Tuesday , April 16 2024
prison headshot of former Washington County judge Paul Pozonsky
Washington County Judge Paul Polonsky was arrested for stealing cocaine from evidence. This and other stories are stranger than fiction, but they're no April Fools' joke. Photo courtesy the Observer-Reporter.

April Fools? No Fooling, No Fake News in These Recent Reports

Though it’s approaching the start of April, when many people have learned caution about believing incredible-seeming reports, rest assured these recent items are entirely legitimate.

Ex-Judge Who Founded Drug Court Gets to See Another Side of the Law

Paul Pozonsky was a Court of Common Pleas judge in Washington County, Pennsylvania; in 2005 he took the lead in creating, and thereafter supervising, a drug court, an alternative designed to divert drug crime defendants away from regular criminal courts, and which stresses rehabilitation and careful monitoring.

Washington County Judge Paul Polonsky was arrested for stealing cocaine from evidence. This and other stories are stranger than fiction, but they’re no April Fools’ joke. Unfortunately for Pozonsky, after 26 years in the judicial system, he was charged with six criminal offenses when it was discovered that, for over a year, he had been stealing cocaine from the exhibits in trials he was presiding over in the drug court. His method: Issue orders for a state trooper or his law clerk to bring drug evidence to a courthouse exhibits locker. When other staff were gone, he’d then replace part of the drug evidence with baking powder, and smuggle the purloined drugs home and consume them.

After entering a plea deal and serving a minimal one-month jail sentence, the ex-judge asked the agency handling lawyer discipline not to disbar him, but instead just suspend him from practice for a limited time. When that bid was rejected, he went to court, arguing the disciplinary agency misread the law and had not given him sufficient credit for his previous good works – including founding the drug court.

Earlier this year, when the case reached the state’s high court, it unanimously ruled against him, in an opinion liberally using terms like “hypocrisy” and noting an investigator’s comment that the former judge had turned the courthouse into his stashhouse.

Long Island Woman Shows How Not to Visit Court

It may have been with the best of intentions that 26-year-old Arielle Bonnici set off last December 4 for the local court in Northport, Long Island, to respond to a summons she got last May for possessing marijuana. Perhaps she was upset, feeling tense, or maybe both.

As she pulled her 2001 Jeep into the parking lot at the rear of the Northport government building (which the local court shares with police headquarters) while talking on her cellphone, she cut off another vehicle. Then she headed for a section clearly marked as reserved for police-vehicle use, and parked in the spot marked for Northport’s chief of police.

The vehicle Ms. Bonnici had cut off was in fact an unmarked police car, and when two officers approached her car, she rolled down her window – releasing a large cloud of pungent smoke the officers had no difficulty recognizing. Instead of resolving her earlier summons, she received a new court appearance date, for driving illegally while using a cellphone, plus another marijuana possession charge. (That’s right: she had brought herb and a pipe with her to the courthouse, to answer her previous marijuana charge, and could think of nowhere better to indulge than in the police chief’s parking space.)

The Northport police department commemorated the occasion by issuing a press release that quoted the Northport police chief’s observation that “You can’t make this stuff up.”

Christopher Zoukis is the author of Federal Prison Handbook: The Definitive Guide to Surviving the Federal Bureau of Prisons, (Middle Street Publishing, 2017), and College for Convicts: The Case for Higher Education in American Prisons (McFarland & Co., 2014). He regularly contributes to New York Daily NewsPrison Legal News and Criminal Legal News. He can be found online at ChristopherZoukis.comPrisonEducation.com and PrisonerResource.com.

About Christopher Zoukis

Christopher Zoukis, MBA, is the author of the Federal Prison Handbook., Prison Education Guide, and College for Convicts. He is currently a law student at the University of California, Davis School of Law, where he is a Criminal Law Association and Students Against Mass Incarceration board member, and a research editor for the Social Justice Law Review. Learn more about him at Federal Prison Consultants.