A West Texas doctor who pleaded guilty this week to retaliating against two nurses who reported him to state medical regulators will spend two months in jail and be on deferred-adjudication probation for five years, a prosecutor said.
Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr., 59, pleaded guilty Monday in a Kermit courtroom to retaliation and misuse of official information as part of a plea agreement that includes surrendering his medical license, prosecutor David Glickler said.
Arafiles, who was charged with two counts each of felony misuse of official information and retaliation in Winkler County, did not return a call seeking comment.
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.
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Nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle filed an anonymous complaint with the medical board in 2009, writing that Arafiles used herbal remedies and tried 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 a hospital in Kermit and were 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.
He pleaded guilty three days after agreeing to surrender his medical license to the Texas Medical Board. The surrender takes effect Friday, a spokeswoman for the medical board has said. He had been licensed in Texas since 1998.
Deferred adjudication means that if Arafiles complies with terms of his probation, his conviction will not be on his record. He was also fined $5,000.
As part of the plea deal, he no longer faces a felony aggravated-perjury charge in Andrews County, where he was accused of lying under oath at Mitchell's trial when he denied knowing how Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts obtained names and contact information of patients to question on who complained about Arafiles.
Roberts lost the job he held for 20 years, was sentenced to 100 days in the jail he had supervised and has permanently surrendered his peace officer's license.
Scott Tidwell, the former Winkler County attorney who handled the nurses' cases, was also found guilty of retaliating against the nurses 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, saying 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 whistle-blowers. That said, concerns remain that a case like this can create fear about reporting physicians to the board."
Lawmakers passed a bill 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 a maximum of $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 supervise them properly at a weight-loss clinic in Victoria where he worked.