Ex-jurist will ‘die in prison,’ attorney warns

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She filed motion to modify ‘harsh” sentence imposed on Rita A. Arnold

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, The Times

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Rita A. Arnold was sentenced on Wednesday to 16 to 32 months in prison.

The attorney for an embattled former Chester County magisterial district justice argued that her client “will almost certainly die in prison” if a visiting judge does not reduce her jail term.

As promised, Heidi F. Eakin filed two motions in Chester County Court on Thursday on behalf of Rita A. Arnold, who once served as magisterial district judge for an area that included Birmingham Township: one for reconsideration of the 16- to 32-month state-prison sentenced imposed on Tuesday by Senior Judge John L. Braxton, and one to secure bail for Arnold, pending appeal.

Eakin argued that the sentence “far exceeded the aggravated range of the sentencing guidelines” and “was manifestly excessive and too harsh a punishment” for the two crimes to which Arnold pleaded guilty in June: tampering with public records and obstruction of law. Under sentencing guidelines, the maximum aggravated-range penalty for each crime is six months in prison.

According to court records, Arnold concealed a summary citation state police issued to one of her sons in January 2010 to protect him from a potential probation violation. After repeated questions over a couple of months from police about the docketing delay, Arnold lied about its status, fraudulently docketed the citation, ordered an employee to transfer it to another court, where it was dismissed, and attempted to involve her office manager in the cover-up, records said.

In her sentencing memorandum, Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan L. DiGiacomo said once Arnold convinced the Court of Judicial Discipline to let her keep her “dream” job at a sanctions hearing in July 2012, Arnold revealed her “true colors” by attempting to have her longtime office manager fired for refusing to lie for her during the investigation. Less than a year later, Arnold resigned after state agents from the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office arrested her for the same offenses.

When he imposed the sentence, Braxton said he felt a sentence outside the guidelines was warranted by the protracted manner in which Arnold attempted to cover up her crimes and the fact that she sought revenge against the employee who refused to cooperate with her. The judge said he was not unsympathetic to Arnold’s medical condition, but believed she could get the appropriate treatment in prison.

In her motion to modify the sentence, Eakin said the judge “focused exclusively on the relative severity of the offenses to the exclusion of certain mitigating factors.” Among them, Eakin listed Arnold’s acceptance of responsibility, resignation as a magisterial district judges, remorse, lack of prior criminal record, and her serious health condition.

Eakin said the judge effectively “imposed a life sentence,” since Arnold underwent a double mastectomy last month and was recently diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. In addition, Eakin pointed out that taxpayers would bear the burden of Arnold’s medical expenses during her incarceration, an expense that could be avoided if Arnold were on house arrest.

 

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