WEST CHESTER Former District Judge Rita Arnold has been ordered back to prison by a judge who declined to reconsider her sentence in light of her ongoing treatments for breast cancer.
Arnold, who pleaded guilty in June to concealing a citation filed against her son, hung her head Tuesday as the judge ordered her to finish serving out the 16- to 32-month prison sentence he imposed in October. Behind her, more than 25 friends and family members who packed the Chester County courtroom erupted in sobs and screams.
Senior Judge John Braxton told Arnold to return to prison Dec. 27.
"She's lost her hair. She's lost 25 pounds. And now she's lost her spirit," Arnold's attorney, Heidi Eakin, said after the ruling.
Braxton, a Philadelphia judge called in to hear Arnold's case, set bail at $1 million. Eakin said she would file an emergency motion Wednesday with Superior Court asking for reduced bail and arguing that the sentence was excessive.
Arnold's sentence far exceeds maximum-sentencing recommendations for her crimes, which are misdemeanors, as well as sentences given to several other Pennsylvania district judges in criminal cases.
Senior Deputy Attorney General Susan DiGiacomo, who prosecuted Arnold's case, did not take a stance on Eakin's motion to reconsider the sentence and did not comment after Braxton's decision.
Eakin had requested that Arnold be sentenced to house arrest. As evidence the arrangement was medically necessary, she put Arnold's longtime doctor, Bruce Colley, on the stand.
Colley testified that Arnold was suffering from a rare and aggressive form of breast cancer and said it was important for her to continue receiving chemotherapy from her current doctors because her mental state was an important factor in her healing.
He also said that Arnold, who has diabetes, was in poor health from the six days she spent at the state prison in Muncy after she was sentenced and before her family posted $100,000 bail. He said Arnold's blood-sugar levels were "totally out of control."
When Eakin attempted to ask Colley whether he felt Arnold would receive adequate care for her cancer in the state prison, Braxton asked whether the doctor was qualified to answer the question. The judge acknowledged Arnold's health concerns, but said, "The court cannot erase those."
He took particular issue with a letter Arnold wrote to her superiors asking for a woman who had testified against her to be removed from her duties.
Arnold, wearing a white head wrap covered in a pale yellow scarf, shuffled into the hallway with her supporters after the hearing. She declined to comment.