HARRISBURG – The state Supreme Court has unanimously agreed to a request from the Office of Disciplinary Counsel to disbar former Washington County Common Pleas Judge Paul Michael Pozonsky.
The opinion was issued Jan. 18. As a judge, Pozonsky presided over criminal trials and juvenile delinquency hearings and also directed the rehabilitative disposition of drug offenders in that county’s drug court, which he founded.
According to the court's opinion, Pozonsky used his position on the bench to order "police officers and court personnel to bring cocaine, which was evidence in the cases over which he was presiding, to an evidence locker in his courtroom."
The opinion states he stole drugs from the locker and used them for his own recreational purposes as he continued to sit on the bench, presiding over cases and imposing sentences for crimes similar to those he was committing himself. The opinion states this occurred in late 2010 to January 2012.
Once the drug use was discovered, Pozonsky stepped down in June 2012 and was sentenced in July 2015.
Ultimately, the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania issued a unanimous report outlining its findings and determined that Pozonsky should be disbarred.
In an opinion written by Debra McCloskey Todd, the Supreme Court ordered Pozonsky’s disbarment “to both protect the public and to preserve the integrity of the legal profession.”
Pozonsky argued that none of the cases before him were impacted by his actions. However, the court was not swayed by this argument.
“While Pozonsky deserves much credit for establishing the drug court program in Washington County, as the jurist in charge of that program, he was uniquely situated to appreciate the connection between drug use and criminal behavior and, thus, he, more than most, should have recognized the harm his conduct would cause,” Todd wrote.
However, rather than seek treatment, as he would order participants in the program, Todd noted that Pozonsky instead stole drug evidence and abused it.
“In making this choice, he made a mockery of the very principles on which the program was founded, and severely undermined its efficacy and legitimacy in the eyes of the public, thereby undermining the objectives that he sought to accomplish with its founding,” she wrote.
Further, the court wasn’t moved by Pozonsky’s claim that the hearing committee erred by disregarding evidence he presented claiming to establish a causal connection between his addition and his crimes.
However, no evidence, such as expert testimony, was presented to show Pozonsky had an addition or psychiatric disorder that spurred his actions.
Saylor, Dougherty, Wecht and Mundy joined the majority opinion.
Justice Max Baer filed a concurring opinion, which Justice Christine Donohue joined.
While noting that Pozonsky’s actions were severe, Baer noted that the case is challenging to resolve.
“My difficulty lies in respondent’s decision not to present mitigation evidence in the form of a mental health expert to establish the causal connection between what I perceive to be his drug addiction and his misconduct,” Baer wrote.
As a result, Baer noted that nobody, including the majority, considered Pozonsky’s "cocaine addiction as a mitigating factor."
Baer also wrote that it is important to reject any notion that there is a per se rule requiring disbarment when a judicial officer is convicted of a crime.
Further, Baer noted that it is the result of his own actions that Pozonsky has lost everything he had. He noted that there also wasn’t substantial evidence that would prevent the court from ruling for disbarment.
“Personally, I believe that respondent’s ultimate triumph over his addiction and his contributions to the Drug Court and to the various community organizations he served are worthy of something,” he concluded. “However, that value does not tip the scale away from imposition of disbarment, absent appropriate (Office of Disciplinary Counsel v.) Braun evidence.”