Judge defends $1 million bail for district judge

Posted: January 17, 2014

DOWNINGTOWN A Philadelphia judge contends that he was not being unreasonable when he decided last month to raise to $1 million the bail for a former Chester County district judge who was convicted of misdemeanors but asked to remain free while she underwent treatments for aggressive breast cancer.

In an opinion ordered by an appeals court, Senior Judge John Braxton said he did not think the new bail amount for Rita Arnold was excessive, though it was 10 times the amount he imposed earlier in the case.

Braxton's opinion, filed last week, did not clarify why he decided to hike Arnold's bail from $100,000, except to say that the higher amount was not excessive because her appeal is unlikely to succeed and she can receive adequate medical treatment in prison. He also said the higher bail would not be a financial burden for her.

Arnold's "inconvenience and preference to obtain treatment while at home is not a hardship," Braxton wrote.

A Superior Court judge ordered the explanation last month, at the same time setting aside Braxton's requirement that Arnold, a former judge in Downingtown, post more money or resume serving her 16- to 32-month sentence for obstructing justice and tampering.

That bail increase came at a hearing in which Braxton also denied a request by Arnold's lawyer, Heidi Eakin, to lower her sentence. The term far exceeds the maximum sentencing guidelines for Arnold's crimes, which occurred as she tried to conceal a citation filed against her son.

Braxton, a traveling judge formerly assigned to Philadelphia, said then that he did not believe he had made errors in the case that were grounds for an appeal and that $1 million was a "reasonable sum" for bail.

As he has throughout Arnold's case, Braxton said in his opinion that he believes Arnold will receive adequate medical care in the state hospital in Muncy, where she was incarcerated for about a week last fall.

The Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case, has not taken stances on Arnold's request for sentence reconsideration or lower bail.

Eakin was traveling and unable to comment Wednesday. Nicholas Ressetar, a chief law clerk at her firm, said in a statement that Braxton's explanation was "both disappointing and disingenuous."

"There is no plausible basis for the court to have ordered such an excessive amount of bail," he said. "We trust that the Superior Court will correct this gross abuse of discretion on appeal."

It is unclear when the higher court will rule. Arnold also plans to appeal her sentence.

Braxton has stressed in court that Arnold not only hid the citation against her son but sought to have a court employee who testified against her removed from her duties.


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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