Three Broward County judges have been arrested on DUI charges in the last seven months. The rash of arrests has sent shockwaves through the courthouse and prompted the county’s top public defender to say something is wrong with the judicial culture in the county.
“When people ascend to the bench and put that robe on, it’s very common that they start to believe that they are bigger than the law; they are above the law; they are the law,” said Broward County public defender Howard Finkelstein. “Is that happening in Broward? I’ve seen that happen here for many years, decades. I thought it was getting better. I still think it’s getting better, but this is a very big bump in the road.”
The latest arrest came Tuesday when Judge Lynn Rosenthal of the 17th Judicial Circuit was arrested after hitting a parked, unmarked patrol car in a Fort Lauderdale courthouse parking lot. Judge Rosenthal told deputies she was also forced into a guardrail on I-595 on her way to work before the parking lot accident, but deputies said video disputed that report.
Judge Rosenthal was arrested on a charge of DUI, but tested negative for alcohol. Judge Rosenthal told deputies she had taken an Ambien CR the night before the accident in the parking lot.
Finkelstein said he doubted Judge Rosenthal’s claim of the Ambien CR affecting her.
“I have a little bit of experience with drugs. That is not from an Ambien at 10 o’clock at night,” Finkelstein said. “The fact that she refused the urine and the blood test is gonna keep people wondering.”
Just last week, fellow Broward County Judge Gisele Pollack was suspended from the bench without pay after she was arrested on DUI charges earlier this year following a car crash.
In November, long-time Broward Judge Cynthia Imperato was arrested for DUI in Boca Raton.
Finkelstein called the incident involving multiple judges getting arrested, “a very dark and embarrassing time for the Broward County judiciary.”
Judge Rosenthal bonded out of jail on the charge, but on the way out of jail her team told reporters they “have no comment at this time.”
In the meantime, Chief Judge Peter Weinstein issued a statement saying, “The 17th Judicial Circuit is requesting the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court to assign a judge outside of Broward County to handle any relevant case with respect to Judge Rosenthal. The Canons of Judicial Ethics prohibit the Chief Judge from commenting on any pending case.”
“Judges are people and judges have problems, but I think the question that the public is asking is, is the problem here greater than a few people?” Finkelstein posited.
State attorney Mike Satz responded to that concern in a statement: “The public is perceptive enough to realize that these alleged DUIs were three isolated occurrences. It’s a huge leap to throw a blanket over the remaining 87 Broward judges and question the integrity of the entire system.”