Visiting judge continues sentencing for Rita Arnold until Oct. 15
By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times
The day of reckoning for a former Chester County magisterial district judge has been postponed until mid-October.
On Tuesday, after meeting with attorneys on both sides, Senior Judge John L. Braxton said he had received information that prompted him to delay the sentencing of Rita A. Arnold until Oct. 15. He did not elaborate. About a dozen Arnold supporters, including former Chester County Judge Thomas A. Pitt Jr., had assembled for the hearing.
Arnold, who presided over cases from Birmingham Township until April 1 when the district-court boundaries changed, pleaded guilty on June 24 to obstruction of justice, which carries a maximum penalty of two years in prison, and tampering with public records, which has a five-year maximum jail term.
Braxton, a Philadelphia jurist, is presiding over the case because Arnold’s attorney, Heidi Fisher Eakin, requested a visiting judge, noting that Arnold had worked with the Chester County bench for more than 15 years. Although Braxton ordered a pre-sentence investigation, neither Eakin nor Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan L. DiGiacomo had received it in advance of Tuesday’s hearing.
Asked about the delay, DiGiacomo referred reporters to Eakin. “It was the judge’s decision,” said Eakin. “I’m not going to comment.”
Arnold’s legal woes date back to February 2012 when the Judicial Conduct Board filed a complaint against her, alleging that she improperly handled a case involving her son, Forrest “Forrie” C. Solomon Jr., who has a lengthy criminal history.
Nearly a year ago, Arnold pleaded with the state Court of Judicial Discipline to let her keep her “dream” job at a sanctions hearing, and it agreed, citing her extreme remorse and dispensing a month’s unpaid suspension.
But on April 23, less than eight months after she returned to her elected post, the 57-year-old jurist resigned after her arrest – which stemmed from the same allegations – by state agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.
According to the criminal complaint, Arnold concealed a summary citation state police issued to her son in January 2010 for 2 ½ months to protect him from a potential county probation violation, even instructing an employee to “hold on to this” because it could adversely affect Solomon, the complaint said.
After repeated questions from state police about the docketing delay, Arnold, without the required knowledge or approval of Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree II, docketed the citation using her computer username and password, and then ordered an employee to transfer the citation to District Justice Mark Bruno’s court, where it was dismissed, the criminal complaint said. Bruno, who has not been charged in the case, was suspended in February for his alleged involvement in the Philadelphia Traffic Court ticket-fixing case.
When confronted about the irregularities in Solomon’s citation, which included the fact that the docket identified Solomon as a black female with an incorrect date of birth, Arnold used various excuses, such as court backlogs and “computer glitches,” the complaint said.
At her sanctions hearing in July, Arnold did not dispute the facts, an acceptance of responsibility that was noted by James P. Kleman Jr., the attorney for the Judicial Conduct Board. Kleman said that although Arnold’s actions began as “a misplaced sense of maternal duty,” they escalated into inexcusable dishonesty. However, her unblemished record and acknowledgement of wrongdoing made a public reprimand and censure an appropriate result, he said.
Arnold, a 17-year jurist who was re-elected in November 2011, returned to her district-court post on Sept. 1 after her suspension, handling cases until she resigned in late April.