PITTSBURGH (AP) — A former judge convicted of stealing cocaine from evidence in the county drug court he founded has asked the state's Supreme Court to consider allowing his law license to remain suspended instead of permanently disbarring him.
Former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky's license has been temporarily suspended since August 2015, a month after he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 30 days to nearly two years in jail. He served the minimum sentence on work release before he was paroled.
Pozonsky's attorney and former law clerk, James Andrew Salemme, argued before the court Tuesday that Pozonsky wants to rebuild his life and career. He's hoping the court will impose a retroactive suspension of three to five years.
Pozonsky is "deserving of a second chance, a chance at redemption," Salemme told the court.
But Samuel Napoli, an attorney for the state's Office of Disciplinary Counsel, said Pozonsky deserves the harshest sanction because his actions eroded the public trust.
The justices seemed split on whether disbarring Pozonsky would meet the state's goals of ensuring public confidence in the courts and protecting the public from unfit attorneys or on whether such a move would go too far. Now 61, Pozonsky has already lost his $98,000 annual pension and medical benefits in retirement.
Napoli noted that other Pennsylvania judges were disbarred over criminal convictions.
Justice Max Baer questioned whether the Office of Disciplinary Counsel wanted to punish Pozonsky because the "optics" of the case are "terrible."
"Should we sacrifice this man on the altar of public opinion?" Baer asked.
But Justice Debra Todd noted, "The optics are bad because the facts are bad."
Pozonsky resigned abruptly without explanation in June 2012, a month after Washington County's president judge removed him from hearing criminal cases. He moved to Kenai, Alaska, where his now-ex-wife had family. He was charged a year later after a state grand jury reviewed the case. Pozonsky pleaded guilty to obstructing justice, theft and misapplying government property after a felony conflict of interest charge and other counts were dropped.
"It is ironic that I was the founder of the Washington County Drug Treatment Court," Pozonsky acknowledged outside the courtroom. Pozonsky told reporters he misses being in court.
"Candidly, I'd like to get back at it," he said.
For now, he's working in construction doing home remodeling. Pozonsky moved back to Washington County shortly before his conviction and has been trying to establish a residential drug treatment center and spend time with his elderly parents.
"I'm spending my time giving back to them and my community as best I can," Pozonsky said.