By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - After a courtroom outburst from a civil rights leader, a judge on Monday delayed the trial of a terminally ill former Atlanta school superintendent accused of conspiring to alter students' standardized test scores.
Beverly Hall, who resigned her job as head of Atlanta school system in 2011, was supposed to stand trial on felony charges next month. But her attorneys requested a delay, arguing that chemotherapy treatment for Hall's advanced breast cancer would make it difficult for her to endure a lengthy trial.
Hall was charged with racketeering, making false statements and theft in the school test scandal. She faces up to 45 years in prison if convicted of all the charges.
Her case has attracted attention from civil rights leaders who feel her prosecution is a waste of taxpayers' money given the state of her health.
In an exchange with one of Hall's attorneys on Monday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter suggested that a delay might mean that Hall may never stand trial on the charges.
"Good!" shouted Andrew Young, a key lieutenant to the late civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., from his seat in the courtroom.
"I think justice has to have mercy for it to be relevant," continued Young, a former Atlanta mayor and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.
A bailiff then tried to escort Young out of the courtroom, but Baxter allowed him to stay. The judge later agreed to delay Hall's trial from late April to August.
"I hope this treatment works and she is better," Baxter said.
So far, 23 of the 35 defendants indicted in the cheating scandal have pleaded guilty.
Hall, 67, has terminal Stage 4 breast cancer that has spread to her liver and bones, her oncologist Laura Weakland testified on Monday.
A new round of chemotherapy scheduled to start next week could stabilize Hall's condition and make it possible for her to improve enough to stand trial in a few months, said Weakland.
But a physician called by prosecutors said he is doubtful the chemo will help Hall and she could die within a few months.
"If we are ever going to try Dr. Hall, we should do it tomorrow," said oncologist James Stark of Suffolk, Virginia, a paid expert witness for the prosecution.
A 65-count indictment returned last year charged that "test answer sheets were altered, fabricated and falsely certified" by Atlanta educators. The charges were in connection with a state investigation that found cheating on standardized tests at 44 Atlanta public schools.
Hall was named National Superintendent of the Year by the American Association of School Administrators in 2009, the same year prosecutors contend widespread cheating took place.
She received a $78,000 bonus that year from the school system for improving its test scores, prosecutors said.
(Editing by David Adams and G Crosse)