- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 21, 2014

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) - Attorneys for a former western Pennsylvania judge charged with stealing cocaine from evidence files contend that an order to search his chambers two years ago was illegal.

Attorneys for former Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky were to be in court Wednesday making that argument before a senior judge brought in from another county to hear the unusual case.

Pozonsky, 58, is awaiting trial on charges he stole the drugs and replaced some of them with baking soda before President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca removed Pozonsky from hearing criminal cases early in 2012 without explanation. Pozonsky was finally charged by the state attorney general last May after retiring abruptly, also without explanation, and moving to Alaska in June 2012.

Pozonsky’s attorneys contend in court documents that the president judge’s order to search Pozonsky’s chambers was “illegal, invalid and unconstitutional,” so the evidence should be barred from trial.

Pozonsky has never publicly responded to the charges. One of his attorneys, Robert DelGreco Jr., said last year that Pozonsky had cooperated 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.”

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.

Judge Seneca removed Pozonsky from hearing criminal cases after he inexplicably ordered the destruction of evidence in 16 criminal drug cases. Pozonsky withdrew that order after county prosecutors objected, saying defendants had appeal rights, but the evidence had already been 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.

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