Judge Paul Pozonsky, a former Common Pleas Court judge from Washington County in western Pennsylvania, has been charged by the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office with restricted activities by a public official, theft, obstruction of justice and possession of a controlled substance, based upon allegations, which appear both bizarre and shocking to anyone familiar with the normal operations of the criminal justice system. The scandal took root when Judge Pozonsky implemented a rather unusual procedural rule in his courtroom. Every county has its own local procedural rules, and sometimes even individual judges within a county have their own unique rules. Keeping track of so many different procedural rules drives lawyers nuts, but in the Judge Pozonsky case, it was the rule itself, which would appear “nuts” to any outside observer. Judge Pozonsky mandated that in all drugs cases, the police were to bring the drugs directly to him prior to trial or a pretrial hearing. The judge would then store the drugs in his chambers until the conclusion of the case.
You don’t have to be all that familiar with the criminal justice system to realize that Judge Pozonsky’s rule was a major departure from normal procedure. Physical evidence is normally kept is a secured locker at a police station. Usually, only one or two officers in the entire department have access to the locker, as an added layer of security. Not surprisingly, Judge Pozonsky’s unusual practice set off alarm bells. After serving a warrant on Judge Pozonsky’s chambers, law enforcement discovered that some of the drugs were missing. Cocaine evidence in some cases had been replaced by legal white powders.
During the most recent session of Centre County DUI Court, a treatment court for people with addiction issues and three or more DUIs, Judge Bradley P. Lunsford used Pozonsky’s case to illustrate the point that addiction can destroy anyone, even a judge. It was a real eye opener for Judge Lunsford, because he and Pozonsky had had parallel careers, rising from magisterial district judge to the Court of Common Pleas. Judge Lunsford related that he had known Judge Pozonsky for years, and that he had been highly regarded by everyone in the justice system. Thus, it came as a shock when Pozonsky suddenly announced his retirement and then retired the very next day. Judge Pozonsky was far form retirement age, and usually judges announce their retirement months in advance, so that the court system can make the appropriate arrangements. With the filing of charges, we now know the reason for the abrupt retirement and subsequent move to Alaska, where his wife’s family is from.
I think most people realize that drug addiction is not limited to the lower rungs of society. In fact, Robin Williams once quipped that “cocaine is God’s way of telling you that you are making too much money.” What is surprising is that a judge presiding over criminal cases for years could be hiding an addiction. At the time that Judge Pozonsky’s was brazen enough to implement his unique rule, it is safe to say that his addiction had been spiraling out of control for some time. Such a rule was so transparently suspect, that no one in his right mind would try it. And that it the thing with addiction. It robs one of the ability to think logically. It is not just the wretched and diseased streetwalker turning $10 tricks who loses all perspective when in the throws of addiction; it can even happen to a respected member of the establishment.
Matt McClenahen is an attorney in State College, Pennsylvania. He limits his practice to criminal law, and has represented numerous clients with addiction issues throughout his career. http://www.mattmlaw.com/Criminal-Defense-Overview/Drug-Possession.shtml