Judge in APS trial today: A sordid mess. A lot of pain. And cheated children

After listening to four hours of tributes to the sterling characters of the 10 APS defendants and pleas to spare them jail time, Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter was still willing to put them behind bars  — unless they hammer out deals with Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard in the next 18 hours. Sentencing resumes Tuesday morning.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter presides over the sentencing Monday. Sentencing of 10 of the 11 defendants convicted of racketeering and other charges in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial before Judge Jerry Baxter in Fulton County Superior Court, Monday April 13 2015. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson, Pool)

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter presides over the sentencing Monday in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial. (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Kent D. Johnson)

Baxter said he had come to court this morning resolved that everybody found guilty by the jury two weeks ago should go to jail. “My fair sentence involves going to jail. Everybody,” he said.

But he had a change of heart on a day that began with what he called a major meltdown after Howard told him he had talked to the defendants’ attorneys over the weekend about possible deals.

“I cussed him out this morning. It was pretty bad,” said Baxter in the courtroom.

After apologizing to Howard several times, each one more heartfelt, Baxter said he was more open to allowing the 10 to negotiate deals to keep them out of jail if they apologize and agree to waive their right to appeal.

However, Baxter was still frustrated the 11 defendants chose to go to trial rather than take the plea deals accepted by other APS educators. (Only 10 of the 11 are being sentenced this week as one just gave birth.)

Baxter fell back repeatedly on a train metaphor for the missed plea deal opportunities, saying he urged defendants to get off the train at the start of trial and during it. “Nobody got off the train. And the train wrecked.”

But a sticking point for him and Howard in any plea deals: The 10 have to admit responsibility and guilt for what they did and apologize.

That was not the tenor of most comments made by friends and families or the defendants who addressed the court on their own behalf. Baxter continually interrupted speakers who suggested the jury got it wrong in its guilty verdicts. He praised the jury, saying, “I think the verdict spoke the truth.”

His exasperation with criticism of the jury grew during the long and often-emotional parade of character witnesses. At one point during defendant Donald Bullock’s comments, Baxter asked, “Why don’t these people take responsibility?”

He was equally short with one of Bullock’s witnesses when he suggested the testing coordinator should not have been convicted. “Did you hear testimony against him? Bullock should have gotten off that train,” said Baxter.

When teacher Diane Buckner-Webb’s niece said she respected the jurors but did not agree with them, Baxter countered, “I agree with them.”

The most interesting exchanges were between Baxter and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young, who has opposed the criminal prosecution of the teachers and clung to that view even under pointed questions from the bench.

Young blamed the testing culture in American schools, paraphrasing a Victor Hugo quote used by the Rev. Martin Luther King: “When people are placed in darkness, crimes will be committed. The guilty are those who created the darkness.”

And when Young insisted he would throw out the entire case, Baxter talked about the children passed from grade to grade without being able to read who ultimately dropped out of high school, resorted to crime and ended up in his courtroom facing mandatory 10-year prison terms.

“There is more to this than let’s just forget about it and move on,” Baxter said

In response to an attorney comment, Baxter acknowledged the 10 educators did not pose a risk to the public. Sentencing them to jail was a matter of retribution and punishment, he said.

“I see all the pain in this room,” he said at the close. “It is a tragedy for all of you, defendants, families, friends. And you have been punished a good bit so far just based on what’s happened to your lives ever since this started going.”

“I thought I had a fair sentence. It is not what Mr. Howard, I think, informally worked out. Somehow, this morning it came to me,” said Baxter. “The only reason that I would send you to jail is for retribution….I just think the best thing for our community in this whole sordid mess is for Paul Howard to talk to each of you and we enter pleas and we all go about our business and pray for these kids that got cheated.”

 

Reader Comments 0

122 comments
Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Ms. Robinson, the new mama, really has an advantage over the others, as she has seen the playout so she will probably admit responsibility. 

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@Wascatlady 

I was worrying about the effect of a prison sentence for her upon her innocent newborn baby.  I would expect her to take the plea deal in any case.

Astropig
Astropig

@OriginalProf @Wascatlady


The effect on little kids is tragic. When you have to tell a toddler that mommy can only talk to them through thick glass on a phone,it's heartbreaking. Thanksgivings, Christmases...They're hell for families with a member in jail.Watching uncomprehending children being led away screaming for their parent because the prisoners visiting time is over will bring honest tears to the most heard bitten man or woman.(That includes me).You never get used to it.


