The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

State News

May 23, 2013

State police: Ex-Pa. judge stole coke from cases

PITTSBURGH — A western Pennsylvania judge who abruptly resigned last year was charged Thursday with stealing cocaine from evidence in cases before him.

The state police say the charges against former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky will be prosecuted by the state attorney general, though the spokesman for that office, Dennis Fisher, says he can’t confirm or deny the investigation.

Pozonsky was arraigned by Washington District Judge Robert Redlinger on 15 counts, including theft and obstructing the administration of law.

Pozonsky did not comment after his arraignment, the (Washington) Observer-Reporter said. His defense attorney, Robert Del Greco Jr. did not immediately return a request for comment, and a home telephone for Pozonsky couldn’t immediately be found. Last year he moved to Alaska and was briefly hired there as a worker’s compensation hearing officer before he quit amid questions about his residency status.

Thursday’s charges, based on a state grand jury investigation conducted by the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, provided a long-delayed explanation for Pozonsky’s abrupt and mysterious departure from the bench last year.

The 57-year-old Pozonsky was a Washington County Common Pleas judge when he announced June 29 that he would retire the next day after 15 years on the bench. He had served as a magisterial district judge – similar to a justice of the peace in many other states – for 13 years before that.

Pozonsky left the bench a month after Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca abruptly reassigned Pozonsky, who handled most of the county’s criminal cases, to preside only over civil court cases. Seneca made the move after Pozonsky ordered the destruction of evidence in 16 criminal drug cases.

Pozonsky withdrew that order after county prosecutors pointed out that defendants had due process rights regarding their property, but evidence was already destroyed.

State police investigators, acting on Seneca’s orders, examined the evidence in drug cases Pozonsky handled and found “cocaine was either missing or had been tampered with,” according to a news release issued Thursday.

The state police investigation determined that in May 2011, Pozonsky began insisting that police bring drug evidence to his courtroom where the judge or his staff retained the drugs.

It was not immediately clear if investigators believe that Pozonsky used the drugs, or did something else with them.

Pozonsky announced he was taking a two-week vacation to Alaska, where he has family, after his resignation.

Then, in October, Pozonsky was hired by the Alaska Division of Workers’ Compensation as a hearing officer making $79,464, though The Anchorage Daily news raised questions about the legality of his hiring because the job was supposed to be open to “Alaska Residents Only.”

After the newspaper ran an editorial questioning the hiring, Pozonsky resigned Dec. 6.

Alaska’s Labor Department in response to questions said an Alaska law limits release of public information about specific workers, but confirmed it was doing an investigation into Pozonsky’s hiring. The status of that investigation could not immediately be determined Thursday as Pozonsky was charged before Alaska offices opened for business.

Online court records list an Anchorage address for Pozonsky, who was allowed to remain free until a preliminary hearing June 13.

 

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