Anthony Borges, a survivor of the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, filed court documents late Tuesday to remove defense counsel from the case.
Attorneys for Borges filed a motion to disqualify Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein and his staff, who represent defendant Nikolas Jacob Cruz. He also wants to disqualify the Office of the Broward County State Attorney, which is prosecuting Cruz for the shooting at the high school in Parkland, Florida.
Florida’s Constitution gives victims the right to participate in criminal proceedings. But it is unclear how the court will interpret Borges’s attempt to intervene in the case to the extent of removing attorneys handling both the prosecution and the defense.
“Victims have a right to be heard,” said Borges’s attorney, Alex F. Arreaza of The Arreaza Law Firm in Wilton Manors. “But do they have a right to request what I’m requesting? That’s unnavigated waters.”
Arreaza represents 15-year-old Borges, who was shot five times in his torso and both legs during the rampage at the school.
The new filings claim Arreaza uncovered documents and behavior that “undermine the credibility and integrity” of the two public agencies on opposing sides of the proceedings.
The documents include a 2016 agreement among multiple agencies outlining strategies to stem the arrests of children for minor offenses on school premises.
The Collaborative Agreement on School Discipline involved the School Board of Broward County, Office of the State Attorney, Broward chief judge, the public defender, Sheriff’s Office, Fort Lauderdale Police Department, Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and other agencies. Its goal was to correct the disproportionate arrests of minority children for offenses that would go unpunished for their peers.
Arreaza suggests the policy helped create an environment that shielded Cruz and masked multiple warning signs — making it a prime piece of evidence in the death penalty case. But he said he doubts either side would use the document because of their participation in its creation.
“Everybody knows he was saying he was going to be a school shooter,” Arreaza said of Cruz. “Not reporting … this kind of behavior in the state of Florida is not the answer.”
Multiple sources made reports to law enforcement, school administration and other agencies about Cruz’s violent outbursts before the mass shooting that left 17 people dead and injured 14 others.
Office of the State Attorney spokeswoman Constance Simmons declined comment on the motion to disqualify, but the public defender is likely to argue that Borges lacks legal standing.
Meanwhile, Arreaza argues exclusion of the policy as evidence in Cruz’s defense would present grounds for an appeal in the event of a successful prosecution.
“I don’t want Anthony Borges or his family to be put through this all over again in five years,” Arreaza said. “If they go through with this thing, they’re going to get reversed.”