Arnold appeal says disrespect shown for sentencing guidelines

Posted: May 16, 2014

The judge who sentenced former District Judge Rita Arnold for hiding a citation against her son wanted to make an example of someone who abused judicial powers, Arnold's attorney argued in a Superior Court appeal filed this week.

Judge John Braxton - who ordered Arnold to serve 16 to 32 months in state prison on two misdemeanors - ignored the Chester County woman's previously crime-free life, remorse, and ongoing treatment for cancer, her attorney said.

Braxton, "focusing entirely on the fact that these crimes were committed in her capacity as a magisterial district judge [and for her son], made a public example of her, grossly disrespected the sentencing guidelines, and abused its discretion," attorney Heidi Eakin wrote in the appeal.

Arnold, who Eakin said had become legally blind due to her aggressive chemotherapy regimen, pleaded guilty to obstructing justice and tampering with evidence in June. Prosecutors say Arnold concealed a harassment citation that had been filed against one of her adult sons for fighting with her other son.

In October, Braxton sentenced her to 16 to 32 months, a term more than twice as long as the harshest state sentencing guideline for the crimes. Braxton, a traveling judge formerly assigned to Philadelphia, said he had taken Arnold's illness into account, and thought she would receive adequate care in prison.

"I am an optimist," he said at the sentencing, according to a transcript. "I want to believe that your cancer will not be one that, in fact, reacts any faster than cancers of your type would normally react."

The state Attorney General's Office, which prosecuted the case, has 30 days to file a brief. The office did not take a stance when Eakin previously asked Braxton to reconsider Arnold's sentence and bail.

A spokesman Wednesday declined to comment on the appeal. Braxton could not be reached for comment.

Superior Court has already overruled Braxton in this case. In January, an unnamed appeals judge said Braxton had not justified his decision to hike Arnold's bail from $100,000 to $1 million. The judge reversed bail to the lower amount, allowing Arnold to be free pending the appeal of her sentence.

In the brief filed Tuesday, Eakin argued that Braxton also did not justify his decision for going above state sentencing guidelines and abused his discretion by stacking the sentences for her two crimes rather than running them concurrently.

She said the judge "displayed a certain mean-spiritedness and vindictiveness" in his handling of the case.

Arnold is receiving chemotherapy and shot therapy to treat an aggressive form of breast cancer and also getting shots in her eyes in hope that her eyesight will improve, Eakin said.


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205

@TriciaNadolny

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