It will qualify as the least surprising holding of the year: in Office of Disciplinary Counsel v. Pozonsky, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania ruled 7-0 that a former Court of Common Pleas judge who routinely stole drugs from an evidence room in the courthouse must be disbarred from the practice of law.
Paul Pozonsky was an MDJ and Judge of the Court of Common Pleas in Washington County (home of the Pennsylvania Trolley Museum) for 27 years. During his time as a CCP judge, he presided over a number of drug trials and implemented the Treatment Court of Washington County. As judge of the Treatment Court program, Pozonsky set up a centralized “evidence locker” where confiscated drugs were to be locked up. Over the course of at least two years, Pozonsky would spirit away cocaine out of the courthouse to use at home. He was discovered when he issued a suspicious order calling for the destruction of the drugs kept in the evidence locker.
Pozonsky resigned as a judge, spent a month in prison, moved to Alaska, and rehabilitated from his drug problem. In the underlying proceeding, he was disbarred, and he appealed, arguing that his rehabilitation, his remorse, and the testimonials of past clients and attorneys should weigh against his complete disbarment.
Todd: The Integrity of the System Justifies Disbarment
Justice Todd, writing for 5 members of the unanimous Court, dismissed Pozonsky’s defenses, arguing that the weight of his hypocrisy had left a stain on the courts and on the legal profession. The Court also ruled that Pozonsky had not established sufficient evidence for a Braun defense, which allows lenience in the disciplinary process when an attorney has established a “causal connection between his addiction and his actions.” Pozonsky put on only lay evidence of the connection between his drug problem and his criminal activity, and no expert was called. Accordingly, the Court was not willing to consider this a mitigating factor. Outraged at the violation of the public trust, the Court unanimously ruled for total disbarment.
Concurrence by Baer: Braun defense lacked evidence, but was substantial
Justice Baer, joined by Justice Donohue, agrees with the outcome, but finds the case “much more challenging to resolve.” Baer agrees that Pozonsky did not put on sufficient evidence to sustain the Braun defense, but felt there was circumstantial evidence to support the defense. Had Pozonsky put on an expert, Baer likely would have ruled differently.
Conclusion: No Surprise Here
This case highlights the worst in human nature: a judge, casting judgment on others in the daylight for the very crimes he commits in the night. The case will be held up for many as an example of what privilege and money can get you. A respected judge commits horrendous crimes, siphoning off the drugs of the defendants who come before him for his own use, and he spends a month in jail for it.
SCOPA does its best to restore trust in the profession, issuing the ultimate penalty. One can only hope that Mr. Pozonsky has truly found sobriety and will be able to turn his own life around.Read More