Calls from jail cost a lot of money.There is a corrections contract with a phone service that charges confiscatory rates (and monitors and records calls) because they have a ...captive clientele.That means that for indigent or poor prisoner,a call home is a planned event,very expensive...and brief.Prisoners are served food that will soon make these defendants school lunches look like a night at "21". They can order (overpriced) items from the commissary and they are delivered once a week.A Little Debbie looks pretty good when you've eaten prison food.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

B Hall would have gotten 20 years.  Too bad the other biggies were allowed to plead.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Cleveland has "decided to enter into negotiation with the state." She is reading a statement. Not sure if Baxter will accept, as it had a 10 am deadline.  


She gets 5 years probation with a curfew for one year.




aon
aon

The kids should get together and file a class action law suit against the teachers.  I do believe that Beverly Hall was the ringleader and it is a shame that she is not here to face prosecution for what she did to those children, but when I heard that the teachers were having "cheating parties" (or whatever they called them) I was done with the whole bunch!

popacorn
popacorn

@aon Again, the kids can't read or write. Makes a lot of thing difficult, including filing a class action lawsuit. 

eulb
eulb

@popacorn @aon Lawyers can read and write, and it's the lawyers who usually benefit handsomely from class action lawsuits. The members of the class would have to be willing to help their own lawyers publicly prove them to be ignorant and uneducated.  (Very embarrassing &  humiliating for them. )

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

First offender status expunges after the service.  


Theresia Copeland up now.  


Judge keeps saying "guess the taxpayers will have to pay for it."  He is pretty sardonic about it.


Lawyer says he has apologized for her, but says she cannot speak because "unprepared" and "too nervous."


She gets to serve one. 


All except top 3 have got first offender status.

JWatl
JWatl

@Wascatlady I hate public speaking too, but I think I'd get over it instead of spending a year in prison.

popacorn
popacorn

Everyone showing their true colors today. Unfortunately for them, they have a no-jive judge. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Buckner- Webb: 1 year to serve. Not sure how the "first offender status" changes things?  Does this negate the one year sentence to jail.


This attorney has also annoyed the judge .  Wanted a non-confession and non-apology to suffice.

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.

living-in-outdated-ed
living-in-outdated-ed

The defendants received terrible legal advice from their clients.  Seems they showed no remorse and would not apologize for their actions.  That got under the judge's skin.   I have no issues with the large sentences handed down to the ringleaders.   They should have pleaded out.  Stupid.

A minimum security prison will not kill these folks.  But the whole thing is just sad. And I dont know why Andrew Young wanted to step into this hornets nest.

OriginalProf
OriginalProf

@ Wascatlady.  Thanks for giving us the blow-by-blow account of the sentencing. Wow!  The arrogance of those defendants is now being paid back. It's very hard for me to see how they could think that Judge Baxter was bluffing, as they apparently did.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Now the attorney is trying to call the judge a liar.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Angela Williamson 2 years to serve.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Now to the school administrators: Dana Evans.  Gets only one year to serve.  Wonder if that is due to their statements of concern for the children?

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

These seem to be an attempt to do additional summary statements AFTER the verdict!   Surprised the DAs office does not object.


I thought the recommendations by the DAs office remarkably light.


Pitts also gets 7 years.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Judge Baxter needs to take over the running of this stage of the trial.  Forget letting the attorneys (and now Pitts) asking HIM questions!  Give them 5 minutes to speak, then move on. This is ridiculous. I have never seen a trial where, after the verdict, the convicted or their attorneys are allowed to argue with the judge!

bu2
bu2

I can't believe these people didn't take the deals.  I can also see why the judge was mad at the DA.  For the top 3, it would have been only weekends in jail for 1 year, 4 more years probation and a $10,000 fine.  IMO that was outrageously light.


The 4 teachers wouldn't have gotten any jail time-just home confinement for a year and a $1,000 fine.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

NOW Pitts says 3 years is appropriate--an hour ago it would have been unthinkably harsh, but now he sees what the other  third tier have gotten--7 years to serve--it puts those 3 into perspective. 


Will be interesting what the 4th tier and 5th tier(actual classroom teachers) get.

popacorn
popacorn

See how the judge spit out the word 'educators'? Go judge go!! 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Now Pitts is up.  Seems like the attorneys are trying to add additional character references.  Time for the judge to move on. The sentencing should be over by now.  Hush the lawyers and send the attorneys back to their offices.  Mete out the sentences.  It is almost an hour now, for convicted felons.  Enough!

