Court: Judge subverted justice

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Rita Arnold found to have acted improperly to protect son, then herself

By Kathleen Brady Shea, Managing Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com

District Justice Rita Arnold

The Court of Judicial Discipline has found “clear and convincing evidence” that Magisterial District Judge Rita A. Arnold violated the rules of professional conduct.

In a press release issued Friday, the court referenced Arnold’s improper handling of a Jan. 19, 2010, citation filed in her court by state police against her son, Forrest C. Solomon Jr., 34, and the subsequent investigation of that matter.

Arnold, who is represented by Heidi F. Eakin, has 10 days to file written objections to the court’s opinion; if she does not, the court will conduct a July 24 hearing on sanctions in Harrisburg, the press release said. The sanctions could range from a reprimand to removal from office.

Last month, in an apparent effort to avoid trial, Arnold agreed with the facts presented by the state Judicial Conduct Board – the same facts that form the basis of the Court of Judicial Discipline’s 16-page opinion.

In February, the Judicial Conduct Board filed a formal complaint against Arnold, a 17-year jurist whose district serves the townships of Birmingham, East Caln, East and West Bradford, and the Borough of Downingtown. At the time, Chester County President Judge James P. MacElree ordered Arnold to leave her office avoid any contact with employees; however, only the Court of Judicial Discipline can suspend her pay, which it has not done. A senior magisterial district judge has performed her duties and been paid a daily rate.

The Judicial Conduct Board’s complaint focused on a case involving an altercation on Jan. 19, 2010, between Solomon, who has a 12-year history of convictions ranging from indecent assault to drug offenses, and his half-brother, Jonathan Arnold, 29, both of whom lived with Rita Arnold.

The complaint said a citation for assault was issued by a state trooper against Solomon but was not recorded for nearly three months. As a result, Solomon’s probation officer could not take any action against him on the new charge because he did not know about it, the complaint said.

Arnold’s office manager testified that the judge told her to “hold onto” the citation until instructed otherwise, to avoid adversely affecting “Solomon’s probationary status.” When troopers questioned Arnold about the fact that the citation had not been docketed, Arnold said “her court was really backlogged,” the complaint said. Later, she blamed the delay on the fact that her office had been relocated and said she had forgotten about it. That explanation contradicted the testimony of a state police supervisor who called to inquire about the citation, said court records, which also showed that no other citations were delayed by the move.

Once the citation was docketed on April 5, 2010, Arnold violated procedure again by transferring the case to District Judge Mark Bruno in West Chester without the requisite transfer order from MacElree, the complaint said.

“It is easy to see that from the time the state police citation came into her office,” Arnold engaged in an improper course of conduct, the Court of Judicial Discipline wrote. It said that after she violated procedures, “she made false statements” to investigators and instructed her office manager “to testify falsely,” the opinion said.

The court said Arnold’s conduct, which involved failing to perform her duties and prejudicing “the proper administration of justice,” consisted of eight separate violations, making her subject to discipline.

Documents filed by Eakin list six possible character witnesses for Arnold: attorneys Paul J. Rubino and Alan Novak; Downingtown Police Chief James McGowan; West Chester Police Lt. James Morris; Mario Spoto, a Downingtown chiropractor; and Robin Whiteman, an Exton real-estate agent.

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