All 35 educators in the Atlanta school cheating scandal have pleaded not guilty in the case. Prosecutors were dealt a blow on Friday in their efforts to keep not only the accused, but also their attorneys quiet as this case plays out.
Former Atlanta Public Schools Superintendent Beverly Hall had a pleasant look on her face as she was dropped off for court. The retired educator found herself in a courtroom, rather than a classroom. She rose and pleaded not guilty to charges that she ran a racketeering criminal enterprise, focused on test cheating.
"It is a nightmare for each and every one of them. None of these professionals could ever imagine that they would be indicted and possibly facing prison time," said Hall's attorney, J. Tom Morgan.
Judge Jerry Baxter held the hearing in a larger courtroom to fit prosecutors, all 35 defendants and their attorneys in one place. Everyone pleaded not guilty to the cheating charges. Baxter gave prosecutors a blow when he refused to silence defense attorneys in the case, saying those accused should have a presumption of innocence.
"These folks have pretty much been vilified and you have tried, in the court of the public opinion, and your office seemed to be leading the charge," said Baxter to prosecutors.
Prosecutors denied that, but Baxter said he listed to the press conference.
"It's unfair where the prosecution has every opportunity to make public statements for well over a year and then the defendants are indicted, charged, and the condition of their bond would say we're not allowed to say anything. The judge realized that there's a presumption of innocence in this country," said Morgan.
The judge joked at the end they would have to find a Kroger in order to try the case since there are so many defendants, and the courtroom is small in size.