Blog

Your Education Road Map

Politics K-12

Betsy DeVos. Donald Trump. The Every Student Succeeds Act. Congress. State chiefs. School spending. Elections. Education Week reporters keep watch on education policy and politics in the nation’s capital and in the states.

Education

Why Julia Keleher Doesn’t Want Her Fraud Trial to Be in Puerto Rico

By Andrew Ujifusa — December 12, 2019 2 min read

UPDATED

Julia Keleher, the former education secretary of Puerto Rico who was arrested on fraud charges last summer, has claimed in court that the island’s media environment and public awareness of her situation will make it impossible for her to get a fair shake in the U.S. territory.

In a motion filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, the day before Thanksgiving to move the trial venue out of Puerto Rico, Keleher also cited marketing research and search results demonstrating that negative and crude portrayals of her are widespread, as well as study commissioned by her legal defense team showing that 85 percent of people eligible to be jurors were aware of the case, and 77 percent of those familiar with the case believe Keleher and other defendants in the case to be guilty.

“Without a doubt, this media frenzy, coupled with the fact that this case marked the end to a series of unfortunate government-related scandals, demonstrates that Keleher’s right to a trial by fair and impartial jury has been severely compromised,” the motion states. It also asks that the case be moved to a different court in the First Circuit.

Keleher, who was Puerto Rico’s education secretary from early 2017 to April of this year, was arrested in July and charged with improperly steering millions of dollars worth of Puerto Rico Department of Education contracts to consulting firms, including one run by close friends of hers. She and co-defendants have pleaded not guilty to the charges. The charges do not contain allegations that Keleher personally benefitted from her actions.


See Our In-Depth Coverage: Putting Puerto Rico’s Schools Back on Track


In the motion, Keleher’s team cites a torrent of online and other abuse directed at her after her arrest, as well as one instance of physical assault when she arrived on the island after news of her arrest broke (our highlights in yellow have been added to the original motion):

In addition, Keleher argued in the motion that she “became the face of corruption in the Rossello administration.” That’s a reference to the fact that, just a few days after Keleher’s arrest, text messages between Gov. Ricardo Rosselló and top Puerto Rican officials were published in the media; in the messages, he and others made derogatory remarks about Puerto Ricans suffering after Hurricane Maria and others, including the president of the island’s teachers’ union.

The messages sparked enormous and intense protests on the island that eventually drove Rosselló from office in late July. Here’s what Keleher’s motion has to say about that (again, our highlights have been added to the motion):

Before her resignation in April and her subsequent arrest, Keleher was already a polarizing figure in Puerto Rico because of her decisions to revamp her department, close hundreds of schools with relatively low enrollment, and her backing for new charter schools and vouchers. Supporters hailed her as a trailblazer who would help the system recover and improve after Maria. But critics said she massively disrupted schools and communities for little to no benefit.

Attorneys for Keleher said Thursday a judge has not issued an order yet on the motion to change venue.

Photo: Former Education Secretary Julia Keleher works with her team in a makeshift office at the Convention Center of Puerto Rico in San Juan in October 2017 after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. (Swikar Patel/Education Week)


Follow us on Twitter @PoliticsK12. And follow the Politics K-12 reporters @EvieBlad @Daarel and @AndrewUjifusa.

Related Tags:

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Speech Therapists
Lancaster, PA, US
Lancaster Lebanon IU 13
Elementary Teacher
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools
Elementary Teacher - Scholars Academy
Madison, Wisconsin
One City Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read