BCW1
BCW1

I am sorry but you got caught and convicted and you want take responsibility for your actions? If you don't accept the plea bargaining, you get what you deserve!!!

bu2
bu2

http://clatl.com/freshloaf/archives/2011/07/06/the-nine-most-depressing-details-in-the-aps-cheating-report


Good reading for anyone still sympathetic with these people.  Note that the "dumb as hell" quote came from Dobbs and other things came from Dunbar-where the 4 convicted teachers came from.  Its pretty hard to have sympathy for those 4 who have proclaimed their innocence.


If anyone can read that article and still have any sympathy for the 7 other than the teachers, I just don't know what to say.


Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Judge needs to take over these lengthy statements--take control. These folks have had plenty of time to make their case.


Cottman serves 7 years.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

These crazy lawyers are really not helping their cases.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Sharon Davis Williams gets 7 years to serve, instead of 3.  Guessing to other top dogs will get the same.


Lawyers are making judge angry re his rulings.


Lots of shock.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Hopefully the judge does not have a heart attack. He keeps having to state it is RICO charges.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Presumably, this means full years, not "weekends only."

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

For others asking for serving 2 years, for others serving 1 year of 5 year sentence.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Recommending 3 years served for 2 upper level administrators.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maureen, my question is serious: Why have there been no victim impact statements allowed?


And, does this open the door to civil prosecution of all those involved including those who immediately took pleas of guilt?  Can the affected students sue for damages?

popacorn
popacorn

@Wascatlady No victim statements because the victims can't read, write, or speak nearly as well as kids who were actually taught by real educators.

redweather
redweather

The evidence of these teachers' complicity in cheating was, if not overwhelming, then at least pervasive.  Nonetheless, they chose to make the state prove its case, and the state did.  Now they want everyone to feel sorry for them, and for some reason Paul Howard is apparently sympathetic to some extent.  I can fully understand why Judge Baxter was so angry.  I suspect he felt like Howard had left him holding the bag. This is indeed a big mess, but most of the mess was made by these teachers.  I hope they are not granted first offender status, and I sincerely hope their teaching careers are at an end.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Why did the judge allow "character" witnesses?  We know their "characters;" the jury spoke.


Why didn't he allow victim impact statements?  If you want to get "emotional," listen to THEM!

bu2
bu2

@Wascatlady 


They always allow character witnesses before sentencing.  You can get some insight you don't get from the trial.

Beverly Hall
Beverly Hall

This bunch of cheating knuckleheads are STILL TRYING TO BEAT THE SYSTEM.  Throw the book at them, they were given a chance to a plea deal and were too arrogant to admit their guilt.  These are the same types of people who park in handicap parking spots,  purchase flat screen televisions out of somebody;s trunk, or buy bootleg dvds regularly.   "After all, nobody was hurt by my actions" .  Sorry, but the ENTITLEMENT GRAVY TRAIN has left the station and hopefully Judge Jerry Baxter will stay strong and as Spike Lee said "DO THE RIGHT THING". 

dsw2contributor
dsw2contributor

Maureen,


Any updates on the Dekalb County School System educators who were arrested for cheating?


It has been two years since former Rock Chapel Elementary School Principal Angela Jennings, former Cedar Grove Middle School Principal Agnes Flanagan and former Stoneview Elementary School Assistant Principal Derrick Wooten were indicted.


MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dsw2contributor Last time we checked, two of the three cases were still pending, but we need to update.


Here is what we found out last summer: 


Two of the cases are still pending in DeKalb County Superior Court. Wooten’s case is with Judge Johnson. Flanagan’s case is with Judge Becker.  There are no dates set for either case.

However, Jennings pleaded guilty in the fall to five counts of Misleading Transmittal and Use of Individual Name over Computer Network in violation of OCGA 16-9-93.1(a). 

A court spokesman said, “Judge Coursey accepted the state's recommendation of 12 months probation for each count to run consecutively (totaling 60 months or 5 years).  A condition of the probation is for Jennings to not seek or accept employment in the k-12 system in Georgia during the term of her probation.  Judge Coursey added a $1,000 fine and included all ordinary court related fines as well.”

MaureenDowney
MaureenDowney moderator

@dsw2contributor I have sent your note and the update I ran a year ago to the education editor with the suggestion we follow up. I will also contact the DA's office in DeKalb.