Fulton DA asks for sentence reductions for educators convicted in APS cheating scandal

ATLANTA — Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard is trying to get the sentences reduced for seven former educators convicted in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.

Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Richard Belcher says there’s evidence this is about Howard’s reelection campaign.

As first reported by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Howard sought lesser sentences for seven former educators soon after he received the endorsement of a former political opponent.

Christian Wise-Smith told the AJC that he approached Howard after Wise-Smith finished third in the June primary.

Howard then agreed to meet with the defendants to negotiate a possible resolution.

Thirty-two educators were convicted in the scandal that rocked the city years ago.

“This case from the perspective of our office from the beginning to the end was simply about children,” Howard said at a candidate forum in May.

At the forum, he defended his prosecution of dozens of educators after state investigators uncovered widespread cheating on standardized tests.

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Howard said recently years of cheating had a lasting, toxic effect on APS.

“Some of the children whose tests were changed now are in high school, and if you look at those high schools, who were once outstanding high schools, they’re now failing high schools because of those same students. So, no, I wouldn’t go back and change anything,” Howard said at that same forum.

But Howard agreed to cut a deal with the seven remaining defendants after meeting with Wise-Smith.

The AJC reported that Howard agreed to approach Judge Jerry Baxter to propose that the defendants drop their appeals. In exchange, their sentences would be, in effect, voided. Baxter said no, at least for now.

In a statement, Howard says, “After speaking with several members of our community, I have decided that reaching an agreement ... is the right thing to do.”

The statement does not mention his discussions with Wise-Smith or Wise-Smith's endorsement of Howard.

“I’m stunned by what I’m seeing,” former DeKalb DA Bob Wilson said. Wilson was part of the team appointed by then-governor Sonny Perdue to investigate the cheating.

Bob Rubin, who represents four of the defendants also agreed with Wilson. He told the AJC he’s disappointed his clients didn’t get their sentences reduced, but said, “In my opinion, this was all about politics.”

Wilson calls it a breach of public trust.

“These are not chips in a poker game that you’re betting for your winning. That is wrong. That’s a violation of oath and violation of the public trust of the highest order,” Wilson said.

“Do you think it’s connected to his reelection bid?” Belcher asked

“I can draw no other conclusion,” Wilson said.

Wilson is supporting Fani Willis, who is Howard’s opponent in the runoff next month.

Willis helped to prosecute the cheating cases. She told the AJC she met with Wise-Smith, but isn't interested in a deal for the educators unless they admit guilt and apologize.

Howard got the endorsement from Wise-Smith.