Paul Pozonsky

Paul Pozonsky is a former judge of the Courts of Common Pleas in Washington County, Pennsylvania. In his capacity as judge, he presided over criminal trials, summary appeals, juvenile treatment court, and treatment court.[3] After coming under investigation concerning missing drug court evidence, he left for Alaska and later resigned his seat. He pleaded guilty to three of six counts for which he was later indicted, and was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Paul Pozonsky
Judge of the Washington County Courts of Common Pleas
In office
1997–2012
Preceded byThomas Terputac[1]
Personal details
Born (1955-10-08) October 8, 1955 (age 65)
Spouse(s)Sara Belle Crapuchettes[2] (Div. Sept. 18, 2015)
ResidenceMuse, Pennsylvania
Alma materWest Virginia University
Duquesne University School of Law

Personal background and early legal careerEdit

A native of Muse, Pennsylvania, Pozonsky graduated from Canon-McMillan High School in 1973.[4] In 1977, he graduated magna cum laude from West Virginia University.[1] After earning a law degree from Duquesne University School of Law in 1980, he practiced law.[4]

He was elected magisterial district judge for the McDonald and Cecil Township areas in 1983.[4] His campaign highlighted his legal experience.[5] In that position, he president of the region's Special Court Judge Association of Pennsylvania.[1] In 1997, he was nominated by the association for the prestigious John Jeffers Memorial Award, given to individuals who are "considered instrumental in leadership and professionalism in the courts."[1]

His second wife filed for divorce on May 19, 2015, in Kenai, Alaska.[6] The uncontested divorce became final on September 28, 2015.[7]

Career as County JudgeEdit

In 1997, he defeated Charles Kurowski in the election to replace retiring Judge Thomas Terputac.[1] After his election to the county bench, he left the private practice that he had maintained while serving as a magisterial district judge.[4] In 1998, he was selected to be one of 15 members of the ethics committee of the Pennsylvania Conference of State Trial Judges, which advises judges on ethical quandaries.[1]

On March 29, 2004, Pozonsky dismissed 51 charges against a driver whose license had been suspended for 30 years.[8]

In 2004, Pozonsky and Washington County District Attorney John Pettit established the county's first drug treatment court.[1] Pozonsky was successful in his 2007 retention election.[9] His campaign highlighted his high level of recommendation from members of the Pennsylvania Bar Association and his 9-year membership on the Ethics Committee of Pennsylvania State Trial Judges.[9]

In 2011, Pozonsky presided over a case brought by a family who alleged their health was damaged by fracking petrocarbon wells drilled on property immediately adjacent to their home and the value of their farmstead was depressed. Four Marcellus Shale gas wells, compressor stations plus a 3-acre wastewater impoundment were located next to their 10-acre farm in Mt. Pleasant. The case was settled for $750,000 but Pozonsky barred the media from his courtroom and sealed the settlement file despite extensive efforts of the press to get its details released.[10]

Later careerEdit

SuspensionEdit

On May 24, 2012 Washington County's President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca issued an order suspending Pozonsky's drug treatment court.[11] On May 31, she issued a subsequent order stripping Pozonsky of his criminal caseload, instead assigning him giving civil cases and nonjury trials.[11] Previously, Pozonsky had been responsible for 60% to 70% of the county's criminal docket.[12]

Tenure in AlaskaEdit

Shortly after the Judge President's actions, Pozonsky then left for a 2-week trip to Alaska, where his wife had family.[13] On June 29, 2012, Judge Pozonsky resigned from the bench, citing discussions with, and the needs of, his family.[14] In July 2012, Judge Pozonsky's attorney confirmed the existence of an investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General.[15]

In October 2012, he was a questionable hire as a Worker's Compensation Board hearing officer by the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development. His candidacy was accepted after the filing deadline had passed, and he lacked the resident's preference for the opening. His wife's family had deep Republican party connections, with his brother-in-law, Chuck Kopp who was briefly employed first as Governor Sarah Palin's Public Safety Commissioner, then as staff at the time to then-Senator Fred Dyson. She served on the Soldotna, Alaska City Council and the Alaska Commission on Judicial Conduct, and was close with former Lieutenant Governor Loren Leman.[16][17] Under pressure, he resigned that post in December 2012.[18] Then-governor, Republican Sean Parnell, ordered an investigation regarding the circumstances of his hire. By January 2013, the investigation was said to be continuing, but all parties publicly solicited for details denied knowledge of, and involvement in, the circumstances of the anomalous employment, including his being paid at what was a substantially higher rate than had been advertised. The Parnell administration denied access to critical correspondence regarding the matter that had been requested by the media, claiming exemptions over personnel privacy issues.[19]

ChargesEdit

He was charged with stealing cocaine from evidence and numerous other offenses, in May 2013.[20] Investigators said 291.2 grams (10.27 ounces) of cocaine was either missing, tampered with or replaced with baking soda. Though uncharged, considerable other case evidence went unaccounted for, including other drugs and cash, which Judge Pozonsky claimed to have personally destroyed, sua sponte.[21] He challenged the search of his former Pennsylvania judicial office that revealed evidence of criminal conduct.[22] A Pozonsky motion to compel testimony from Debbie O'Dell Seneca, the president judge who issued the administrative order to search his office and preserve evidence, was filed in June 2014.[23] In a March, 2015 plea bargain, Pozonsky pleaded guilty to three of his six indictment counts and the prosecution did not request that he get jail time.[24]

