Judge tries to contain size of Atlanta cheating case

The judge overseeing the Atlanta test-cheating scandal expressed surprise and concern Thursday over the mounting size of the case, in which prosecutors listed 2,440 potential witnesses and intend to produce more than 1 million pages of documents.

“I was a little taken aback by the number of witnesses,” Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter told Fulton County prosecutors. “We need to hone this list down. You’re not going to call 2,500 witnesses. I mean, that’s crazy. You need to get real.”

Fulton prosecutors on Wednesday sent the one-inch thick witness list to lawyers representing the 35 former Atlanta teachers and administrators accused of inflating standardized test scores.

Senior Assistant District Attorney Fani Willis noted that more than 70 Georgia Bureau of Investigation agents were involved in the probe, making it the agency’s largest investigation since the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing. Willis also noted the case involves “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of children” who were interviewed by authorities. Some said that their teachers told them to cheat on standardized tests, Willis said

Willis also cited the governor’s special investigation, administrative tribunal hearings and internal Atlanta Public Schools investigations that targeted test cheating.

“It’s a barrage of documents coming from a lot of different sources,” she said.

But Baxter told Fulton prosecutors they need to winnow down their information as best they can to help the defendants understand whether there is solid evidence against them.

Prosecutors will not “just drive up a tractor trailer and dump [the documents] out and tell the lawyers to get in the haystack and find the needles,” the judge said.

The Fulton District Attorney’s Office already presented the case before a grand jury, Baxter said.

“You know the outline of your case,” he said.

If the defendants can see for themselves that prosecutors have credible witnesses who will testify against them, “it will help them determine their future,” Baxter said. “It will help people decide whether to stay in the case or get out.”

Baxter ordered prosecutors to put together, by the end of this month, one-page summaries of each of the 2,440 potential witnesses, with synopses of their expected, relevant testimony and who they will be testifying against.

“Otherwise, the case is unmanageable,” Baxter said.

Willis said she was working six days a week, trying her best to organize the evidence and testimony that prosecutors expect to introduce at trial.

“It’s a huge endeavor,” she said.

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