Paperwork problems delay some educators who want to surrender

At least two former teachers indicted in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal were ready to turn themselves in Monday, but they couldn’t because the warrants needed to take defendants into custody weren’t ready.

The Fulton County district attorney’s office said the paperwork had been delivered to the Clerk of the Superior Court, and neither gave an explanation for why the process was taking so long.

By Monday evening, the Fulton County Jail still did not have the documents it needed to process the 35 accused APS administrators, educators and others who had been indicted Friday and given a Tuesday deadline to surrender.

Defense attorneys believed their clients could turn themselves in at any time as long as they met the deadline. But a spokeswoman for Fulton District Attorney Paul Howard said the defendants were to surrender “ON Tuesday” and not before.

“The jail does not have the paperwork,” said attorney Gerald Griggs, who was mobbed by reporters when he went to the Rice Street lockup Monday morning to find out what Starlette Mitchell and Angela Williamson needed to do to surrender with enough time to appear before a judge the same day so they could post bond and avoid a night in a cell.

“My clients are ready to move forward and the only way to move forward is to get this paperwork cleared up,” Griggs said.

Lawyers for some of the others named in the 65-count indictment tried to line up bond agreements before they escorted their clients to the jail. But one attorney, Bruce Harvey, said he had tried all day on Monday to reach someone in the DA’s office to make an arrangement for bond with no success.

The 35 cases have all been assigned to Fulton Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter, but he cannot sign warrants or schedule court hearings until all the paperwork is completed.

A 65-count indictment was returned late Friday accusing former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall and 34 others of racketeering along with other crimes — including theft by taking, making false statements or writings, influencing witnesses or false swearings.

The charges were based on the findings of a state investigation that was done after The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported statistically improbable increases in APS test scores. First, the AJC reported suspicious improvements in scores at one Atlanta school in 2008. The next year the AJC published another analysis that found suspicious score changes on the 2009 mandated Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests at a dozen Atlanta schools. Last year, an AJC analysis found problems with test scores at schools nationwide.

The state’s report, released in July 2011, described a culture that rewarded cheaters, punished whistle-blowers, covered up improprieties, and robbed tens of thousands of children of an honest appraisal of their abilities. Bonuses for Hall and top administrators were the rewards for improved test scores.

Attorney Bob Rubin said he was hoping to have an agreement with the district attorney on bond before his clients — D.H. Stanton Elementary School principal Willie Davenport and Benteen Elementary School teacher Sheila Evans — reported to jail.

As with other defense lawyers, Rubin’s goal was to spare his clients a night in a jail cell.

Defense attorney Steven Berne, who represents Kennedy Middle School secretary Carol Dennis, said, “We’re having a heck of a time getting her surrendered so she can make bail.” Dennis is charged with racketeering and making false statements and writings.

“I don’t think the DA sent in the paperwork,” Berne said. “Everybody is ready to rock and roll. But if we tell our clients to surrender, the jail’s going to turn them away. Mr. Howard made this artificial deadline of April 2, but he left us little time for our clients to get ready.”

“The focus is just getting my client surrendered, getting a bond and getting [her] bonded out,” Berne said.

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