The 35 defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating case will get their first day in court early next month.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter, who is presiding over the massive case, has asked lawyers who represent multiple APS defendants to appear before him on May 2 to consider whether the attorneys have possible conflicts of interest. The following day, Baxter has scheduled arraignments, during which the defendants are expected to enter formal pleas of not guilty.
Late last month, a Fulton grand jury indicted former APS Superintendent Beverly Hall, three area superintendents, six testing coordinators, six principals, 14 teachers and others in a racketeering conspiracy. The defendants are also charged with making false statements and writings, influencing witnesses and theft by taking.
Baxter’s initial concern will be to make sure lawyers with more than one defendant do not have conflicts of interest. Legal ethics rules say lawyers cannot represent co-defendants with competing interests.
Atlanta lawyer Bruce Harvey said he foresees no conflict problems with his representation of former Dunbar Elementary School testing coordinator Lera Middlebrooks and Venetian Hills Elementary School principal Clarietta Davis.
“My clients are from separate schools and they don’t know each other and have never spoken to each other,” Harvey said. “There’s no actual conflict of interest. I don’t see how this will be a problem.”
As for the charges against his clients, Harvey said, “This is more mouseketeering than racketeering.”
Atlanta lawyer George Lawson, who represents former area superintendents Tamara Johnson, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts, also sees no problem with representing all three defendants.
Lawson already represents the trio in a lawsuit against APS, alleging the school system violated state employment laws and ruined his clients’ reputations and their ability to secure other employment.
“Their interests are not antagonistic to each other,” Lawson said, adding that all three will fight the charges at trial. “They’ve asked me to (represent them). I have no concerns about it.”