A judge’s chambers belong to taxpayers
On May 9, 2012, Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ordered a search of the chambers of Judge Paul Pozonsky. The object of the search was evidence – cocaine – that Pozonsky ordered police to bring into his courtroom during several pretrial motions. He allegedly kept the drugs in a vault in his office and replaced them with other substances, including baking soda.
District Attorney Gene Vittone repeatedly asked for the evidence to be returned so it could be properly stored or destroyed, but to no avail. Pozonsky told Vittone he personally destroyed the drugs, but the search of his chambers turned up a box of evidence.
O’Dell Seneca promptly removed Pozonsky from hearing cases, and soon after Pozonsky announced his retirement and moved to Alaska.
Pozonsky now faces trial, although it’s unknown when that might begin because the case is now going through pre-trial motions. Pozonsky’s attorneys are seeking to suppress any evidence found in the search, claiming that O’Dell Seneca’s order was not a search warrant, and that the search of the chambers was “illegal, invalid and unconstitutional.”
We do not pretend to be lawyers or to possess a judge’s comprehension of the law, but we do believe we have a good understanding of common sense and the ethical practices of the workplace. And we do trust that Visiting Senior Judge Daniel Lee Howsare, who is hearing the case, will rule against the motion.
Had the search for evidence been conducted in Pozonsky’s home or in an office he rented and paid for with his own money, a warrant certainly would have been necessary. But the search was of the judge’s chambers, which along with the courthouse where they are situated are the property of Washington County taxpayers, not Pozonsky.
Pozonsky was an employee of the Washington County court, and O’Dell Seneca was his supervisor. The rules of the workplace are clear: Unless you are self-employed, the space and equipment supplied to you by your employer belong to him or her, not to you; and the work for which your employer compensates you is not your property but rather that of your employer. Further, the “personal” phone calls and emails you make, send and receive on your employer’s equipment and time are not personal at all; your employer has the legal right to rummage through them.
We cannot imagine any exceptions to these rules would be made for judges.
No people, not even judges, are above the law or should be treated as if they were.