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Florida Bar investigating member of Parkland school shooter's defense team

The investigation comes months after assistant public defender Tamara Curtis was captured on camera sticking up her middle finger in court and laughing with the Parkland shooter.

The Florida Bar is conducting an investigation focused on one of the assistant public defenders who represented the Parkland school shooter in his recently-concluded trial, a spokesperson confirmed to NBC News.

The Bar is investigating Tamara Curtis, according to Jennifer Krell Davis, communications director for the Florida Bar.

Curtis was captured on camera this summer, prior to a pretrial hearing, rubbing her middle finger on her cheek in front of a court camera, before she and school shooter Nikolas Cruz, 24, laughed — a moment that the judge in the case and several family members of the victims later admonished the attorney for.

Tamara Curtis at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla
Tamara Curtis at the Broward County Courthouse in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on July 6, 2022. Carline Jean / South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP file

Krell Davis, the Florida Bar spokesperson, did not reply to questions about what prompted the investigation into Curtis, when it was opened or its scope. She said that documents related to the investigation are not public while an investigation is ongoing.

Neither Curtis nor the Broward County Public Defender’s Office immediately responded to requests for comment.

The Bar is not currently investigating any other members of the shooter’s defense team, Krell Davis added.

News of the investigation, first reported by ABC affiliate WPLG of Miami on Thursday, follows the conclusion of an emotional three-month-long trial that culminated on Wednesday, when Circuit Judge Elizabeth Scherer sentenced the shooter to life in prison without parole for the 2018 massacre that killed 14 students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

The Florida Bar's lawyer discipline process begins when "current or former clients, lawyers, judges, or others" — which can include the Bar itself — submit a written inquiry regarding the conduct of a lawyer, according to its website, which notes that "approximately 25% of inquiries result in the opening of a disciplinary file."

The Bar's "rules of professional conduct" note that lawyers "should demonstrate respect for the legal system and for those who serve it."

According to her profile on the Florida Bar’s website, Curtis was admitted to the Bar in 2004 and has had no disciplinary infractions over the past decade. She attended law school at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law.

Curtis can continue practicing law while she is under investigation, according to Krell Davis.

“The Florida Supreme Court is the final arbiter of discipline — an attorney being investigated doesn’t have a change to their practice status unless discipline is ordered by the Court,” the spokesperson said.

Victims, judge condemn 'the middle finger stunt'

Max Schachter, the father of Parkland victim 14-year-old Alex Schachter, shared the news of the investigation into Curtis on Twitter on Thursday along with the comment, "KARMA PART 1."

During the victim impact statements they delivered in court on Tuesday and Wednesday, several family members admonished the defense team for their actions — including what one called "the middle finger stunt" — over the course of the trial.

Curtis did not appear to be present in court during the two days of sentencing proceedings.

Following the first day's proceedings, on Tuesday, when public defender Gordon Weekes and chief assistant public defenders Melisa McNeill and David Wheeler asked Scherer to prevent the family members from directing comments to the defense attorneys personally, Fred Guttenberg, father of victim Jaime Guttenberg, 14, tweeted out the video of Curtis sticking up her middle finger.

"This is Defense Attorney Tamara Curtis, in court, playing with the monster who murdered my daughter & rubbing her middle finger on her cheek," Guttenberg tweeted along with the video. "@gordonweekes should have been focused on the behavior of his attorneys and not attacking our families today. We are right to be upset."

The next day in court, Guttenberg mentioned the incident in his victim impact statement, and said that one of the attorneys apologized in an email to victims' families "for the middle finger stunt."

"You actually didn't apologize to us — you apologized that you didn't know the camera was on while you were doing that, that you got caught," Gutternberg said of the alleged email.

NBC News could not immediately independently verify Guttenberg's claims.

Manuel Oliver, father of victim Joaquin Oliver, 17, also mentioned the incident in his victim impact statement before raising his own middle finger to the defense table.

Scherer also condemned the defense team for Curtis's actions on the first day of the sentencing, after Wheeler echoed Weekes' and McNeill's requests that the judge intervene to prevent the families from directing their comments to the defense attorneys.

"When these people are upset about specific things that have gone on from that table, like shooting the middle finger up at this court, and laughing and joking ... when these people have sat in this courtroom and watched this behavior from that table and they want to say that they're not happy about it, what is the problem?" Scherer asked Wheeler.

NBC South Florida reported that the shooter's defense team has received increased security following the sentencing due to concerns about public sentiment toward the attorneys following the trial and its outcome, which shocked and angered many of the victims' families who hoped for a death penalty verdict.

Critiques of judge's treatment of defense counsel

Scherer is also facing critiques for how she presided over the sentencing proceedings.

The president of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, which represents more than 1,300 attorneys, sent a letter to Chief Judge Jack Tuter of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit on Thursday alleging that Scherer’s “hostility reveals a temperament ill-suited to the criminal bench” following her contentious exchanges with defense attorneys during the sentencing proceedings.

The letter, authored by attorney Ernest Chang, requests Tuter ensure “she is not in a position to prejudice any other criminal cases.”

Chang condemned Scherer's order that Weekes and Wheeler "go sit down" after they raised their concerns about the potential impacts of personal attacks on defense attorneys.

In court, Wheeler told Scherer comments from the victims' families invoking the defense attorney's children were "highly improper, and for this court to allow that kind of testimony is also improper," he said.

Scherer said she didn’t notice any such comments — though at least two family members of victims mentioned the defense attorneys’ children in their victim impact statements.

When Weekes subsequently approached the lectern to voice his concerns, Scherer also demanded he "go sit down."

In his letter, Chang alleged that Scherer's conduct could undermine public confidence in both the criminal legal system at large and defense lawyers specifically.

Tuter did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the letter.

Scherer was photographed hugging prosecutors and some of the victim's families after the conclusion of Wednesday's sentencing hearing, according to NBC affiliate WPTV of West Palm Beach.

Scherer could not immediately be reached for comment.

Scherer was admitted to the Florida Bar in 2001, and previously spent more than a decade serving as an assistant state attorney in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit, according to her biography.