Judge pleads no contest
By DAVID WEISS
INDECENT ASSAULT CASE
WILKES-BARRE - Slow with his words, a tearful Mark Pazuhanich carefully explained how his behavior at a teen pop concert tore apart his "great relationship" with his daughter.
He wants that relationship back, he said, and hopes the no-contest plea he made Monday to fondling the young girl while he was in a drunken daze at the concert can start the healing.
"I can't change that," Pazuhanich, a Monroe County judge, said. "But one thing that I could do ... is at least save my daughter from testifying in this courtroom."
The move also costs the 47-year-old from East Stroudsburg his judgeship. He vowed to resign from his position after Monday's hearing.
Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph Augello said that decision played a role in sentencing Pazuhanich to 10 years probation, instead of prison time for his actions.
Wilkes-Barre police said a drunken Pazuhanich fondled his daughter at a Hilary Duff concert Nov. 29 at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre.
He was scheduled for trial Monday, but instead pleaded no contest to indecent assault, public drunkenness, endangering the welfare of a child and corruption of a minor charges.
A no-contest plea means a defendant will not challenge the prosecution's evidence. It is treated as a guilty plea.
Pazuhanich will also undergo a Megan's Law evaluation by the state, Assistant District Attorney Ingrid Cronin said. If the state determines Pazuhanich is a sexually violent predator, he could face additional ramifications, District Attorney David Lupas said.
Augello ordered Pazuhanich to register his address with state police for the next 10 years, but a predator finding by the state could force Pazuhanich to register his address for the rest of his life, Lupas said.
Under the state's sentencing guidelines, the standard sentence range on the charges called for Pazuhanich to be sentenced to a minimum of probation to a few months in prison.
Augello also ordered Pazuhanich to have no contact with his daughter, unless a court allows it, pay a $300 fine and court costs, and refrain from drugs and alcohol - the exact vice Pazuhanich said led to his downfall.
Pazuhanich said pressure amassed during his judicial campaign, leading to him drinking alcohol.
Pazuhanich, 47, was elected in November to fill a 10-year Monroe County family court judgeship after touting his education, courtroom practice and "experience as a single parent," according to the Pocono Record newspaper. The seat was created because of an overload of family court cases.
He never heard a case. His duties at first were limited to administrative work and he was placed on administrative leave in February.
The night of the concert, Pazuhanich mixed alcohol with a muscle relaxer before committing the "abhorrent" act, he said.
He realizes his acts caused great pain for his daughter, and that "is going to be something I have to contend with for the rest of my life," he said.
The former district attorney said he needs to make sobriety a focal point of his life. And, hopefully, he will be able to rebuild a relationship with his daughter, he said.
"She knows I love her and I know she loves me," Pazuhanich later said. "I think the adage is one day at a time, and that's how I intend to take it."
Lupas reminded the media that the case is not solely about Pazuhanich. It is very much about a 10-year-old girl being sexually assaulted, he said.
The victim is the reason why he and his investigators put a tireless effort into probing and prosecuting this case, he said.
"I don't look at a defendant's occupation," Lupas said. "I look at their actions."
David Weiss, a Times Leader staff writer, can be reached at 831-7397.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
TIMES LEADER STAFF PHOTO/MADALYN RUGGIERO
Mark Pazuhanich leaves the Luzerne County Courthouse after pleading no contest to sexual assault charges Monday.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Times Leader does not usually identify the victims of a sexual assault.
However, during Mark Pazuhanich's appearance in court Monday, he explained his reasoning for entering a plea by identifying his daughter as his victim.
The Times Leader decided it was necessary to disclose Pazuhanich's relationship with the victim to properly tell the story.
Click to view image: '009a29db95e4-mark_pazuhanich176x142.jpg'
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