Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall’s lawyer took the offensive Wednesday, saying his client is “absolutely innocent” of the charges against her in a sweeping racketeering indictment.
Atlanta attorney Richard Deane expressed confidence Hall will be found not guilty of engaging in a racketeering conspiracy, making false statements and theft by taking.
“We think the charges are excessive and as to her they are unfounded,” said Deane, a former U.S. attorney and federal judge. “There’s no factual support to the notion she is a kingpin of some sort, causing or directing people to cheat on the (Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests) or otherwise.”
Hall also was not involved in any cover-up to hide evidence of test cheating from investigators, Deane told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in an interview. During her tenure as superintendent, he said, “She wasn’t aware of any cheating. She certainly wasn’t aware of any cheating on a scale that’s been alleged.”
Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard declined comment, a spokeswoman said.
Hall, 66, was recently named with 34 other APS administrators and educators in a 65-count indictment. The defendants are accused of conspiring to cheat on federally mandated standardized tests.
Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter has scheduled arraignments for May 3, when the defendants are expected to enter pleas of not guilty.
Deane gave a number of interviews Wednesday to local news media, professing Hall’s innocence.
Atlanta defense attorney Buddy Parker, who is not involved in the APS case, said Deane is doing what he can to overcome the substantial publicity that came after the indictment was returned, and during the scene of Hall and other educators surrendering at the jail.
“The publicity surrounding all that can be seen as nothing but negative,” Parker said.
Parker, who once worked with Deane in the U.S. Attorney’s Office, said he believes Deane would not be going public “if he didn’t have a belief the evidence is wanting and lacking.”
According to the indictment, Hall unlawfully accepted bonuses from Atlanta Public Schools based on CRCT results, “which she knew were false.”
APS teachers and principals were frequently told by Hall and her subordinates that excuses for failing to meet CRCT targets would not be tolerated, the indictment said. When educators could not reach their targets, they were criticized, their jobs were threatened and some were fired.
The “unreasonable pressure” led some educators to cheat, the indictment alleged. The refusal of Hall and her top administrators “to accept anything other than satisfying targets created an environment where achieving the desired end result was more important than the students’ education.”
Hall ignored suspicious test score gains at APS schools and, as a result, cheating became more prevalent, the indictment alleged.
On Wednesday, Deane said Hall, like every manager of a major institution, set goals and targets.
She also “put in place procedures and support and educational enhancements for the teachers because she was firmly of the view that if you teach teachers to properly instruct children, they will and can learn,” he said. “So that was her focus.”
When asked how Hall feels about investigative findings that cheating occurred, Deane said, “Whatever cheating that may have in fact occurred, it was the result of a few misguided individuals who chose to do something wrong for their own point and their own purposes, and outside of her direction and outside of her vision.”
When asked why he said cheating purportedly occurred at APS schools, Deane said, “I won’t speak to that here. That’s something we’ll be addressing in court.”
The 90-page indictment also alleged that Hall and others interfered with, suppressed and obstructed investigations of test cheating.
Hall never engaged in a cover-up, Deane said. “We’ll be working very, very hard to demonstrate and show that Dr. Hall is in fact innocent of these charges.”
The indictment also accused Hall of giving false statements to the governor’s special investigators when they interviewed Hall on May 18, 2011.
Hall committed “false swearing,” the indictment states, when she said she never received complaints about Parks Middle School or its former principal, Christopher Waller, and when she said she never met Reginald Dukes, who investigated the school.
In a prior interview with the AJC, Dukes, a private investigator, said he briefed Hall about cheating on written tests at Parks in 2006, before allegations of standardized test cheating surfaced. He also said APS officials suppressed his report, a copy of which he kept and later turned over to the governor’s special investigators.
Deane declined to comment specifically on these allegations, except to say Hall’s legal team will address them in court.
According to court records, Hall’s bond was reduced to $200,000 after authorities were given a doctor’s affidavit that said Hall is undergoing treatment for a “serious medical condition.”
Deane declined to elaborate beyond what was filed in court, saying Hall’s health is a private matter. But he did say Hall is under a great deal of stress because of the charges against her. “I think it’s compounded by the fact she’s innocent of the charges,” he said.
Deane expressed frustration that the public appears to have accepted as fact that his client is guilty as charged.
“She is presumed to be innocent … and in fact she is innocent,” he said. “That fact seems to be lost in the public dialogue.”