Former Chesco judge Rita Arnold released on bail

Rita Arnold's supporters rally at Chester County Courthouse. Arnold, jailed for obstructing justice, will now be able to undergo chemotherapy under her own doctors' care rather than through the state prison system.
Rita Arnold's supporters rally at Chester County Courthouse. Arnold, jailed for obstructing justice, will now be able to undergo chemotherapy under her own doctors' care rather than through the state prison system. (ED HILLE / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 23, 2013

Rita Arnold was freed after her family posted $100,000 bail Monday, making it possible for the former district judge to receive chemotherapy under the care of her own doctors instead of the state prison system.

Arnold, who was being held at the state prison in Muncy, was sentenced last week to serve 16 to 32 months for concealing a citation filed against her son while she presided in a Chester County court.

" Relief is not even the word," said Arnold's daughter, Toni, who, with more than 30 others, protested outside the West Chester courthouse Monday. "So much stress is relieved. Our hearts aren't aching anymore. We have our mom back for now. Our main goal was to get her out so she can resume seeing her doctors."

The bail conditions allow for the 57-year-old Arnold to be released while her attorney appeals her sentence. The former justice pleaded guilty in June to misdemeanor charges of obstructing justice and tampering with evidence. Prosecutors say Arnold concealed a citation filed against her son and tried to have the court employee whom she asked to help in the cover-up fired.

Philadelphia Senior Judge John Braxton, who was called in to hear Arnold's case, said at the Oct. 15 sentencing that she would receive treatment for a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer in prison. On Friday, in response to a motion from Arnold's attorney, Braxton said she could be released pending appeal on $100,000 bail. Braxton has not yet ruled on a second motion requesting reconsideration of the sentence.

Arnold's attorney, Heidi Eakin, said a decision on whether to appeal to Superior Court would hinge on how Braxton rules on the motion for reconsideration.

"This is going to drag out. It could drag out for months. It could drag out for a year," Eakin said.

Arnold is to begin a chemotherapy regimen in the coming weeks.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted, has declined to comment on Eakin's motion for reconsideration or Braxton's sentence.

The term far exceeds the state's maximum sentencing recommendations as well as sentences given to several other Pennsylvania district judges in criminal cases.

In 1990, judge Carl Henry was given five years' probation and ordered to perform community service for stealing traffic fines from his Parkesburg court. In March, Lancaster District Judge Kelly Ballentine was ordered to pay a $1,500 fine for fixing two of her own parking tickets. She was suspended but is now back on the bench.

Family and friends at Monday's protest said Arnold was blindsided by the sentence and had anticipated probation or home confinement. The group - a sea of magenta shirts, pale pink ribbons, and pops of fuchsia lipstick - stood on the sidewalk for more than five hours, chanting "Free Rita" and cheering as passing drivers pressed on their horns.

Jessica Giera, whom Arnold coached in cheerleading when she was in middle school, described Arnold as a warm and inspiring mother figure who constantly "fought and fought and fought" to make sure her team had the best equipment and resources.

"It's hard because of the position that she was in as a judge. But she's a mom first, and I think that's what it comes down to for her," said the 21-year-old Giera. "And I know she did anything for us as cheerleaders. So I know she would do anything for her kids. And I feel like she knows she did wrong, and she admitted to it."


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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