An Arlington judge yesterday sentenced the first county resident convicted of illegally tapping into the county's cable television system and in the process sharply criticized a cable company for calling attention to the case.

General District Court Judge Francis E. Thomas said he was "really grieved" that Arlington Telecommunications Corp. (ARTEC), which operates the cable franchise, had issued a press release citing the prosecution of Mellis Eidsness as "an example" to other potential tamperers.

"I thought the agreement had been that everything would be hush-hush [it] was unfair as far as ARTEC was concerned," Thomas said shortly after he ordered the 29-year-old woman to pay the company for its costs in tracking down her illegal use of the system and for cable services she stole from them.

Eidsness, who prosecutors said is unemployed, had pleaded guilty to tapping the county cable system for three months last summer and could have received an additional $1,000 fine and a one-year jail term for the misdemeanor violation of Virginia law against knowingly tampering with or connecting to a cable television system without permission.

ARTEC Vice President John D. Evans estimated it cost the company nearly $1,000 in lost revenue and manpower to detect the tap at Eidsness' home at 513 S. 26th Rd.

Evans said he had no knowledge of any agreement to remain silent about the case and declined to comment on the judge's remarks. "We have many others suspected of tampering that we are investigating now," Evans said, adding that ARTEC intends to prosecute them "to the fullest extent of the law."

Evans said Eidsness' tap could have created a potential problem for the county since Arlington's traffic-light-control system will be tied into the cable system. The system will connect with all county intersections and, using sensors in the road, transmit data to the traffic control computer at the courthouse. The computer will analyze the information and send signals back to the traffic lights, Evans said.

"Anyone who intercepts service by tampering with our lines interferes with the service to our customers and the traffic system," he said.

Evans said the Eidsness tampering was detected because persons who break into the cable system create a signal leakage that goes out into the airwaves and interferes with broadcast communications, such as amateur and police radios. A "sniffer," a device that ARTECT uses daily to detect such leaks, caught the problem at Eidsness' house.

Assistant Commonwealth Attorney William S. Fields had asked that Eidsness be ordered to perform community service also "so it can be conveyed that the commonwealth takes this very seriously and not just as a complaint of an impersonal company." The judge did not agree to the request.