Posted: Tuesday, March 22, 2011 12:00 am
Two months before she took office, Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin got an opinion from the county’s attorney about whether a federal court order prohibiting the sheriff from keeping inmate food money applied to her.
A bill from attorney Bill Shinn’s office showed that the County Commission paid $132 for legal advice Shinn gave Franklin in November. She took office in January.
Officials said Franklin had no authority to request the opinion because Sheriff Greg Bartlett was still in office.
County Commission Chairman Ray Long said he asked Shinn to reimburse the county, and Shinn said he has done so.
“The county shouldn’t have been billed for it. Of course, when I asked Mr. Shinn to reimburse it, he was more that willing to do so,” Long said.
A 1930s law allows Alabama sheriffs to keep the leftover funds from feeding inmates, but the Morgan sheriff no longer can do so because a federal judge stopped the practice. Sheriffs in other counties are still allowed to keep the money for personal income.
Shinn’s charge was on the firm’s December bill to the county, and District 1 Commissioner Jeff Clark said he plans to pay closer attention to future bills.
“I glanced over it but I didn’t catch that,” Clark said. “She’ll have to pay for that out of her pocket.”
Shinn said Franklin didn’t know he had billed the county for the opinion. He said Barney Lovelace, his law partner and Franklin’s attorney in another matter, asked him to give the opinion for her.
“There was no formal opinion given,” Shinn said when The Daily asked for a copy of the opinion. “She (Franklin) was interested in what her obligations were going to be. She was the sheriff-elect and I think she was legitimately trying to understand what the duties of her office are and this is one of the aspects of it.”
Shinn gave a reporter a copy of case law he said he gave Lovelace to back his opinion that Franklin was bound by retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon’s ruling.
Two years ago, Clemon amended a 2001 consent decree, which forced officials to build a jail, to include an order that prohibits the sheriff from keeping for personal use money left after feeding inmates. The order stated that the sheriff, (not Bartlett) “shall” use all funds, including fees received for inmate meals from the state, municipal and federal government entities exclusively for feeding inmates.
Clemon rendered the order after confining Bartlett to a federal correctional facility for a night in 2009 after inmates complained about inadequate meals. During a hearing, Bartlett told the judge that during a three-year period he kept about $212,000 after feeding inmates.
Clemon’s order also addresses other matters, such as living conditions at the jail and providing law books for inmates, for which the commission shares responsibility. Shinn said that’s one of the reasons he gave the opinion.
“The order refers to county defendants saying they shall do this or that, so the county has an interest in this, although most of what has to be done is by the sheriff,” Shinn said.
Attempts to reach Franklin and Lovelace were unsuccessful.
Lovelace also represents Franklin in the appeal case of fired investigator Doug Key. That case is pending a decision by the county’s Personnel Review Board.
Mary Pons, attorney for the Association of County Commissions of Alabama, said she doesn’t know of any law that clearly addresses the opinion Franklin sought.
“I can’t think of anything I’ve ever seen for or against that,” Pons said. “If it were me, I would have gone through the County Commission and asked them to get the opinion for me.”
Fund under watch
The inmate food fund is under watch by attorneys who filed the lawsuit for inmates.
The federal court order allows for Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights attorneys to conduct random checks of the jail and financial records. Attorney Melanie Velez said they do the random audits twice a year and will continue to do so.
Velez said the judge’s order is clear: “The federal consent order and subsequent revisions were binding on the former sheriff and must be followed by the current Morgan County sheriff.”
The balance in the inmate food account is $102,000, according to a clerk. The state pays $1.75 per inmate for each day, and the federal government pays about $3 per meal for each federal inmate housed there.
County Attorney Bill Shinn rendered an opinion about whether Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is bound by a federal court order that prohibits the sheriff from keeping leftover inmate food money for personal use.
Shinn said he gave an informal opinion to Franklin’s attorney and his law partner, Barney Lovelace, that the court order applied to Franklin.
A note Shinn attached to case law he gave Lovelace to back his opinion read: “Barney, the attached FR CiVP 25 (d) (1) answers your question to Sheriff Franklin’s liability in the (Sheriff Greg) Bartlett jail case.”
Franklin was sheriff-elect when Shinn gave the opinion in November. She defeated Bartlett in a Republican primary runoff in July and a Democratic contender in the general election.
A 1930s state law allows sheriffs to keep any money they have left from feeding inmates. Proposed legislation to stop the statewide practice three years ago failed.
U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon’s 2009 order states:
“The sheriff of Morgan County shall immediately establish and implement a procedure whereby all funds provided by any source for the feeding of inmates, including funds from the state of Alabama, any municipality, and the federal government will be used exclusively for the feeding of said inmates incarcerated in the Morgan County Detention Facility.”
The state pays $1.75 per inmate each day and the federal government pays about $3 per day for each federal inmate.