By Betsy Blaney Associated Press
LUBBOCK, Texas — A doctor who pleaded guilty Monday to retaliating against two nurses who reported him to state medical regulators will spend two months in jail and be on probation for five years.
Prosecutor David Glickler said Dr. Rolando G. Arafiles Jr., 59, pleaded guilty in a Kermit courtroom to retaliation and misuse of official information as part of a plea agreement that also includes surrendering his medical license. Arafiles, who had been charged with two counts each of felony misuse of official information and retaliation in Winkler County, did not return a call seeking comment afterward.
His plea is among the final steps in a case that outraged nursing associations nationwide and led to convictions against the West Texas sheriff and prosecutor who investigated the nurses.
Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle had filed an anonymous complaint with the medical board in 2009, writing that Arafiles used herbal remedies and attempted to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures.
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. Mitchell was acquitted last year and charges were dropped against Galle.
Arafiles has said the nurses’ letter was intended to harm him personally.
His plea came three days after he agreed to surrender his medical license to the Texas Medical Board. The surrender becomes effective Friday, a spokeswoman for the medical board has said. He had been licensed in Texas since 1998.
Arafiles’ probation comes with a deferred adjudication aspect, meaning if he complies with all the terms during his probation his conviction will not be on his record. He also received a $5,000 fine.
As part of the plea deal, he no longer faces a felony aggravated perjury charge in Andrews County for allegedly lying under oath at Mitchell’s trial when he denied knowing how Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts obtained names and contact information of patients for questioning about who complained about Arafiles.
Roberts lost the job he held for 20 years, was sentenced to 100 days in the jail he’d supervised and has permanently surrendered his peace officer’s license. Scott Tidwell, the former Winkler County attorney who handled the nurses’ cases, also was found guilty of retaliating against the nurses earlier this year and was sentenced to four months in jail. Tidwell, who is appealing his conviction, has been suspended from office.
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. In August 2010 they won a $750,000 settlement.
“The case highlights the importance of nurses as patient advocates,” said Mari Robinson, the Texas Medical Board’s executive director. “It led to legislation that strengthens protections for nurses in their role as whistleblowers. That said, concerns remain that a case like this can create fear about reporting physicians to the board.”
Earlier this year, lawmakers passed a bill 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.
The board complaint against Arafiles was not the first. In 2007, he was prohibited from supervising physician assistants and nurse practitioners after he failed to properly supervise them at a weight-loss clinic in Victoria where he was working.