Some teachers in APS cheating scandal asking Georgia Supreme Court for new trials

ATLANTA — Georgia Supreme Court justices will decide if some of the Atlanta Public Schools educators found guilty in a cheating scandal should get a new trial.

The high court heard arguments on Tuesday.

Half of the educators found guilty in the APS cheating scandal are waiting to see if they might get a new trial.

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During the criminal case, the court-appointed law firm told Judge Jerry Baxter that it had a conflict of interest and couldn’t represent the educators, but Baxter denied the firm’s request to recuse itself. An appeals court did the same thing, so the firm took its argument all the way to the Georgia Supreme Court.

Attorney Stephen Scarborough stood before Georgia’s highest court to argue why six of the 11 educators found guilty in the APS cheating scandal should get a new trial.

“We all agree, I believe, that the right to undivided loyalty is central to our system. ... The court opinion by the court of appeals below, we think respectively, stands on just one leg, and we respectively suggest it is a shaky one,” Scarborough said.

The justices pushed back and asked where the line should be drawn, as a court-appointed lawyer could say he has a conflict for many reasons.

“I’m going to be in Barbados and therefore I can’t zealously represent my client and my client really, this is a really important case, my client deserves the Sixth Amendment right, and I can’t provide them because I’m going to be on the beach. How does the rule you’re asking us to make not cover that scenario?” one justice asked.

“I think that’s a case where the court can say that’s a frivolous scenario,” Scarborough said.

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The chief justice brought up another scenario.

“Public defender is replaced by a new public defender three days before trial, a trial that’s been set for a long time, he comes in and says, ‘I cannot exercise my professional responsibilities in competence and diligence and to represent my client in trial in three days in a case that’s been pending in three years,’ Judge Baxter said. ‘We’re starting trial on Wednesday, I deny your continuance.’”

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There was no ruling Tuesday, but the chief justice said the court will reach a decision as soon as possible.

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