DEKALB COUNTY, Ga. - A former DeKalb County Schools superintendent is appealing a sentence after a judge rejected a plea deal and sent him to prison. Now, the office that prosecuted Crawford Lewis in a school corruption case is teaming up with him in his fight against the judge’s decision.
“It takes guts because this is a judge you’re going to appear before on almost a daily basis,” said legal expert Manny Arora.
Channel 2’s investigative reporter Mark Winne consulted Arora about new papers filed by the D.A.'s Office about Superior Court Judge Cynthia Becker’s decision to sentence Lewis to jail.
According to records, Lewis negotiated a plea deal last October to a misdemeanor count of hindering and obstructing. The forms say the D.A. then conveyed a recommendation to Lewis’ lawyers that a judge would sentence him accordingly, subject to his truthful testimony during the trial of two others. The recommendation called for 12 months’ probation; however, after Lewis’ testified, Becker sentenced him to 12 months to serve.
“The judge decided what she heard from the testimony, she didn't like,” said Arora. “She's saying you did a lot more that deserves more punishment.”
Now, Lewis has appealed and the D.A.’s Office is working with him. According to the new paperwork, Becker claims she wasn’t bound by the plea deal, but the D.A.’s Office is fighting that decision, saying Lewis should be serving the probation and not jail time. The D.A.’s Office said Becker agreed to the plea deal and should be bound by that decision.
“In this case, the D.A.'s Office has gone above and beyond to say ‘no, this is what we agreed to,’” said Arora.
The new paperwork filed by the prosecution says, "It appears clear that on December 9, 2013, the trial court breached the negotiated promises that had been ratified and certified by the trial court October 16."
According to Arora, the phrase “trial court” means Judge Becker.
Arora said it is a big deal that the D.A.'s Office, that once went after Dr. Lewis so hard, now sides with him by saying it appears clear Becker bound herself to the plea deal.
“I’m very pleasantly surprised at the D.A.'s Office in DeKalb County for stepping up and doing the right thing based on the facts as outlined in the transcript,” said Arora.
Arora says the paperwork says both sides met with the judge the day before the guilty plea and learned the judge would accept the plea deal. Arora stresses he is not saying anything bad about Judge Becker. He says she may feel she is standing up for what is right, and the D.A.’s Office may feel the same way.
Lewis is expected to stay out of jail pending the resolution of this appeal.
A jury convicted two other defendants in the case last year. Tony Pope and Patricia Reid are both serving several years in prison. Prosecutors said Reid, the former district chief operating officer, helped steer more than $1 million in contracts to her then-husband, Pope. A judge sentenced Reid to 15 years in prison and Pope to eight years.