A West Texas county attorney was found guilty Monday of retaliating against two nurses who made an anonymous complaint about a doctor to state medical regulators.
Scott Tidwell faces up to 10 years in prison in the punishment phase of his trial, which began shortly after jurors returned their verdict. The conviction automatically removes him from his post representing Winkler County. However, if he appeals, the removal could be suspended until the matter is resolved, prosecutor David Glickler said in an email Monday.
Tidwell was convicted of retaliating against nurses Anne Mitchell and Vickilyn Galle, who complained to state regulators in 2009 that Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. used herbal remedies and attempted to use hospital supplies to perform at-home procedures.
Authorities said that once Arafiles learned the medical board was looking into a complaint against him, he went to former Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts, who was a friend and patient, said he was being harassed and asked him to investigate who sent the letter. The nurses were eventually fired from Winkler County Memorial Hospital and charged with felonies.
Tidwell served as prosecutor at Mitchell's trial because the district attorney wasn't available. She was acquitted and charges were dropped against Galle.
The two women 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.
Lawmakers passed a bill during this year's regular legislative session 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.
Roberts lost his job and was sentenced to 100 days in the jail after being convicted of two counts each of retaliation and misuse of official information. Tidwell was convicted on the same charges after his trial was moved from Kermit in Winkler County to Big Spring, about 110 miles northwest.
In February, the medical board placed Arafiles on probation for four years and told him he could continue practicing if he completed additional training. The board also said he must 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.
Among its findings, the board found that Arafiles improperly tried to intimidate Mitchell and Galle.
Arafiles still faces charges of aggravated perjury for testimony he gave during Mitchell's trial and two counts each of misuse of official information and retaliation. The doctor has denied wrongdoing in the criminal case.
The medical board barred Arafiles in 2007 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.