Arnold decision is an embarassment to all of us

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District justice admits to lying, covering up complaint, gets a slap on the wrist

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times
For some time, it’s been increasingly apparent that there are two Americas. One for most of us, where the law is, at times, harsh and unforgiving — one reason why this country has a larger number of imprisoned people than any other western democracy.

There is an entirely other America — and Chester County — if you have “juice.” In that America, if you have the right price, the right friends and the right high-powered attorney, the trip is more like a limo ride through the system.

Money, power, and political connections are increasingly a “get out of jail free” card for those who break the law and then are not answerable for their actions. We can list any number of recent events — just a quick look at the client list from one or two of the county’s “fixer” law firms offers a few highlights, not to mention the price of getting in the way when said fix is in — that illustrate that the rich and powerful get a different trip through the justice system than we average folks.

As horrifying as that is with the common sort of spoiled rich kid who gets drunk and kills someone in their yuppie-mobile, it is far, far worse when someone who has been given the public trust to sit in judgment of others admits to lying and essentially obstructing justice and gets little more than a slap on the wrist.

This is the case with District Justice Rita Arnold — a long-time district justice whose area includes Birmingham Township.

By her own admission, Arnold admits to lying to investigators and asking a district court employee to lie on her behalf, after she sat on an assault charge against her son, Forrest “Forrie” C. Solomon Jr., who apparently was charged after an altercation with her other son, Jonathan Arnold. Solomon, who has a fairly lengthy history of criminal charges, was on probation at the time, but his probation officer never learned of the new charges because Rita Arnold covered them up — charges that could have sent him back to jail.

And make no mistake, Arnold knew what she was doing: Her office manager testified that she was instructed by Arnold to hold on to the complaint so that Solomon’s probation status would not change. She then, according to testimony, lied to State Police troopers who inquired about the status of the case. Then she moved the case to a neighboring district justice, Mark Bruno, without anything like a blessing from President Judge James P. MacElree III— who is responsible for assigning cases in such situations.

Arnold admits to all of this; none of the facts of the case are in dispute.

So, if this was any of us normal folks, the immediate question would be: “How long are you going to jail?”

But not for Arnold. She’s not even losing her job — just a month’s suspension without pay. She even gets to keep her medical benefits. This comes after months of what was effectively a paid vacation. That was the judgment of the state’s Judicial Conduct Board — one from here that seems completely without merit.

Let’s be clear: She lied to investigators. She instructed employees to lie on her behalf and she covered up a criminal complaint that would have likely sent her son back to prison.

These are not just a matter of professional misconduct, but crimes, starting with obstruction of justice.

But instead, Arnold will be back on the bench sooner rather than later, sitting in judgment of others when it is evident that she lacks anything like the judgment to be a responsible citizen, let alone a judge.

So we have to ask: Where is the grand jury investigation? Where is the public outcry from those who claim to support the rule of law? Where is the common decency that demands that Arnold resign from the bench immediately?

Maybe those things only apply in the America of us average folks. If you’ve got the money, the power, the political connections, you get to live in an entirely different America, where the rules don’t apply.

I wish there was some pithy way to wrap this up in a nice bow, but the truth of it is this: It stinks to high heavens. It makes me embarrassed to live in Chester County.

For the life of me, I don’t know how I’m going to answer the inevitable question from my kids when they read these stories.

“Dad, if judges can break the law and not be punished, why can’t we?”

Damned if I have a good answer to that. Maybe you do.

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