PITTSBURGH -- A former western Pennsylvania judge waived his right to a preliminary hearing on charges he stole cocaine from police evidence files and tried to hide it by replacing some of the drugs with baking soda.
Former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky was scheduled to have the preliminary hearing Wednesday but instead waived it on Monday because his lawyer had a scheduling conflict.
Defense attorney Robert DelGreco Jr. said Tuesday that Pozonsky will decide before his formal arraignment Oct. 21 whether to ask for a trial or work out a plea agreement.
Pozonsky was charged by the state attorney general earlier this year after retiring abruptly without explanation and moving to Anchorage in June 2012. At that time, DelGreco refused to respond to the accusations in detail, but he said Pozonsky had cooperated with the investigation and "resigned at the outset of the investigation out of respect for the law. For him to continue to sit as a judge would probably be disrespectful to the citizens of Washington County as well as disruptive to the bench."
The 57-year-old Pozonsky retired after 15 years as a Common Pleas judge. He previously served 13 years as a magisterial district judge -- similar to a justice of the peace in many other states.
His retirement came about a month after Washington County President Judge Debbie O'Dell Seneca ordered Pozonsky, who handled most of the county's criminal cases, to preside over only civil court cases. Seneca made the move after Pozonsky ordered the destruction of evidence in 16 criminal drug cases.
Pozonsky withdrew that order after county prosecutors objected, saying defendants had appeal rights, but evidence was already destroyed.
State police investigators, acting on Seneca's orders, examined the evidence in drug cases Pozonsky handled and found "cocaine was either missing or had been tampered with," according to the charges filed in May.
The grand jury that recommended charges found that Pozonsky would often require police to bring drug evidence with them to pretrial hearings -- one officer told the grand jury it was the only time in 14 years he had ever been asked to do that by a judge -- and then insist that the drugs be stored in the judge's chambers instead of being returned to a police evidence locker.
After retiring, Pozonsky moved to Alaska, where he has family and was hired in October by the Alaska Division of Workers' Compensation as a hearing officer making $79,464. The Anchorage Daily News raised questions about the legality of his hiring because the job was supposed to be open only to Alaska residents. After the newspaper ran an editorial questioning the hiring, Pozonsky resigned Dec. 6.
By JOE MANDAK