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Drug evidence seizure lacked search warrant, lawyer for ex-Washington County judge says

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File photo by Bobby Kerlik
Former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky leaves the Washington County Courthouse Wednesday, May 21, 2014 after a hearing to suppress evidence in his case.

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By Bobby Kerlik
Wednesday, May 21, 2014, 11:39 a.m.

Former Judge Paul Pozonsky smiled and shook his attorney's hand on Wednesday as he exited the Washington County Courthouse, where he presided for 14 years, though he doesn't yet know whether corruption charges against him will be dropped.

Pozonsky appeared relaxed, conversing with police officers — including one who investigated him — and sheriff's deputies as he left. It was his first public appearance since he waived his right to a preliminary hearing in September. He declined to comment.

Pozonsky, 58, who now lives in Alaska, faces 15 charges stemming from allegations that he stole cocaine from evidence envelopes and replaced at least one with baking soda. Pozonsky was responsible for drug-treatment court, among other duties.

His attorney, Robert Del Greco, argued that the evidence against his client should be thrown out because state police and prosecutors failed to obtain a search warrant before seizing items from the courthouse chambers in May 2012.

Police relied on a court order from President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca that directed troopers to seize and audit evidence that Pozonsky kept in his chambers.

Bedford County Judge Daniel Howsare, who is presiding, did not rule on the request to toss the evidence against Pozonsky.

“The Pennsylvania Constitution requires a search warrant,” Del Greco said. “Essentially, they did an end-around.”

If Howsare agrees and throws out the evidence, it likely would cripple the case.

“The courts clearly have a right to issue an administrative order in this type of situation,” said Deputy Attorney General Michael Ahwesh, who is prosecuting.

Ahwesh spent part of the hearing questioning witnesses and pointed out that police did not search Pozonsky's inner office.

Questions about Pozonsky's handling of drug evidence arose in late summer or fall of 2011. Former District Attorney Steve Toprani turned over the investigation to the Attorney General's Office, and prosecutors charged Pozonsky last May.

District Attorney Gene Vittone testified that he relied on state law, which he believes gives the president judge authority to audit evidence. Vittone said he was worried that drug evidence that Pozonsky had was disappearing.

“The bottom line is that I had evidence in (Pozonsky's) custody that I had to preserve for other cases,” Vittone testified.

The allegations involve drug cases against nine defendants in which Pozonsky sought or ordered police and prosecutors to give him evidence, which ranged from less than a gram of cocaine to more than 100 grams. He wrote a court order in May 2012 saying he was destroying that evidence. Vittone's office objected two days later.

Pozonsky's hearing will continue on June 6. Del Greco wants O'Dell Seneca to testify.

Bobby Kerlik is a Trib Total Media staff writer.

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