A judge, who said he was uncomfortable with the 7-year sentence handed down to 3 educators in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal, has announced he will be reducing their prison sentence to 3 years.
In addition to their 3 year sentence, Tamara Cotman, Sharon Davis-Williams and Michael Pitts were also ordered to serve 7 years probation, pay $10,000 in fines and work 2,000 hours on community service.
“I’m not comfortable with it,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter said of the sentences he handed down to the three defendants April 14. “When a judge goes home and he keeps thinking over and over that something’s wrong, something is usually wrong.”
Baxter had received criticism from a number of community leaders after handing down prison sentences to 8 of the educators who stood trial for charges of racketeering in the cheating scandal, reports Emma Brown for The Washington Post.
The educators had been accused of helping to raise test scores in struggling schools in the area by erasing wrong answers and replacing them with the correct ones.
Benjamin Davis, the lawyer for defendant Tamara Cotman, questioned the judge after the original sentencing had been handed down.
“I had never seen a judge conduct himself in that way,” he said. “What was going on with Judge Baxter?”
The three educators in question, all school reform team executive directors, received the harshest sentences of those who faced trial, including 7 years in prison, 13 years on probation and fines of $25,000 each.
During the original sentencing, Baxter expressed disappointment that the defendants did not admit their guilt. At an April 17th press conference, most of the defendants continued to express the opinion that they were innocent, writes Ralph Ellis for CNN.
“Everybody knew cheating was going on and your client promoted it,” Baxter said to an attorney representing Davis-Williams. At one point he said, “These stories are incredible. These kids can’t read.”
All of the defendants who have received prison sentences have appealed and are out on bond. Defendants who received lesser prison sentences of one or two years have not received a reduced sentence.
According to prosecutors, the cheating possibly began as early as 2001 when scores on state standardized tests began to show significant improvement. The indictment goes on to say that test answers were altered or falsified for at least four years between 2005 and 2009.
Former Georgia attorney general Michael Bowers said that “cheating parties” were held at district schools, where test answers were teachers were instructed to make changes to answers on student tests.
In all, 35 educators were indicted in 2013. Over 20 took a plea deal. The remaining 12 stood trial, with 11 receiving convictions and one being acquitted on April 1.
Of the remaining 11, two took a deal which involved them admitting their guilt and waived their right to an appeal in return for a lighter sentence. The remaining defendant was giving birth during sentencing and has not yet received her sentence.