APS defendants seek judge’s removal

A number of the remaining defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools test-cheating are asking that Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter be removed from the case on allegations he made improper phone calls to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

The motion was initially filed by former regional director Tamara Cotman, one of the 13 defendants left in the case. It has since been joined by other APS defendants, including former Superintendent Beverly Hall whose lawyers filed her own recusal motion.

Baxter, who has presided over the massive case since the indictment was handed up more than a year ago, has suspended the case and asked that the recusal motion be heard by another judge. Fulton Superior Court Judge Shawn LaGrua, who was recently assigned that task, has yet to set a hearing.

Cotman’s lawyer, Benjamin Davis, had asked Baxter to dismiss the racketeering case against Cotman on double jeopardy grounds. When Baxter refused, Davis filed a pretrial appeal to the Court of Appeals.

While that was pending, the appellate court issued an order disclosing that Baxter had made “multiple calls” to the court clerk inquiring about the timetable of the appeal and “urging quick action.”

On Tuesday, Davis said he found that disclosure troubling.

“When I got that order, I was just dumbfounded,” he said. “Judges are prohibited from trying to contact a judge on the Court of Appeals or to try and communicate with a judge through the clerk’s office.”