Shannyn Moore: How does a Pennsylvania ex-judge under investigation land an Alaska job?

commentDecember 1, 2012 

I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. When someone does something that looks bad, I usually assume incompetence rather than conspiracy. That said, follow along with me and see what you make of this.

The job of Hearing Officer for the state of Alaska is a pretty important job. In other states, hearing officers are called judges and wear black robes. Talis Colberg, a former Alaska attorney general, went on to serve as a Hearing Officer for the Department of Labor after leaving the AG job. Hearing Officers decide the fates of Alaskans every day. Beyond the ability to impart a little justice and improve some lives, the position offers good pay and benefits.

So why did Gov. Sean Parnell recently go all the way to Pennsylvania to fill a vacant Hearing Officer position in the labor department (you know, the department that promotes Alaska hire)?

And what Pennsylvanian did we bend over backwards to hire?

The answer to the second question is: an ex-judge named Paul Pozonsky, who is apparently under investigation right now by a Pennsylvania grand jury for destroying evidence in 17 criminal cases, which led to his being stripped of the ability to hear cases, and who was the subject of a year-long "Protection From Abuse" order for domestic violence.

You're probably thinking, there must be a story behind this:

A few months ago, the hearing officer position with the Workers' Compensation Board opened. Applications arrived, the application process closed, resumes were reviewed, candidates were interviewed and a hiring decision appeared imminent. But then something happened. The application process was re-opened, a new application arrived, and a late applicant, Paul Pozonsky, got hired.

Surely there's a good reason why none of the 4,000 Alaskans licensed to practice law in Alaska could fill the job. (I'm told that Mr. Pozonsky filed for a "reciprocal" Alaska license in August but it hasn't been granted yet.)

A little research shows that Mr. Pozonsky was Judge Pozonsky in Washington Co., Penn., for 14 years. He handled 60 to 70 percent of the criminal caseload for the entire county. That is he did until May of this year when the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office began investigating his conduct. He was stripped of his ability to preside over criminal cases. It appears Judge Pozonsky had somewhat bizarrely ordered the destruction of evidence in 17 criminal cases. (It's hard to appeal your case when the evidence disappears.)

Pennsylvania authorities apparently searched Judge Pozonsky's office and removed several boxes. According to press reports, a grand jury investigation of the judge has been ongoing since last fall.

The local paper reported in June that Judge Pozonsky went on vacation to Alaska and resigned when he returned home.

Mr. Pozonsky was controversial even before he was stripped of his duties. In one case, he played a country music song in the courtroom before sentencing a woman to death.

Mr. Pozonsky's ex-wife was granted a one-year protection order in 1999. (I hope the former judge knows he's signed on to the "Choose Respect" administration.)

If we're hiring an out-of-stater for such a job, doesn't it seem like he should be better qualified than anyone already here? And while you're thinking about that question, why exactly was the hiring process closed, re-opened and then the job filled with a troubled judge? Was this a case of "not what you know, but who you know?"

Maybe.

It turns out Mr. Pozonsky does have Alaska connections. He's married to Sarah Crapuchettes, the sister of Chuck Kopp of Soldotna. You will remember Kopp as Gov. Sarah Palin's replacement for Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan (a change prompted by Monegan's unwillingness to carry out Palin's wish that he fire her trooper ex-brother-in-law). Kopp wasn't vetted by Palin's staff, so when his history of sexual harassment allegations became public, he bowed out of the job (taking $10,000 for two weeks' work with him).

Much of what I've learned about Mr. Pozonsky comes from a fairly quick Google search (try it, you'll be stupefied).

Is there more to the story? Maybe the governor will tell us.

But don't hold your breath waiting for that.

Shannyn Moore can be heard weekdays from 6 to 9 p.m. on KOAN 1020 AM and 95.5 FM radio. Her weekly TV show can be seen Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. statewide on ABC affiliates KYUR Channel 13 Anchorage, KATN Fairbanks and KJUD Juneau.

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