We may have a serious disagreement building between Attorney General Sam Olens and the two top investigators in the Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal.
Last week, at a gathering of the Atlanta Press Club, Olens was asked whether he would involve himself in the prosecution of the scandal.
Olens made two points. First, he said that the granting of immunity to teachers, principals and some school administrators by state investigators would make it harder to chase down malefactors at the top.
The attorney general also said he would involve himself in prosecutions only if local district attorneys recused themselves – i.e., bowed out for a distinct cause, such as a conflict of interest.
Olens’ remarks prompted a call this morning from former DeKalb County district attorney Bob Wilson, who is in Albany investigating similar charges of altered test scores in the Dougherty County school system.
Wilson said Olens was wrong – or mistaken – on both counts.
First, let’s take up the impact of immunity, granted by Wilson and fellow investigator, former attorney general Michael J. Bowers. Wilson said:
“That’s both factually and legally incorrect. …..I can tell you as a former prosecutor, you can give immunity to the head honcho – to the kingpin of an operation – and prosecute everybody below. You can give immunity to the lowest-level person in the operation, and prosecute everybody above.
“You can give it to everybody in the middle, and take the guys at the bottom and the top and prosecute them.”
On the matter of prosecution, Wilson said that Olens, as attorney general, Olens has concurrent jurisdiction in all CRCT cases, though the former DeKalb prosecutor admitted Olens may be holding back as a matter of courtesy:
“The attorney general has jurisdiction in his own right. He can ask the district attorneys to allow him to present something to the grand juries. D.A.s grant grand jury time to the attorney general with some regularity.”
Bowers, Wilson said, was of the same opinion. We asked Olens for a response, and spokeswoman Lauren Kane sent the following:
”Given that Special Assistant District Attorneys Bob Wilson and Mike Bowers made the decision to take the case to the local district attorneys, got sworn in as special assistant district attorneys, and granted immunity in their capacity as special assistant district attorneys, we are being respectful of the DA’s prerogative to prosecute these cases.
“As the attorney general said, if, because of a conflict of interest, a DA is disqualified from handling a case, the attorney general’s office will step in and assign another prosecutor to the case.”
Olens did not respond to Wilson’s pushback on the cost of granting immunity.
I’m no lawyer. I do not play one on TV, nor have I slept in a Holiday Inn Express. But it strikes me that behind this exchange is some genuine worry that the APS cheating scandal won’t result in robust prosecution.
- By Jim Galloway, Political Insider