hire private counsel at his own cost.
Simovitch alleges that Deschamps will not allow her to visit Cruz at the Broward County Jail unless Deschamps is present. She has also “refused to provide the registration or title to a 2015 Kia” believed to be one of the assets to Cruz’s mother’s estate, according to the motion.
Deschamps, who could not be reached for comment, filed an emergency petition on Feb. 15 in which she accused the public defender’s office of misconduct. Deschamps nevertheless has indicated she still wants the public defender to represent Cruz, Simovitch claims in her March 6 motion.
Simovitch’s motion however, is confusing in that it claims that at the time she filed the emergency petition on Feb. 15, Nikolas’ brother, Zachary, was not yet 18 — and therefore would not be able to act as personal representative for the estate. Court records, however, show that Zachary turned 18 on Feb. 2.
Simovitch did not return phone calls and an email from the Miami Herald on Tuesday.
It’s not clear how much Nikolas and his brother stand to gain from the estate. His mother had been hospitalized with a respiratory illness before her death on Nov. 1. Their father, Roger Cruz, died in 2004. At the time of her husband’s death, the estate was worth an estimated $1 million, according to court records. In addition to his wife and two adopted sons, Roger Cruz also had four other children from a prior marriage.
It doesn’t appear that either Roger or his wife had a will. Lynda Cruz acted as personal representative to her husband’s estate, which included a sprawling home in Parkland that she later sold for $575,000.
Nikolas Cruz told a family he was living with before the shootings that he had an $800,000 trust fund, most of which he would receive in two years.
Simovitch’s motion alleges that Deschamps “had scolded counsel for not probating the estate quick enough prior to the arrest of Nikolas’’ and “even if Nikolas Cruz has assets available to him from his mother’s estate, which would require him to retain private counsel ... she would never agree to him being represented by anyone other than the public defender.’’