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Seneca: Washington County needs 2 judge vacancies filled

| Friday, Jan. 4, 2013, 1:32 a.m.

President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca said there are so many active cases that the Washington County Court of Common Pleas could use seven judges.

Trouble is, there are only four judges to share the load. Court officials are dealing with two vacancies and hoping appointments are made soon.

“We are definitely overburdened,” O'Dell Seneca said.

The bench has lacked sufficient judge power since 2010, following the death of Judge Mark Mascara. About four months after Mascara's death, then-Gov. Ed Rendell appointed attorney Phillip Melograne to the vacant post.

Melograne ran for a full, 10-year term the following year, but was defeated in the primary election by attorney Gary Gilman. Gilman won the post in the fall 2011.

The courthouse was recently rocked by the abrupt retirement of Judge Paul Pozonsky.

Pozonsky, 56, who handled the majority of the county's criminal cases, had served for 15 years and had five years remaining on a 10-year term. Pozonsky resigned June 29 after the district attorney's office questioned his order to destroy evidence in 17 criminal cases.

He is under investigation by the state Attorney General's Office.

Pozonsky most recently had a brief stint in Alaska as a Worker's Compensation Board hearing officer. The Anchorage Daily News reported last month that he resigned after reporters began asking his superiors about the Pennsylvania investigation.

Judge Janet Moschetta Bell announced in November her intention to retire after six years on the bench. O'Dell Seneca said Friday is Moschetta Bell's last day.

The president judge said she is hopeful Gov. Tom Corbett will see the need to quickly fill the vacancies because of a growing workload.

“We've seen growth in Washington County in population and growth in the Marcellus shale industry,” O'Dell Seneca said. “There has been an increase in all of our cases.”

State Sen. Timothy Solobay, D-Canonsburg, is working with O'Dell Seneca, the remaining judges, the Washington County Bar Association and the governor's office on the appointments.

“The governor knows its a timely issue, ” Solobay said. “We're looking for judges who will work side-by-side with the current bench.”

O'Dell Seneca and Solobay would like the positions filled by people not interested in seeking elected terms on the court.

Solobay said the following attorneys, so far, have applied for the positions: Robert Clark, Dave DiCarlo, Mike Lucas, Peter Marcoline, Stephen McCloskey and Ronald Reitz.

Lucas, of Charleroi, is the county's first assistant district attorney. DiCarlo unsuccessfully ran for district attorney in 2011.

Solobay said once the governor makes the nominations, it will be up to the Senate to confirm the appointments. The Senate returns from its break Jan. 22.

“We want everybody on board with these appointments,” said Solobay, adding he would like to keep “politics” out of the process.

“We want the best people for the positions,” he said.

In the meantime, O'Dell Seneca will rely on senior judges to help with the workload. She has called upon her colleagues and friends in Allegheny County to help in the interim, including Judge Michael A. Della Vecchia, who helped handle cases last month.

“We're just going to have to roll up our sleeves and prioritize our cases,” she said.

Stacy Wolford is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724)-684-2640 or at swolford@tribweb.com.

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