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Supreme Court suspends Broward Judge Gisele Pollack

Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack was suspended by the state Supreme Court on Friday, after an investigative panel's recommendation to the court that found Pollack had allegedly violated the code of judicial conduct during her struggles with alcoholism.

The court ordered Pollack, 56, suspended without pay, pending the final outcome of the inquiry. A state website lists her salary as $138,019.

After nearly two decades of sobriety, Pollack relapsed and faces criminal and professional charges because of it, according to documents from the Florida Judicial Qualifications Commission that were released Friday.

The commission's notice of formal charges described key events that led to its recommendation for suspension:

• On Dec. 17, 2013, Pollack acted erratically at the Broward County courthouse, had suffered a relapse and took the bench while intoxicated.

• In February, she met with the commission's investigative panel in Tallahassee and agreed, in a signed document dated March 3, to abstain from using alcohol — and not to work if she drank again.

• On March 19, Pollack was intoxicated on the bench, was asked to step down and another judge had to help her walk from the courtroom.

• After she was found to be impaired at work on March 19, Pollack took a leave of absence and enrolled in an in-patient substance abuse treatment program in Gainesville.

•On May 1, after 40 days in treatment, she drove home to Broward County and was involved in a car crash in Plantation. Another driver was injured and Pollack was arrested and charged with four counts of DUI and failure to use due care.

Pollack's legal team says she "spiraled out of control" after the death of her mother, with whom she was very close, and the ongoing struggles of her adult son, who was disabled after a surgery.

"She's had a relapse, and relapse is part of recovery," said Eric Schwartzreich, who, along with David Bogenschutz and Frank Maister, is trying to help Pollack and salvage her career. "It's our position that this is a disease and that it should be treated like any other disease. If she had cancer, we wouldn't be having this conversation."

From Dec. 19, 2013 through March 19, 2013, Pollack received treatment at facilities on an outpatient basis, he said.

The lawyers had hoped Pollack could keep her salary to fund medical expenses, and said that she is going to sell her home.

"This is temporary," Schwartzreich said Friday. "Our next move is to show that the suspension — at the right time — should be lifted. And we'll ask the court to reconsider suspending her with pay."

During a May 16 hearing, Schwartzreich told the commission that Pollack was in treatment and in a "very fragile state."

He acknowledged that those on the panel were probably upset that despite giving Pollack a chance, she relapsed just 16 days after agreeing to be sober and later had the DUI crash.

Commission member Shirley Bowne, a gubernatorial appointee, said that although the panel had compassion for Pollock, it also must consider costs to taxpayers if another judge has to take her cases for many months.

Jay White, a lawyer and commission member, called Pollack "a fine judge" during the hearing, but said, "We've also got to be concerned with the judiciary and the citizens in Florida, both in the court system and out of the court system."

Pollack's lawyers have proposed a plan to the commission that includes her current in-residence treatment under a doctor's care, four to six months of structured living on a monitored recovery campus, and an abstinence letter that agrees to professional consequences for failures in her recovery.

Pollack has had a "come to Jesus moment," and is contrite, Schwartzreich told the panel of lawyers and judges. "After she spent the night in jail … she's embarrassed. She's humiliated."

Pollack's DUI case was moved to Miami-Dade County, where on Friday a spokeswoman for the State Attorney's Office said formal charges had not yet been filed.

"We are in the process of seeing how we are going to handle it," Schwartzreich said. "It's our intention to try and resolve the case on her behalf."

Schwartzreich called it a "terrible irony" that Pollack once oversaw cases in a drug court, "helping people. And now she has to help herself."

Pollack's current term ends in 2016.

"We are hopeful that at the end of this situation, the judge will demonstrate to the JQC and the public and the electorate that she has overcome her struggle and is fit to serve the community as a judge," he said.

Staff researcher Barbara Hijek contributed to this report.

Ltrischitta@Tribune.com, 954-356-4233 or Twitter @LindaTrischitta

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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