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Attorney removed from representing at last 6 defendants in Atlanta Public Schools cheating case

The public defender had argued it was a conflict of interest to represent all six defendants.

ATLANTA — A public defender who has been representing the last six defendants in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal case, which has stretched out nearly 10 years, has been granted a recusal - essentially meaning he is being removed from the case.

Judge Jerry Baxter granted the motion to recuse on Thursday for the attorney, Stephen Scarborough. He had argued it was a conflict of interest to represent all six defendants, who are appealing their convictions in the long-running case.

The defendants will now need to find new representation. It's unclear what the next steps will be in the case, though Judge Baxter said Thursday they would reconvene in about six weeks.

RELATED: Advocates call on judge to end APS cheating scandal case, nearly 10 years on

The case originates with the charges that educators had changed student answers on state standardized tests in 2009. In 2013, 35 educators were indicted and 23 eventually confessed. Another 12 went to trial a year later and 11 were ultimately convicted. 

The case, in aggregate, is now considered the longest criminal trial in Georgia's history.

Scarborough had once previously tried to withdraw and was denied a motion by Judge Baxter to do so in 2019. He'd argued then that defending the six clients together was hindering him from providing the best defense possible to each of them individually.

"My loyalty to each of my six clients requires me to omit issues I would otherwise raise, or at least to argue those issues less robustly than I otherwise would - still at my ethical peril- as compared to the way I would argue an individual client’s appeal were I free to advocate for a lone defendant," Scarborough argued in his motion. 

The arrangement, he argued, constituted a conflict of interest inconsistent with Sixth Amendment protections.

Several advocacy groups held a conference call Wednesday to urge Judge Baxter to grant the recusal and wind down the case for the last six defendants.

"We're tired, and the people of Atlanta and Georgia are tired," said Sarah Abdelaziz of the Abolitionist Teaching Network. "Judge Jerry Baxter has the power to draw this to a close, and we implore you please use that power."

The groups, which include the Georgia NAACP, are further seeking the dismissal of the case for the final six.  


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