Court: Washington County judge not required to testify in drug case

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A visiting judge from Bedford County has ruled that Washington County’s president judge does not have to testify regarding a court-ordered search of another judge’s office.

Lawyers for former judge Paul Pozonsky are arguing that drug evidence gathered during a search of a file cabinet in Mr. Pozonsky’s chambers in 2012 was unconstitutional because it circumvented a required search warrant.

They subpoenaed President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca and wanted her to testify at a June 6 suppression hearing regarding the administrative order she signed May 9, 2012, ordering a search of Mr. Pozonsky’s office. The hearing was continued when Judge O’Dell Seneca could not attend.

The search yielded evidence that Mr. Pozonsky had stolen drugs from criminal cases, and resulted in his indictment for eight counts of theft, four counts of possession, and one count each of misapplication of entrusted property, obstruction, and felony conflict of interest.

Mr. Pozonsky, 58, abruptly announced his retirement in June 2012, halfway through his second 10-year term in office and a month after he was stripped of handling criminal cases by the president judge.

Visiting Senior Judge Daniel Howsare quashed the subpoena Thursday and said Judge O’Dell Seneca isn’t required to testify.

“We believe the order issued by President Judge O’Dell Seneca and the circumstances surrounding its issuance are administrative in nature and fall within the scope of the deliberative process privilege,” Judge Howsare wrote in his order.

The judge said Mr. Pozonsky did not present a “strong necessity” or “extraordinary circumstances” requiring Judge O’Dell Seneca's testimony, and he said the circumstances regarding the administrative order have already been sufficiently explained by other testimony, including that of Washington County District Attorney Eugene Vittone.

At the request of Judge O'Dell Seneca's lawyer, Judge Howsare also issued a protective order precluding her testimony in the matter.

Robert Del Greco Jr., who is representing Mr. Pozonsky, said he believes his argument to have the evidence thrown out still has merit.

“Judge Howsare has ruled. We accept his ruling and we will move on with regard to the substance of matters, which is the suppression hearing,” he said. “I would have liked to have the opportunity to augment the record with some additional testimony but I thought we had a very informative suppression hearing.”

Judge O’Dell Seneca declined comment, citing judicial conduct rules, which prohibit judges from commenting about ongoing cases. Tom Darr, deputy state court administrator with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, said the office does not comment on open court cases.

Judge Howsare gave lawyers until the end of June to present further evidence regarding the suppression hearing. If there is no further evidence, he will schedule a time to continue the hearing.

Janice Crompton: jcrompton@post-gazette.com.


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