The legal team representing former superintendent Beverly Hall in the Atlanta cheating criminal case has entered a “not guilty” plea on her behalf. Hall, along with a number of other Atlanta officials implicated in the scandal, appeared in the Fulton County Superior Hall this week to answer to the charges that she orchestrated the vast cheating conspiracy in order to financially benefit from improved student test scores.
According to Yahoo News, Hall’s attorneys will be arguing in her defense that she was unaware of the cheating and was not involved in any way. Speaking after the hearing, Hall’s attorney J. Tom Morgan said that he expects at least a number of her 35 co-defendants to seek a separate trial, but said that that former superintendent will not be one of the people filing such motions.
Attorneys may argue that being tried so that a jury can consider the charges against them without being influenced by allegations against co-defendants. On Friday, Judge Jerry Baxter indicated he was inclined to have one trial and set the date for May 5, 2014.
Baxter also dismissed a request for an order barring attorneys from speaking to the media, but reminded them to follow ethical guidelines.
Hall didn’t speak in court and didn’t stop to talk to reporters after her appearance but a number of her supporters showed up holding signs naming hall and “other APS employees.” One of them, Mercehari Williams, who is a former Atlantic Public Schools employee, said that although wrongdoers in the cheating case deserved punishment the excessive media attention paid to the original allegations, the investigation and the subsequent criminal charges made it impossible for the defendants to get a fair trial.
In March, Hall and the other 34 educators were named in a 65-count indictment that alleges a conspiracy to cheat, conceal cheating or retaliate against whistleblowers in an effort to bolster student test scores and, as a result, receive bonuses and accolades for improved student performance.
Each could face five to 20 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.
Hall’s reticence with reporters isn’t a new development. Although she didn’t shy away from media attention while she headed up APS, she hasn’t been very public since the racketeering charges against her were announced. Morgan, however, has been more open with the media, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – whose original investigation into possible cheating going on in the district schools originally started the firestorm – that Hall was “absolutely innocent.”