On Wednesday, Broward Circuit Judge Lynn Rosenthal entered a no-contest plea to a reckless-driving charge after ramming her black BMW SUV into a police car in the Broward County Courthouse parking lot back in May.
Rosenthal, who was not in court while her lawyer entered the plea, was sentenced to three months of probation and 25 hours of community service and ordered to pay restitution.
At the time of her arrest, Rosenthal had admitted to taking Ambien, a prescription sleeping pill, the night before her accident.
Her attorney, Brian Silber, sent out a news release in hopes of explaining Rosenthal's arrest, and so that the "public can put this matter to rest once and for all."
The explanation, according to the release, and to what Silber told New Times, was that Rosenthal was accidentally given the wrong prescription by her physician.
Silber tells New Times that Rosenthal's physician was supposed to have prescribed 12.5 mg of Ambien CR to treat insomnia but instead made an error in the prescription.
"The doctor made a mistake by overprescribing Ambien CR, which is the extended-release formulation," Silber tells New Times. "According to the FDA, the proper dosage is 6.25 mg. Instead, her doctor prescribed 12.5 mg, which is a double dose."
According to police, Rosenthal, 56, struck a parked BSO cruiser in the parking lot of the county courthouse located at 201 SE Sixth St. in Fort Lauderdale, causing damage to her side rear-view mirror.
Rosenthal, who had served as assistant United States attorney beginning in 1985 and put away many on drug trafficking charges over the years, was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott and sworn in on August 1, 2012.
"The FDA specifically changed its dosage guidelines because patients were experiencing side effects interfering with their consciousness -- like sleep driving and morning-after impairment," Silber tells New Times.
He also added that people who are impaired by Ambien are not able to realize it due to the unique manner in which Ambien affects consciousness to induce and maintain sleep, according to the medical literature.
"In that regard," he says, "it is very different from alcohol intoxication or impairment from other medications and controlled substances."
Rosenthal said as much in her comments via Silber's news release:
"I have entered a no-contest plea today and sincerely regret the auto accident I was involved in on May 27, 2014," Rosenthal said through her attorney. "Thankfully no one was injured. It is important for the public to know this accident was the result of an involuntary overdose and adverse drug reaction I had to Zolpidem Tartrate ER, the generic form of Ambien CR. This involuntary overdose was caused because my doctor mistakenly prescribed me twice the amount of Ambien CR recommended by the FDA."
Silber also challenged the initial police report, which stated that Rosenthal had refused to submit to a sobriety test.
"When asked to submit to field sobriety exercises and breath testing, Rosenthal agreed and performed as instructed," Silber says via the release. "However, when the arresting officer unlawfully requested that she provide both a urine and blood sample, Rosenthal lawfully refused the blood draw."
Also in his news release, Silber says that the Palm Beach State Attorney's Office decided not to file any DUI charges against Rosenthal. It instead went with the single count of reckless driving.
Silber concludes by saying that the reason Rosenthal is speaking out now -- through his release -- is to warn the public of the dangers of Ambien.
Meanwhile, the real question here remains how the voting public will take all this in.
Rosenthal, who was appointed by Scott in 2012, is up for election to a full six-year term. She's being challenged by criminal defense attorney Jahra McLawrence.
"As a public servant, Rosenthal knows she must live by a more stringent standard than the one imposed on the people she serves," Silber says. "As such, she has chosen to take responsibility for what happened on May 27, 2014, so that the judiciary and the public can put this matter to rest once and for all."
The matter may not actually be put to rest until voters decide during the August 26 primary.
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