Man Sent to Hospital After Crash With Impaired Broward County Judge

Finebloom, Haenel & Higgins

On the night of May 1, Broward County judge Giselle Pollack struck a stopped car, causing the driver of that car to go unconscious for some time and be taken to the hospital.  When police got to the scene, they found that Pollack smelled like alcohol and that there was a spilled container in the front seat of her car.  She also had alcohol in the trunk.  Pollack was crying and saying she did not want to be brought to jail and refused to take a breathalyzer test.  She was arrested for driving under the influence and other crimes related to the crash.

Pollack recently started a leave of absence as a drug court judge after showing up to work drunk at least twice in a matter of months.  She has apparently been having personal issues over the last four to six months.  She has been open about her struggle with alcohol addiction from the time of her first campaign in 2004 and felt that her history with addiction made her more in tune with the struggles faced by other addicts.  Her boss says that there are no plans to allow her to work until this is resolved but that it is not within his power to remove her from the bench even if he wanted to.  According to her boss, all he can do is refuse to assign Pollack cases.  The Broward State Attorney says that the office will be appointing a prosecutor from a different county and will be requesting a judge from a different part of Florida be assigned to the case.

A much larger percentage of attorneys and judges struggle with substance and alcohol abuse than the general population with 15% of barred attorneys struggling with addiction issues compared to 8.5% of the general population.  With nearly twice the percentage of addicts, the Florida Bar, like the bars of nearly every other state, has taken steps to make sure that attorneys and judges are encouraged to get treatment in order to protect the public from misconduct.  However, that often means less harsh punishment for misconduct related to addiction rather than harsher penalties with the idea that an attorney should not be punished if they are trying to resolve their substance abuse issues.  Because of this, the recent trend has been not to disbar attorneys for misconduct when there is a substance abuse issue if that attorney is making a real attempt to get help for his or her problem.  There are also more programs in place to help attorneys get assistance for getting treatment before there is a misconduct issue.

In a case such as Pollack’s, she can face disciplinary proceedings if it was found that the way she behaved on cases was affected by her problems with alcohol, but it is also likely that if she made a serious and good faith effort to get help for her problem, that her license, and possibly her job, will remain intact, though a suspension is possible.  That may not mean anything when it comes to her criminal proceedings related to this accident, but it may allow her to stay on the bench or continue to practice as an attorney once her sentence is served for this accident – as long as she remains sober.