SentenceEdit

Prosecutor Michael Ahwesh told Judge Daniel Howsare that Pozonsky "turned the courthouse into his stash house and made law enforcement into his private supplier of cocaine," decrying his arrogance in continuing to serve on the bench after he first entered drug rehabilitation.[25] Pozonsky was sentenced to serve 30 days to 23.5 months in jail and 2 years probation, on July 13, 2015. He was immediately given work release and was released from jail on August 11, 2015.[26] Pozonsky also forfeited his $98,000 annual pension and lifetime health benefits. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court temporarily suspended his law license on August 15, 2015.[27] The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled 5-2 on January 18, 2018, to permanently disbar Pozonsky from law practice following the recommendation of the Office of Disciplinary Counsel, rather than suspending him, as he had requested. Justice Debra Todd, writing the majority opinion, said his conduct was particularly egregious, and had turned the court's proceedings that he had handled into "a shame and a farce."[27][28] Justice Baer filed a concurring opinion in which Justice Donohue joined, noting that Pozonsky had notably failed to file any medical evidence connecting his conduct to his addiction, which might have resulted in suspension rather than disbarment.[27]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Jones, Mike (May 23, 2013). "Pozonsky's judicial career filled with accolades, Controversy". Observer-Reporter. Archived from the original on January 12, 2014. Retrieved May 28, 2013.
  2. ^ Carpenter, Mackenzie (Winter 2006). "A Different School of Thought". Pittsburgh Quarterly. Archived from the original on September 18, 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
  3. ^ "Paul Pozonsky, J." Official Biography. Washington County Courts of Common Pleas. Archived from the original on 2010-12-02. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  4. ^ a b c d Metz, Linda (2012-06-30). "Pozonsky quits bench". Observer-Reporter. Archived from the original on 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  5. ^ Pozonsky for District Justice (May 10, 1983). "Paul Pozonsky". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  6. ^ Ex-judge gets short jail term for taking coke from evidence, WTAE, Bob Mayo, July 13, 2015. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  7. ^ CourtView Justice Solutions, Case 3KN-00533CI. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  8. ^ Court gives multiple offender a second chance, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Joe Smydo, 9 May 2004. Retrieved 18 April 2014.
  9. ^ a b The Committee to Retain Judge Paul Pozonsky (November 2, 2007). "Judge Paul Pozonsky". Observer-Reporter. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  10. ^ Judge to consider making public confidential document from 2011 Marcellus drilling settlement, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Don Hopey, June 19, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Judges, DA silent as rumors bloom". Observer-Reporter. 2012-06-03. Archived from the original on 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  12. ^ "Washington Co. judge abruptly announces retirement". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. July 1, 2012. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  13. ^ Metz, Linda (2012-06-28). "Judge clears personal items from office". Observer-Reporter. Archived from the original on 2012-07-01. Retrieved 2012-07-01.
  14. ^ Buckley, Chris (June 29, 2012). "Washington County judge resigns". Pittsburgh Tribune Review. Retrieved June 29, 2012.
  15. ^ Kerlik, Bobby; Megan Guza (July 25, 2012). "State inquiry targets former Washington County judge". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved September 24, 2012.
  16. ^ A Different School Of Thought Sounds fishy, Pittsburgh Quarterly, Mackenzie Carpenter, Winter 2006. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  17. ^ Wereschagin, Mike (December 9, 2012). "Ex-Washington County judge quits Alaska hearing officer post". Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Retrieved December 9, 2012.
  18. ^ Parnell Hiring Scandal leads back to Dyson, Kopp, Palin, The Mudflats,3 December 2012, Jeane Devon. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  19. ^ State investigation into the hiring of Pozonsky continues; residency may have been an issue, Alaska Dispatch News, Lisa Demer, January 31, 2013. Retrieved 21 March 2016.
  20. ^ Ex-Judge Charged With Stealing Cocaine From Cases.CBS Pittsburgh. 23 May 2013. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
  21. ^ Controversy follows former judge Pozonsky from Pa. to Alaska, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Moriah Balingit, December 30, 2012. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  22. ^ Ex-judge Pozonsky challenges seizure of evidence, Observer-Reporter, Francesca Sacco, 24 February 2014. Retrieved 7 March 2014.
  23. ^ President judge doesn’t have to testify in Pozonsky case, The Almanac, June 12, 2014. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  24. ^ Paul Pozonsky, former Washington County Judge, pleads guilty to three misdemeanors, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Lexi Belculfine, March 25, 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  25. ^ Ex-judge gets short jail term for taking coke from evidence, WTAE, Bob Mayo, July 13, 2015. Retrieved 21 March 2016.[dead link]
  26. ^ Crompton, Janice (August 11, 2015). "Former Washington County judge released from jail". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Retrieved 4 September 2015.
  27. ^ a b c OFFICE OF DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL, Petitioner v. PAUL MICHAEL POZONSKY, Respondent, 2195 DD3 FindLaw (Supreme Court of Pennsylvania January 18, 2018).
  28. ^ Mitchell, Max (January 18, 2018). "Ex-Judge Disbarred for Stealing Cocaine Out of Evidence". The Legal Intelligencer. Retrieved January 25, 2018.

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