State investigation into the hiring of Pozonsky continues; residency may have been an issue

ldemer@adn.comJanuary 31, 2013 

The day before former Pennsylvania judge Paul Pozonsky resigned his state position as an Alaska workers' compensation hearing officer, managers in the state Department of Labor were checking on his residency, state documents show.

The job was posted on Workplace Alaska, the state's online recruitment site, on July 18 as open to "Alaska Residents Only," according to the records, released after a public records request by the Daily News.

Pozonsky, who left his Pennsylvania job under troubled circumstances, stepped down from his new job as an Alaska hearing officer on Dec. 6 in the midst of questions about his hiring raised by a Daily News columnist and a reporter, as well as Pennsylvania reporters.

Alaska labor Commissioner Dianne Blumer has acknowledged that his background wasn't properly checked and that the recruitment process for the hearing officer post "appears to have failed."

An investigation into the flawed hiring is ongoing, the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development said this week in emailed responses to questions.

The workers' compensation agency handles disputes over medical benefits, rehabilitation services and lost pay involving injured workers. About 30,000 cases a year are filed in Alaska but only about 300 go to a formal hearing before a three-person panel that includes a hearing officer and industry and labor representatives.

Pozonsky, 57, was under investigation in Pennsylvania when on June 29, 2012, he abruptly announced he would retire the next day. He had served in the Pennsylvania judiciary for more than 28 years, much of that as a busy criminal trial judge in the Common Pleas Court. In May, after he had ordered the destruction of evidence in 17 mostly drug-related cases, he was stripped of his ability to hear any criminal cases, according to court records.

Meanwhile, according to news reports, he was under investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office. The Attorney's General's Office has never confirmed that such an inquiry was undertaken.

In Alaska, the Labor Department won't answer specific questions about Pozonsky's residency, including what address he used on his application, how long he had lived in Alaska, and how he could have qualified for a job limited to Alaska residents.

The department said applicants prove residency by certifying on a state form that Alaska is their "true and permanent home" from which they have no intention of leaving.

Pozonsky registered to vote in Alaska on Oct. 5, three days before he started work here, and listed his party affiliation as "other." He voted in the November general election on a regular ballot, not as an absentee, according to voter records.

Pozonsky's wife, Sara, is a politically connected third-generation Alaskan. Her brother, Chuck Kopp, briefly served as then-Gov. Sarah Palin's public safety commissioner. Kopp is now an aide to state Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River. Sara and Trish Kopp, Chuck's wife, have a seafood business, Wild Alaskan Salmon Co. Sara is making a documentary about Alaska salmon.

The Pozonskys have declined Daily News requests for interviews. Sara Pozonsky, in rejecting a new request this week, said the couple still lives in Alaska. "This is my home," she wrote in an email.

In its written response to questions, the Labor Department pointed to an Alaska statute that generally limits release of public information about specific workers to their name, position, whether the job is civil service or political appointment, the start and end dates of employment, and salary.

The hearing officer job is a classified, or civil service, position. Both Blumer and Gov. Sean Parnell, a Republican, have said they had no hand in the hiring process. Dyson and Kopp have said the same.

After just five people applied initially for the job last summer -- and not all met the minimum qualifications -- the state extended the recruitment period to Aug. 13.

In September, Pozonsky was interviewed, submitted required writing samples, and provided proof that he was a member of the Pennsylvania bar, according to a log of emails involving him released by the state. Most of the actual emails, however, were withheld as "confidential personnel records."

His hiring was approved on Sept. 20 and he started work Oct. 8 at an annual salary of $79,464, more than $12,000 above what was posted on the job notice, according to the records. He made more than double that as Pennsylvania judge.

He quickly immersed himself in the mechanics of his new job and with life in Alaska, the email log shows. He thanked his supervisor -- Janel Wright, who was in charge of his hiring -- for a dinner invitation. He asked for help with his first timesheet. He emailed about upcoming worker's comp cases and an office move.

On Nov. 21, the director of the worker's compensation division, Michael Monagle, sent a Happy Thanksgiving email to his staff in which he said he was reflecting on the loss of friends and family over the past year. "I am ever thankful for the consolation of the Holy Spirit and the closeness and support of our family here within the Division of Workers' Compensation," he wrote.

Pozonsky sent back a "reply all."

"Psalm 107:1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever," Pozonsky wrote. "Thanksgiving, for me, is a day to reflect upon, and to be sincerely thankful for, all that the Lord has provided for in my life. . . . My wife-children-family-friends, both old & new-new job-country!"

"Vaya con Dios!" he said, Spanish for "go with God."

On Dec. 2, the Daily News published an editorial page column by Shannyn Moore in which she questioned the hiring and Sara Pozonsky's political connections.

By the next day, there were a flurry of emails about the hiring between Monagle, Blumer and others. Pennsylvania reporters started asking questions. Monagle issued a directive to Wright and Pozonsky "not to talk to the press." A Daily News reporter asked for documents and someone to answer questions.

On Dec. 5, Gerald Pierce, the Labor Department's human resources manager, wrote to Monagle about "documents that may establish residency." They decided to have a "pre-disciplinary" fact-finding meeting; on Dec. 6 they drafted a letter to Pozonsky about it. Sue Ernisse, the business agent for the Alaska State Employees Association, emailed Blumer, Monagle and Pozonsky regarding the union's position on residency.

The afternoon of Dec. 6, Pozonsky resigned.

Afterward, in a Dec. 10 email, Pozonsky asked the Labor Department "to issue a statement that clearly states that neither Senator Dyson nor Chuck Kopp were involved in any way in my hiring; they never were called, I didn't list them as references, nor did I in any way refer to them during my interview process."

They didn't deserve media speculation about having a role in his hiring, he wrote.

Blumer, in a guest column about the hiring published Dec. 16 in the Daily News, didn't go that far but addressed the process generally.

"Though specific facts of Mr. Pozonsky's case are protected by Alaska law, another fact that deserves clarification is that this was not an "all-hands" hiring," she wrote. "Neither I nor the governor had a hand in this hire. The decision was made by a hiring manager in the Workers' Compensation Division."

In Pennsylvania, Pozonsky's actions are still creating fallout. His decision to seal records in a case involving gas drilling activists was challenged in a Jan. 18 court hearing at which newspaper reporters were trying to get access to a settlement between the family and natural gas developers.


Reach Lisa Demer at ldemer@adn.com or 257-4390.

Anchorage Daily News is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service