O’Dell Seneca subpoena should be quashed

June 2, 2014

I must respectfully disagree with this newspaper and many of my fellow legal brethren that the recent action of Washington County President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca was obstructionist. In my view, her decision to file a motion to quash the subpoena, attempting to compel her testimony at the suppression hearing of former Judge Paul Pozonsky, was appropriate.

The Observer-Reporter certainly has a vested interest in uncovering as much background as possible on the events leading up to the seizure of evidence from former Judge Pozonsky’s courtroom. That is its job. The rest of us would love disclosure of additional facts to fill in an ongoing story that is more interesting than a John Grisham or Scott Turow novel. Nonetheless, compelling President Judge O’Dell Seneca to testify would be a mistake.

American jurisprudence has developed well-accepted guidelines for judicial review that do not include the ability to subpoena judges to look behind their orders. To permit an exception in this case, simply because the order is administrative rather than a matter of substantive law, would open up a dangerous can of worms that goes to the heart of our separation of powers.

No one believes that the president judge did not have the authority to enter her order, which is clear and concise on its face. The important issue is not why she did it, but whether Pozonsky’s rights were violated by not obtaining a search warrant. This issue can be resolved without her testimony. If the subpoena is quashed and Pozonsky files an appeal, so be it. It is important to get this one right before creating a dangerous precedent.

Before we label the president judge “imperial” and “obstructionist,” it is important to remember ethical considerations prohibit her from leaping to her defense as other elected officials are permitted to do. It is safe to assume she conferred with other judges that faced the same or similar circumstances. Moreover, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts must serve as her legal representative in considering, drafting and presenting the motion to quash the subpoena. The AOPC is obviously in agreement with the judge and reports directly to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court which, no doubt, is keeping a close eye on these proceedings.

Gary Stout



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