Around 750 summonses have been sent in hopes of finding 12 jurors and four alternates to hear the upcoming racketeering trial of former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis, the district’s one-time chief operating officer Pat Reid and her ex-husband Tony Pope.
On Friday, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker repeatedly pointed out to the prosecuting and defense attorneys that the case will be crowded, complicated and time-consuming so they need to work out any possible issues now.
It will be a long trial, possibly a month or more after it starts with jury selection on Oct. 28.
“I don’t want to derail this. We’ve sent out a boatload of jury summons,” Becker said.
The three were indicted in 2010. They were re-indicted in 2012. Then a third version of the indictment was returned July 18.
On Friday Becker heard arguments from lawyers for both sides, three prosecutors and four of the five defense attorneys. There will be one more motions hearing at the end of the upcoming week, Becker said, but that should be it until the trial begins.
One key issue argued Friday concerned the amount of time that had passed between the first and the most recent indictments.
Michael Brown, one of Lewis’ lawyers, said the changes could be construed as new charges. In that case, he said, any theft charges in the current indictment must be for things that allegedly happened after July 18, 2009, because a theft-by-taking charge has a four-year statute of limitations. The theft-by-taking charges in the current indictment are for things that allegedly happened in 2007 and 2008.
“The first indictment was unconstitutionally broad. The 2013 indictment was more precise,” specifically saying the alleged theft included new tires, a new paint job, cleaning and parts and labor to prepare Lewis’ county-issued car for him to buy at one-third of its value, Brown said.
Assistant District Attorney Christopher Timmons disagreed that the indictments’ charges are so different that time would be a problem. He said the case was simply streamlined each time the indictment was revised.
Becker said she would rule later.
Lewis, Reid and Pope are accused of conspiring to steer tens of millions of dollars for construction projects at Columbia High School and the McNair Cluster Elementary School to Pope’s firm, to businesses he was affiliated with and to Reid’s friends. Prosecutors say Reid abused her authority over school construction to manipulate scores on contract bids so her husband would win business. The indictment alleges that Lewis knew what was happening but did nothing to stop her.
Lewis and Pope also are charged with theft by taking because they allegedly bought their county-owned cars for cut-rate prices after tax dollars were used to for repairs and upgrades like new tires. The indictment also says Lewis used his county-issued credit card for personal expenses and Lewis and Pope interfered with the investigation.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution broke stories beginning at the end of 2009 questioning school construction contracts that involved architect Tony Pope, who was then married to the DeKalb County School District’s chief operating officer, who was in charge of such projects. Soon afterward the AJC also reported that Superintendent Crawford Lewis and COO Pat Reid had bought their county cars at deeply discounted prices.
The AJC published almost 20 stories more until the three were indicted in May 2010.
The AJC has continued to track the case as the indictment went through three different versions, the key investigator and the two prosecutors resigned and it has moved toward trial 3 1/2 years later.
The judge still has some pretrial motions to decide and then the first of 750 prospective jurors will report on Oct. 28 for the start of the trial.