Gisele Pollack
Gisele Pollack (Melanie Bell)

Broward County Court Judge Gisele Pollack—removed from the bench for substance abuse—will be in rehabilitation for as long as six months.

Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein, himself an admitted recovering alcoholic, said that if Pollack, 55, recovers and is cleared to work again by the state Judicial Qualifications Commission, she likely will never return to her post presiding over misdemeanor drug court.

“It’s a body blow all around,” said Finkelstein, who described Pollack’s departure under the circumstances as a huge loss to the community.

Pollack was removed from the bench March 19 by Administrative Judge Sharon Zeller after being notified by a prosecutor that Pollack’s speech was slurred. She took immediate personal leave.

County Court Judge Chris Pole has been handling much of her docket.

Pollack also was removed from the bench in December after a similar incident. She took two weeks leave to participate in an outpatient program.

The first time someone enters a drug rehabilitation program, it is normally for 28 days, Finkelstein said.

“But when you relapse it is usually longer. Because you have two different relapses and you’re dealing with a professional person—a person with a lot of power—the long-term treatment can be six months,” Finkelstein said.

“She’s going to be in long-term treatment, and they’re going to try to unravel whatever psychological demons she has,” he said.

Miles McGrane, a former JQC chairman and recently retired Coral Gables attorney, said a JQC investigation into Pollack’s situation would not be disclosed to the public unless formal charges were filed.

He added the JQC could be working with Pollack, and not necessarily to discipline her. In situations where the commission has reason to believe a judge has a substance abuse problem, it can ask the judge to be interviewed before a panel.

The panel would discuss the judge’s willingness to enter a contract with Florida Lawyers Assistance Inc., a Pompano Beach-based nonprofit formed by Florida Supreme Court mandate to identify and assist attorneys with substance abuse, mental health and other disorders.

“There’s no rule that says in this instance you do this or that,” McGrane said. “The JQC isn’t out there to get judges, to be punitive. The JQC is there, number one, to protect the public but also recognizing that judges are constitutional officers with rights. It’s a real balancing act.”

Pollack’s mother died shortly before the December episode. Finkelstein also noted her son has been bedridden with severe medical problems for a couple of years.

Pollack never hid her own addiction, Finkelstein noted. She ran for election in 2004 telling voters she was a recovering alcoholic and could approach drug court defendants with an insight other judges wouldn’t have. For the past nine years, she was true to her campaign promises.

“Anybody who’s watched what she’s done knows that she’s single-handedly saved the lives of hundreds of people,” Finkelstein said.

That makes her relapse all the more tragic, he lamented. Relapse is a part of recovery, he acknowledged, but it raises the issue of whether someone who has relapsed can sit in judgment of others who relapse.

“It becomes problematic,” he said.