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The probate lawyer handling the estate of accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz’s late mother must be allowed to talk to Cruz before turning over information about his possible net worth to his defense attorneys, a Broward judge ruled Thursday.
The decision by Broward Circuit Judge Charles Greene puts the Broward Public Defender’s Office one step closer to learning whether Cruz, 19, can afford to hire his own lawyer without having his legal fees picked up by taxpayers.
The probate lawyer, Audra Simovitch, filed a court case last week on behalf of Rocxanne Deschamps, a family friend who took in Cruz and his younger brother, Zachary, after their mother, Lynda Cruz, died last November. A day after police say Nikolas Cruz admitted killing 17 students and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Deschamps sought to be appointed administrator of Lynda Cruz’s estate.
It’s not clear from public records how much that estate is worth.
Nikolas Cruz, 19, did not live with Deschamps for long – he moved back to Parkland with a former schoolmate’s family and told them he stood to inherit $800,000 when he turns 22.
After Cruz’s father, Roger, died in 2004, his mother sued the doctors who treated him. The case was settled in 2008 for $175,000. He and his brother were each given a $46,750 annuity, and the remaining $81,500 was split between his mother, her lawyers and other fees.
Other court documents show Lynda Cruz sold her Parkland home in a short sale for $575,000 last January. Proceeds from a short sale usually go to the mortgage company to avoid a foreclosure judgment.
The issue is crucial for the Public Defender’s Office, which was appointed to represent Cruz last week after he was determined to be financially indigent. The office is not legally permitted to represent clients who can afford to hire a private lawyer.
Simovitch and Public Defender Howard Finkelstein squabbled this week after his office tried to get access to financial records to determine whether Cruz really is indigent. Simovitch filed a motion on Wednesday asking Judge Greene to order Cruz’s defense lawyers to let her interview him before turning any records over. She identified Cruz as her client.
“Nikolas Cruz is not only a potential beneficiary in his mother’s estate but also a client of the undersigned counsel,” Simovitch wrote, adding that she “needs to meet with her client so she can discuss… matters that are relevant to the probate matter.”
Finkelstein responded early Thursday afternoon by questioning whether Simovitch represents Cruz or Deschamps.
The answer, it turned out, was both. In an order released late Thursday afternoon, Greene said Simovitch provided documentation proving that Cruz retained Simovitch to represent him in the probate case on Dec. 17, 2017.
Whether the Public Defender’s Office can keep representing Cruz depends not only on how much he stands to inherit from his deceased parents, but when he’ll have access to those funds, said probate lawyer Frank Walker, of Fort Lauderdale, who is not involved in the case.
“Eventually the value of the estate will come out,” said Walker. “But at this stage we’re in a gray area. We don’t even know that there are assets to pass on to her two sons.”
Finkelstein and one of his chief deputies, Gordon Weekes, said they intend to comply with Greene’s order now that they are certain Simovitch is Cruz’s lawyer.
Greene has yet to appoint Deschamps as the estate’s administrator, responsible for helping to discover any assets, pay unsettled debts and distribute money to the heirs. The next hearing in the probate case is scheduled for March 1.
Simovitch did not return a call and an e-mail seeking comment Thursday.