BY BUDDY NEVINS
Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack was suspended without pay by the Florida Supreme Court late Friday for repeated incidents of alcohol abuse.
Pollack is reportedly undergoing rehab. A recovering alcoholic when she was first elected in 2004, Pollack fell back into alcohol abuse recently because of family problems.
She was the long-time jurist presiding over the county’s Drug Court for substance abusers.
Below is both the formal charges and the suspension order.
Suspension order (click to enlarge):
Here is a piece I wrote in 2003 when she was running for office:
I never knew the waiter’s name. He kept it to himself, just like he does in Alcoholics Anonymous.
But the waiter knew Gisele Pollack ‘s name. She’s the assistant public defender who was eating lunch with me one day in downtown Fort Lauderdale. She was just telling me how she would make a good county court judge when the waiter suddenly leaned into our conversation.
“Ms. Pollack, do you remember me? You saved my life,” said the waiter. “I’m sober 2 1/2 years now.”
And Pollack teared up.
Not many candidates get that kind of testimonial. A lot of people in this community can say that about Pollack.
For nine years, Pollack has been a public defender in Broward County’s Drug Court. That’s the intervention treatment program for minor substance abuse offenders.
Drug Court is the last stop before the Big House. Or the cemetery. If you clean up and live right, you get a second chance.
Intensive and highly structured, Drug Court has its participants jumping through hoops to prove they are sober. They take frequent urine tests, have regular sessions with counselors and must participate in group meetings.
If the program is successfully completed, the charges are either dropped or reduced.
Taxpayers are the winners. Drug Court costs about $2,500 for a year’s treatment, compared to maybe $30,000 to house an inmate in prison. Most of all, lives are restored.
In a study, offenders were surveyed for four years. Only 15 percent of those who graduated from the Drug Court had committed a felony. But of those who refused to attend the Drug Court or who dropped out of the program, about 80 percent committed a felony.
Drug Court’s most notable current participant is state Sen. Mandy Dawson, D-Fort Lauderdale. She was busted in October 2002 and charged with altering a prescription for a narcotic painkiller.
Dawson entered the program in November. If she completes the one-year treatment, which includes daily group therapy, the felony charges will be dismissed.
The senator has her own lawyer. Hundreds of other abusers over the past nine years haven’t had the money for a lawyer. They’ve needed Pollack.
When she needed a hand, others were there to reach out.
In the midst of a divorce, she tried to drown her sorrows in a river of vodka. After missing a court appearance, she pulled out of her tailspin and entered recovery. Pollack has been sober for 11 years.
She still attends Alcoholics Anonymous, now not only to help herself, but to help others.
“I live to help people,” Pollack says.
Being down and out and recovering has taught Pollack a lot. She has compassion for those who hurt. She also knows firsthand about lies, excuses and evasions, because she’s heard them all.
Most of all, being drunk and now being sober has taught her to be fair. She knows people sometimes make mistakes and need a second chance.
It taught her to be open-minded.
Not bad traits to have if you want to be a judge.
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