Ex-Texas county attorney convicted of retaliation
LUBBOCK, Texas — A former West Texas county attorney will spend four months in jail for retaliating against two nurses who made an anonymous complaint about a doctor to state medical regulators.
Judge Robert Moore sentenced former Winkler County Attorney Scott Tidwell yesterday to 10 years of probation and ordered him to pay a $6,000 fine. Tidwell must serve 120 days in the Crane County jail as a condition of his probation.
Tidwell was convicted Oct. 3 of retaliating against nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, who told state regulators in 2009 that Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. used herbal remedies and had attempted to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures, among other things.
Arafiles asked a friend who was then the Winkler County sheriff to investigate the complaint. The nurses were fired from their jobs at a hospital in Kermit and charged with felonies.
Tidwell served as prosecutor at Mitchell’s trial because the district attorney wasn’t available. Mitchell was acquitted, and charges against Galle were later dropped.
Tidwell’s attorney, David Zavoda, said yesterday that he and his client didn’t “necessarily” agree with the conviction but accepted it.
He said he knew the judge “laid down a sentence that was substantiated by the evidence.”
Prosecutor David Glickler said in an email yesterday that even though Tidwell was appealing his conviction, he was out as the Winkler County attorney because he was found guilty.
The Texas Medical Board found that Arafiles improperly tried to intimidate Mitchell and Galle and placed him on four years probation in February. He must complete additional training, be monitored by another physician, who will report his or her findings back to the board, and submit patient medical and billing records for review.
The doctor has been charged with aggravated perjury for testimony he gave at Mitchell’s trial and with two counts each of retaliation and misuse of official information. He has denied wrongdoing in the criminal case.
Former Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts lost his job, was sentenced to 100 days in jail and permanently surrendered his peace officer’s license after being convicted of retaliation and other charges for his role in the case.
Lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year that adds protections from retaliation when nurses advocate for patients. The bill provides immunity from criminal liability for reporting unsafe care and increases administrative fines to up to $25,000.
Mitchell and Galle sued the county, the hospital, Roberts and other officials alleging that their First Amendment rights had been violated and that the prosecutions had been vindictive. They won a $750,000 settlement in August 2010.