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Ex-solicitor, firm to pay $420,000 to Coatesville schools in suit settlement

The Coatesville Area School District will receive $420,000 in a settlement with its former solicitor, ending a 19-month legal battle started when the district sued him and his former law firm, accusing them of overbilling and giving unsound legal advice.

The Coatesville Area School District will receive $420,000 in a settlement with its former solicitor, ending a 19-month legal battle started when the district sued him and his former law firm, accusing them of overbilling and giving unsound legal advice.

Under terms of the negotiated settlement with James Ellison; his current law firm, Susquehanna Legal Group; and his former employer, Harrisburg-based Rhoads & Sinon, the district agreed not to pursue further litigation against them. Neither side admitted fault.

Ellison had charged the district millions of dollars in legal fees, and had his cellphone and iPad bills paid by the district. Chester County District Attorney Thomas Hogan had said that Coatesville's legal costs were among the highest of school systems statewide.

The district filed its suit originally in April 2015. A Chester County judge twice dismissed it, most recently in January, saying its allegations were too broad.

In a joint statement, the district, Ellison, and the law firms said they had "amicably resolved the litigation among them." As part of the settlement, reached this week, the parties agreed not to comment further about the case.

The school district's lawsuits against its former superintendent, Richard Como, and former athletic director, Jim Donato, remain unresolved. The district sued to recover money it said it was owed due to the men's alleged misconduct.

Police arrested both men in December 2014 and charged them with stealing money from the district. The District Attorney's Office began investigating the men after school officials discovered their racist and sexist text-message exchanges about students and staff, which also mentioned possible financial impropriety. They resigned in 2013.

The trial for Como, charged with more than 40 counts of theft and ethics violations, is scheduled to start next month.

Donato pleaded guilty to theft and conflict-of-interest charges in June and was sentenced in August to at least two months in prison.

mbond@philly.com

610-313-8207 @MichaelleBond

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