Chesco judge, accused of misconduct, faces prosecution

Posted: February 15, 2012

After a yearlong investigation, the state Judicial Conduct Board has filed a formal complaint against a Chester County district judge, accusing her of giving preferential treatment to a son with a long rap sheet.

Judge Rita Arnold was escorted by sheriffs Wednesday from the Downingtown District Court, and ordered to relinquish her keys and avoid contact with any employees "pending prosecution," said an order from Chester County Court President Judge James P. MacElree 3d.

Arnold's attorney, Dawson R. Muth, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

Arnold, who has held the elected office since 1994, was the subject of a bitter reelection challenge in the spring primary that led to criminal charges against her opponent, Donald Skomsky, 58.

An anonymous mass mailing that was highly critical of Arnold was traced to Skomsky and his wife, Valerie Palfy, 47, both of West Chester. The couple, who are scheduled for trial next week, were charged with forgery and conspiracy.

The letters listed ways in which Arnold allegedly abused her powers, stating that she was under scrutiny from the Judicial Conduct Board for inappropriate action in cases involving son Forrest C. Solomon Jr., 34, who has a 12-year history of convictions ranging from indecent assault to drug offenses.

The Judicial Conduct Board complaint focused on a case involving an altercation on Jan. 19, 2010, between Solomon and half-brother Jonathan Arnold, 29, a Birmingham Township police officer. Both live with Rita Arnold.

The complaint said a citation for assault was issued by a state trooper against Solomon but was not put into the court record 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.

Once the citation was docketed on April 5, 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.

On June 2, Bruno dismissed the case because Jonathan Arnold did not appear and because Solomon presented a certificate of completion from a rehabilitation program, the complaint said. It noted that the computer entry into the court file identifying the case as "dismissed" came from "RARNOLD," Judge Arnold's user name.

The complaint also said that when Arnold learned that the Judicial Conduct Board had issued a subpoena for Patricia Davis, Arnold's office manager, the judge encouraged Davis to testify falsely, the complaint said. Stressing "their loyalty to each other," Arnold referenced a personnel issue "that had been resolved" a year earlier, the complaint said.

Joseph Silvestro Jr., the attorney for Skomsky and Palfy, said he had not read the complaint against Arnold. He said he had been focused on preparing for his clients' trial, but thinks the prosecution should have referred the case to the Attorney General's Office. Michael G. Noone, Chester County first assistant district attorney, is the couple's former attorney.

"Even the appearance of impropriety is a reason to transfer the case," said Silvestro, adding that District Attorney Tom Hogan rejected the request.

Hogan said Noone "has been totally screened off" from the case. "We don't have a conflict here," he said.

In Wednesday's order, the president judge said Arnold's cases would be distributed among the other district judges until a senior judge could be assigned to the district, which encompasses Birmingham, Caln, East Bradford, and West Bradford Townships and Downingtown Borough.


Contact staff writer Kathleen Brady Shea at 610-696-3815, kbrady@phillynews.com, or @brandywinebits on Twitter. Read her blog, "Chester County Inbox," at www.philly.com/chescoinbox.

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