Tamara Cotman is led to a holding cell after a jury found her guilty in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating trial in 2015. (Kent D. Johnson/ Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Two Atlanta educators lose their appeals in test-cheating case

Two former Atlanta educators will continue to be labeled “felons” after the the Court of Appeals of Georgia sided against them Friday.

Tamara Cotman and Angela Williamson, two of the 11 convicted in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating conspiracy, failed to persuade the court to overturn their convictions.

Cotman, who was an administrator over a region where cheating occurred, and Williamson, a teacher implicated in correcting students’ answers on state standardized tests, appealed their 2015 convictions on procedural grounds.

They claimed the judge erred in his instructions to jurors when he told them how they should decide whether to convict under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

Lawyer Benjamin Davis argued at a hearing in May that his client, Cotman, should get a new trial because Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter, now retired, gave jurors too much latitude in reaching their verdict. “He was adding a new offense that was not part of the jury form,” Davis said at the hearing.

Fulton County Deputy District Attorney Linda Dunikoski countered that Baxter had issued “a good jury charge,” and the three-judge appeals court panel agreed, writing in their 43-page opinion that the judge “did not err in instructing the jury” on racketeering law.

The two former educators, like their nine fellow convicts, were sentenced to prison, with Williamson getting two years and Cotman three.

Testimony at the trial established that Williamson was among teachers who gathered in a classroom to correct student answer sheets after a test, and that Cotman retaliated against staffers who opposed cheating. Cotman wrote a now infamous note to principals that said investigators could “go to hell.”

All of those convicted have remained free on bond pending the outcome of their appeals. The other nine are working their cases through the trial court in Fulton County.

Only Cotman and Williamson went directly to the appeals court, and despite the outcome for them Friday, both will remain free on bond, as they eye Georgia’s highest court next.

“We will appeal to the Supreme Court,” said Williamson’s attorney, Gerald Griggs.

Cotman’s attorney, Davis, could not be reached for comment, but within hours of the release of the court’s decisions, he had filed an official notice of intent to appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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