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Atlanta Public Schools test cheating trial expected to be lengthy and detailed

Legal experts are predicting a lengthy and even challenging trial as hundreds of prospective jurors begin the selection process this week.
Legal experts are predicting a lengthy and even challenging trial as hundreds of prospective jurors begin the selection process this week.
Nicole Bailey-Covin

Jury selection continues in the system-wide, standardized test cheating case that shook Atlanta Public Schools to its core. 12 former Atlanta Public School employees, consisting of former principals, administrative staff and other employees stand accused of participating in a nearly 6 year conspiracy helping students cheat on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT).

Hundreds of people showed up as prospective jurors this week and are filling out detailed questionnaires and answer questions from both defense and prosecuting attorneys. All 12 defendants are facing racketeering charges in a case that involved educators erasing and changing incorrect CRCT test answers.

Originally 35 people were indicted, in the school cheating scandal including former Atlanta Public Schools superintendent, Dr. Beverly Hall. 21 of the originally indicted employees took plea deals and are expected to testify against their former district co-workers and associates. The trial could last more than three months, but will not include the person the state says masterminded the cheating conspiracy, Dr. Hall. In July Fulton County Judge Jerry Baxter ruled that Hall would not be among the defendants in this case as she fights for her life batting stag 4 breast cancer. However, Judge Baxter did rule that Hall will still have to stand trial.

In the summer of 2011, state investigators released details of long term, wide spread cheating that occurred in 44 schools and involved nearly 180 educators. A shocked community heard reports that the district leaders "created a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation" driven by an overall goal to meet Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) standards under the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Meeting and exceeding these standards earned the district accolades and financial bonuses. But once the cheating allegations surfaced, serious legal questions lead to investigators digging into the validity of a major, academic measuring tool, the CRCT.

Legal experts watching this case say the jury is in for a lengthy, detailed trial especially as the state works to prove its case of illegal activity under Georgia's Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations statute, or RICO.

With Beverly Hall not part of this trial, experts say the prosecution will need to present as much of the evidence they would have used against Hall to explain their allegations of high level pressure leading to district wide cheating.

Caren Morrison, an associate professor of law at Georgia State University and a former assistant U.S. attorney told CBS News, "There's one fewer lawyer making objections or a few witnesses specific to (Hall) may be cut, but when you read the indictment there are many, many sub-parts that have to be proved beyond a reasonable doubt".

The other issue is pretrial publicity. This case consumed Atlanta residents for months when it surfaced and continues to trouble educators and the community today due to the fact students suffered as a result of educators cheating.

Judge Jerry Baxter ordered the potential jurors to not to read newspaper reports, watch or listen to any news coverage of the case, and not to research the case on their phones, electronic devices or computers.

Attorneys will select 12 jurors and 11 alternates. Jury selection may last a long as two weeks.