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County Judge Gisele Pollack defied the advice of her lawyers Thursday and pleaded guilty in a Broward courtroom to one count of driving under the influence of alcohol, landing a probation sentence.
Pollack’s lawyers, Michael Catalano and Eric Schwartzreich, had announced that the judge would be pleading no contest to resolve the case that stemmed from her May 2 arrest following a car accident in Plantation. A no contest plea would have given Pollack some legal flexibility in an expected civil case brought by the driver who was injured by Pollack.
“With all due respect to Mr. Schwartzreich and Mr. Catalano, I am going to plead guilty because I am guilty,” Pollack said to Miami-Dade County Judge Andrea Wolfson. “I am guilty of letting myself down and I am guilty of letting my community down … I am not here to make excuses.”
Pollack, who has battled alcoholism throughout her adult life, said she had not had a drink for 19 years before last December, when she took the bench in misdemeanor drug court while noticeably drunk. Despite promising the Judicial Qualifications Commission that it wouldn’t happen again, Pollack took the bench while drunk a second time in March.
She blamed her relapse on personal pressure — last fall, her mother passed away and her 24-year-old son was permanently disabled following complications from a hernia surgery.
“I am sober,” she said. “I am healthy. And I am committed to never, ever drink again.”
Pollack was sentenced to six months of probation. In addition, she will pay a $500 fine, perform 75 hours of community service and will have to wear an electronic monitor that will send an e-mail notification to the probation office if she consumes any alcohol.
In pleading guilty, Pollack also apologized to Dylan Razack, the injured driver. It was never clear how intoxicated Pollack was the night of the crash. Catalano said she asked for a blood test after her arrest, then refused to comply, then asked for one again. She also agreed to take a breath test, but it was never done.
The courtroom on Wednesday was packed with supporters of the judge, including numerous defense lawyers, drug court graduates and three elected officials — State Rep. Perry Thurston, County Clerk of Courts Howard Forman and County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish.
Wolfson was appointed to oversee the case to avoid any apparent conflict of interest that would arise from having one of Pollack’s colleagues in Broward preside over the case. In addition, the governor appointed the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office to prosecute Pollack. Assistant State Attorney Ray Araujo told Wolfson the state would only file one DUI charge. A separate charge of DUI causing property damage was not filed; it would have carried the same penalty, defense lawyer Catalano said.
Pollack was the second of three Broward judges accused of DUI in a six-month period. Broward Circuit Judge Cynthia Imperato is still facing charges stemming from her arrest in Boca Raton last November. Broward Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal was arrested on suspicion of DUI in late May, but ended up pleading no contest to a reckless driving charge.
Pollack was suspended from her $138,000-a-year job three weeks after her arrest, and the Judicial Qualifications Commission has scheduled a hearing for Nov. 13 in Fort Lauderdale. The JQC has the authority to recommend how to penalize Pollack for her conduct. She could face anything from a reprimand to removal from office, with the Florida Supreme Court making the final decision.
In court papers filed last week, Pollack argued that her relapse should not overshadow her 32-year legal career, including the last decade as a judge.