Ga. Supreme Court returns former DeKalb school chief’s to trial court

The Georgia Supreme Court today returned to the trial court the case against former DeKalb County School Superintendent Crawford Lewis, saying a judge should decide if he truthfully testified against his former co-defendants.

If Lewis did, the justices said, then he honored the plea deal with prosecutors and should be punished with 12 months on probation for interfering with a criminal investigation into corruption in the school district’s construction program. If he did not testify truthfully, the the court did not have to honor the agreement and could sentence him to 12 months in jail, the justices said in a unanimous opinion.

In this case, both Lewis' attorneys and prosecutors argued the same point; Lewis told the truth when he testified against the districts former chief operating officers, Pat Reid, and her ex-husband, architect Tony Pope. But former Judge Cynthia Becker, who heard the case two years ago, angrily disagreed. saying he lied when he described the circumstances around a scheme to award Pope tens of millions of dollars in construction contracts that he was not entitled to receive because he was married to the woman who, at the time, oversaw school construction.

Becker retired from the bench this year after the Judicial Qualifications Commission began investigating her. She also was indicted earlier this year on charges that she misled JQC investigators but those charges were dropped four days later.

Chief Justice Hugh Thompson wrote for the court that while Becker had accepted the terms of the plea bargain, she still had the authority to determine whether Lewis testified truthfully, a key ingredient in the deal. Thompson said the case had to go back to the DeKalb County judge assigned the case after Becker retired because she made no written finding that Lewis was not truthful; she only implied it.

“Should the trial court find after consideration of the record, the parties’ arguments, and the evidence that Lewis did not testify truthfully, Lewis will lose the benefit of the negotiated sentencing agreement and the court will be relieved of its duty to impose the promised probationary sentence,” the opinion said.

Lewis was charged with racketeering and facing the possibility of decades in prison when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, which carried a maximum punishment of 12 months in the county jail.

Pope and Reid were both convicted of racketeering two years ago. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison while Pope was sentenced to eight.

Earlier this year, however, they entered pleas to theft charges and were sentenced to five years in prison each.

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