A Chester County judge will rule next week on whether racist text messages sent by a former Coatesville Area School District superintendent can be used at his trial on theft and conflict-of-interest charges, a prosecutor said Friday after a closed-door meeting in the judge's chambers.
Judge Thomas G. Gavin was expected to hold a hearing on the issue Friday; however, he summoned prosecutors and attorneys for Richard Como into his chambers for an off-the-record conversation.
After the lawyers emerged, Assistant District Attorney Andrea Cardamone said Gavin would file a written decision within the week.
Como's attorneys have argued that prosecutors intended to use the evidence, which includes Como's use of the N-word to describe students, "to denigrate" him and "to inflame the jury."
"Whether or not there were racially insensitive texts sent and/or received by the defendant is of no relevance whatsoever to these charges," attorney Paul Rubino said in his motion.
Prosecutors countered that they would bring up the text messages only as a rebuttal if the defense presented Como as "a generous and beneficial person concerned solely with his students."
Como, 70, is accused of paying for championship football rings for himself and others with money from summer-school tuition, the student council, and a donation to the school, according to a grand jury report. He also is accused of selling his personal generator to the school district, which prosecutors said is a conflict of interest, and of nepotism in hiring practices.
Como's attorneys asked the judge to keep prosecutors from using certain testimony from Como's former employees and other evidence, including "whether or not the defendant was tough on some of his disgruntled employees" and "whether or not the school district ran into some hard economic times." They said such evidence was irrelevant.
Prosecutors argued that Como's "harsh and humiliating management style permeates virtually every aspect of the commonwealth's case." They said it explains how Como allegedly was able to use his position for personal benefit. They also said the school district's multimillion-dollar deficit while Como was superintendent shows his alleged actions were not intended to benefit the district.
Como's trial is scheduled to start next month. Como, a former high school principal and head football coach who became superintendent in 2005, faces 44 counts.
He resigned from the post in 2013 after school officials discovered racist and sexist text messages he exchanged with a district athletic director about students and staff. An investigation by the Chester County District Attorney's Office into the district's management and finances, made public after the discovery of the texts, led to the arrests of Como and former athletic director Jim Donato in December 2014.
Donato, the former athletic director, pleaded guilty to felony theft and conflict-of-interest charges this summer for stealing $15,000 from the school district and was sentenced to at least two months in prison.