Alaska Labor Dept. officials are reviewing questionable hiring of Pennsylvania judge

Lisa Demer

State labor officials are examining what went wrong in the recent hiring of an Alaska workers' compensation hearing officer who left his previous post as a judge in Pennsylvania under troubled circumstances.

Paul Pozonsky, 57, was appointed to the hearing officer position Oct. 8 and resigned Dec. 6 -- days after a Daily News columnist raised questions about the Parnell administration hire.

Gov. Sean Parnell doesn't know Pozonsky or his wife, Sara, who is a third-generation Alaskan, and only learned of the hiring after the fact in Shannyn Moore's Dec. 2 column, Parnell's spokeswoman, Sharon Leighow, said.

The hearing officer job is not a political appointment, but rather a civil service position that is supposed to be filled outside the realm of politics. The workers' compensation agency handles disputes over medical benefits, rehabilitation services and lost pay involving injured workers.

After reading Moore's column, Parnell became concerned that the hiring process was flawed, Leighow wrote in an email this week.

The governor "has asked his Labor commissioner to determine whether reasonable and prudent hiring practices were employed and how the vetting of candidates can be improved," Leighow said.

The internal review within the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is going beyond the hiring issues into whether anyone leaked confidential information, Greg Cashen, assistant labor commissioner, said in an email.

Review conclusions won't be public, however, he said.

"Any outcome would be confidential," he wrote, citing an Alaska statute on personnel records.

Efforts to speak to the Pozonskys have been unsuccessful.

In May, while a judge in Washington County, a rural suburb of Pittsburgh, Pozonsky ordered the destruction of evidence in 17 criminal cases, an order that the local district attorney tried to reverse. The evidence included crack and powder cocaine, heroin, marijuana and at least $2,000 in cash, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The presiding judge in Washington County then stripped him of his ability to hear criminal cases and in June, Pozonsky resigned from the bench. Meanwhile, the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office launched a grand jury investigation of the judge, according to news reports.

Through his wife, Pozonsky has strong connections to Alaska. Sara's brother is Chuck Kopp, an aide to Sen. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, and for two weeks, public safety commissioner under then-Gov. Sarah Palin. Kopp's wife, Trish, also is an aide to Dyson. Sara Pozonsky and Trish Kopp have a seafood business together, Wild Alaskan Salmon Co.

Sara's late father, Chuck Crapuchettes, founded Cook Inlet Academy, a Christian school in Soldotna. Former Lt. Gov. Loren Leman said he was a friend of her father.

But like Parnell, Kopp, Dyson and Leman all said they weren't references for him and did nothing to help Pozonsky get his short-lived job as a hearing officer.

"In fact, I didn't even know about it," Dyson said on a telephone call in which he put Kopp on speakerphone.

He said he learned of the hiring a week or two after the fact.

"I'm told, by Chuck, that when ... Pozonsky applied for the job he took a complete folder to the interview of the charges and the local newspaper articles and so on and so forth. So he declared that stuff at the interview," Dyson said. "As I understood it, they said 'OK, thanks for doing that. We're of the philosophy that you're innocent until proven guilty and keep us posted.' "

Kopp said he didn't know his brother-in-law had applied for the job until the hiring was in process.

"I knew that he retired from his job (as a judge) and I was informed afterwards that he had applied. And I never communicated with Department of Labor or the governor's office, or anybody. That was strictly all his doing," Kopp said.

While the hiring process was under way, Kopp said, he recommended that Pozonsky disclose the still-brewing issues in Pennsylvania.

"I said make sure they are aware of everything," Kopp said.

Kopp resigned from his appointment as public safety commissioner when an undisclosed reprimand over a 2005 sexual harassment accusation came to light from his time as Kenai police chief. The reprimand was removed from his file after two years passed with no new complaints, and Kopp said he considers himself cleared of what he called a "spurious" accusation. He left his city job on good terms, Mayor Pat Porter said.

Leman said he was close to Sara Pozonsky's father and watched Sara grow up. He was friendly with Paul Pozonsky when they saw one another at gatherings, but they are more acquaintances than friends, Leman said.

Asked whether he had put in a good word for Pozonsky, Leman started answering the question midstream. "No. No. No. In fact, I didn't even know that he was serving as an administrative hearing officer" until Moore's column was published in the Daily News.

Pozonsky became a magisterial district judge in 1983 and in 1997 was elected Common Pleas Court judge. He had more than 28 years of public service in Pennsylvania. In August, he took a lump sum payment from his retirement account of more than $200,000 and began receiving monthly annuity payments of almost $8,000, according to the Pennsylvania State Employees' Retirement System.

His "final average salary" as a judge was just over $164,000. As an Alaska hearing officer, his annual salary was $79,464.

In August, he applied for admission to the Alaska Bar Association. On Sunday, he withdrew his application, said Deborah O'Regan, bar association executive director.


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