Former Drug Court Judge Disbarred for Taking Cocaine from Locker
Paul Michael Pozonsky, a former common pleas drug court judge in Washington County, was disbarred after pleading guilty to taking cocaine from an evidence locker in his courtroom. Pozonsky founded the drug court in 2005. He now lives in Alaska after retiring in 2012 during the state grand jury investigation that resulted in charges.
“It is a sad day for the bench,” County District Attorney Eugene Vittone said after Pozonsky was charged. “It’s a sad day for the bar because we all know him.”
Defense attorney Robert Del Greco said his client’s “meteoric fall” can be attributed to a “One-line answer: I think addiction.” He added that the judge had been “clean and sober for going on four years now” at the time he appeared in court. When Pozonsky was asked directly if he had, in fact, developed a habit of taking cocaine from the court, he responded simply, “Yes, your honor.”
Pozonsky had been taking cocaine for his own use for more than a year prior to his actions being discovered. He originally tried to cover it up by replacing the substance with baking powder. Investigators discovered the powder, however, alongside empty bags. The former judge pleaded guilty to theft, obstruction of administration of law and misapplication of entrusted property in March 2015. He ended up serving one month in jail.
Pozonsky sought a suspension rather than disbarment in the case. To support his position, he cited his work in the community including his volunteer work at a homeless shelter and at a drug rehabilitation center. He said he had stopped his drug use in January 2012 and was never under the influence when handling cases. However, his statements could not be proved.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court stated that the issues on the table were far too serious to consider these statements, citing Pozonsky’s “grievous conduct far outweighs the mitigation evidence he offered.” In an opinion issued by Democratic Justice Debra Todd, the court further indicated Pozonsky “made a mockery” of the drug court’s principles and turned the proceedings into “a sham and a farce.” A concurring opinion was written by Democratic Justices Max Baer and Christine Donohue.
Baer said the case was a tough one, particularly given Pozonsky’s former position in the court, and he noted that the judge had not presented any expert testimony about a causal link between the thefts and his possible drug addiction. The reason may be because Pozonsky was “unable to comprehend the gravity of his disability,” Baer said of Pozonsky’s dependence on the drug.
Ultimately, because such evidence was not presented, the court was not able to consider drug addiction as a mitigating factor.
“I find it ironic that the therapeutic justice that [Pozonsky] dispensed to the numerous drug-addicted criminal defendants that came before him, many of whom he led to the path of recovery, is not so readily available to him in this disciplinary matter,” Baer wrote.
Justice Debra Todd indicated that the record in the case supported disbarment to protect the public and “to preserve the integrity of the legal profession.”