Chesco judge resigns after arrest in aiding son

Justice Rita Arnold. (File)
Justice Rita Arnold. (File)
Posted: April 26, 2013

When a judge finally dismissed the charges against Forrest Solomon, investigators said, the citation in the electronic case docket bore the user name of a different judge - RARNOLD, which belonged to Rita Arnold, a district judge in Chester County.

Forrest Solomon is her son, and officials allege the dismissal culminated an elaborate effort by Arnold to hide a citation against him for an offense that would have violated his probation.

Arnold resigned Tuesday after her arrest on charges of tampering with records and obstruction, the state Attorney General's Office said.

The charges stem from a January 2010 incident in which her sons got into a fight at her Downingtown home. Since the fight occurred in Arnold's district, the case was assigned to her court.

The criminal complaint against Arnold details a nearly three-month period in which she allegedly worked to hide the citation against her son, whom state police charged with harassment, a summary offense.

The complaint gave the following account:

Solomon was on probation for offenses that included probation violations and indecent assault. About two weeks before the fight, he failed a drug test.

Arnold called a state police sergeant a day after the fight and questioned why her son had been cited, given that the incident concerned "my son and my house."

Arnold later told investigators she had "called as a concerned mom."

When the sergeant called Arnold back, she told him that her son was on probation and that "something as simple as this could really mess him up."

The case eventually was dismissed by another judge, but in the citation's electronic case docket, Arnold's user name appears as the computer user dismissing the case, according to the complaint.

Also in the docket, Solomon was listed as a black woman instead of a white man. That caught the eye of investigators during "a routine report of the Chester County administrator," the complaint said.

Arnold told investigators she could not explain why her user name was connected to the case's electronic record and dismissed its irregularities as a computer glitch.

Chester County Court President Judge James MacElree, who initiated the investigation into potential misconduct, said Arnold had already been facing scrutiny over her handling of the citation.

Last year, MacElree issued an order relieving her of her duties as a district judge "pending prosecution" after the state Judicial Conduct Board filed a formal complaint against her. Technically, he said, he was not empowered to suspend her.

The Court of Judicial Discipline did suspend her for a month without pay, he said.

After her suspension, Arnold heard cases for at least six months before her arrest, MacElree said.

Arnold's position will likely be filled by a senior judge, MacElree said. Gov. Corbett can appoint judges to fill vacant positions, but in the wake of budget cuts, MacElree said, the state Supreme Court has advised instead that he fill those positions with senior judges - retired commissioned judges who haven't lost an election.

He said he didn't expect the court to experience a backlog of cases because of her departure.

"We'll handle it," he said. "We've had a number of openings [on the court] for various reasons, and we get all the work done."


Contact Aubrey Whelan at 610-313-8112 or awhelan@philly.com, or follow on Twitter @aubreyjwhelan.

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