Lavaca County Judge Tramer Woytek agreed Thursday to appoint a visiting judge to preside over the criminal trials of three local school officials accused of failing to report child abuse, the Victoria Advocate reported.
County Attorney John Stuart Fryer, who is prosecuting the case, made the request.
Hallettsville High School Principal Darrin Alexander; Assistant Principal Scott Eugene Cottenoir, who also serves as head basketball coach; and head baseball coach Calvin Edward Cook were indicted in April on felony charges of failing to report an incident of child abuse that allegedly took place at the Best Western Hondo Inn in Medina County on March 2, when the Hallettsville baseball team was staying there for a tournament.
Court documents do not specify the names or ages of the two people who were accused of the abuse, but KENS-TV reported that the police departments in Hallettsville and Hondo investigated an allegation that a Hallettsville baseball player was sexually abused by other students.
Prosecutors announced in July they would abandon the prosecution of the allegations of sexual abuse. That prompted Cook’s attorney, West Rucker, to say it was unfair to prosecute the school officials.
“What this tells me is that there is not even probable cause that any crime ever happened,” he told the Advocate.
Hallettsville Superintendent Jo Ann Bludau defended the officials in a Facebook post, saying the district believes the charges had no merit. The Advocate reported that many parents disagreed, expressing their disappointmentnthat the men allegedly didn’t report the abuse claims.
The charges would normally be Class A misdemeanors, but prosecutors upgraded the charges to felonies because the men are believed to have intentionally concealed the abuse allegations, the Advocate reported.
Fryer said that a visiting judge who is retired should be able to handle the case more quickly than a full-time judge, the Advocate reported.
After the three men, all 50 years old, were arrested, Fryer expressed concern in a press conference that it would be hard to find an impartial jury in Lavaca County, population about 20,000, where the trial is due to be held.
Johnny Kampis can be reached at [email protected].