Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin’s lawyers have admitted in a federal court filing that Franklin’s $150,000 investment in a used car dealership that went bankrupt came from the Morgan County Jail inmate food account.
Her attorneys’ response to a motion that Franklin show why she should not be held in contempt of a federal court consent decree requiring money received to feed inmates be used only for that purpose said part of the decree is too broad, overreaching and does not apply to Franklin.
The Southern Center for Human Rights, which was appointed to monitor the decree, had filed a motion for Franklin to show why she should not be held in contempt of the decree for not complying with the 2009 amended decree.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon has scheduled a hearing on the center’s motion for 9 a.m. Thursday in the federal courthouse in Decatur.
Franklin’s attorneys told attorneys from the Southern Center for Human Rights on Jan. 30 that Franklin took $160,000 from the food account in June 2015 to invest in Priceville Partners used car company, the response from attorneys Mark Maclin and Barney Lovelace said.
“Sheriff Franklin acknowledges that the money she loaned that business came from funds removed from the Peoples Bank Food Account,” her attorneys said in the response.
Priceville Partners’ bankruptcy filing last year listed Franklin as a claimant for a $150,000 loan. Franklin said after the bankruptcy filing that she used her “savings for retirement” for the loan. She refused to comply with public records requests from The Decatur Daily for information on the inmate food account.
Alabama law allows sheriffs in the state to keep money left from feeding jail inmates as personal income, except where superseded by the county commission or local legislation.
Lovelace declined to comment when reached late Monday afternoon. “The document speaks for itself,” he said.
Sarah Geraghty, managing attorney at the Atlanta-based Southern Center for Human Rights, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Franklin has restored the entire $160,000 to the food account at Traditions Bank, her lawyers said.
Attorneys for the center said in their filing for a hearing that Franklin has declined to furnish them records showing what she did with the money between withdrawing it from the food account and replenishing it.
Franklin’s lawyers said what she did with the money is irrelevant because the money is her private account under the state law allowing sheriffs to keep excess food money. They pointed out that now-retired U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon did not find the state law unconstitutional.
Attorneys for Franklin said the center’s attorney have been satisfied with the financial records she has provided to them since taking office in 2011, but now deem those records inadequate.
The 2009 amended consent decree stems from a 2001 federal class-action lawsuit filed by Morgan County Jail inmates against then-Sheriff Steve Crabbe about conditions in the jail.
Clemon approved a 2001 consent decree between the two parties that detailed jail improvements the county would make. Clemon approved the 2009 decree amendment for then-Sheriff Greg Bartlett to be cleared of a contempt of court finding by Clemon that inmates were not receiving nutritious meals.
Bartlett spent a night in federal prison after Clemon found him in contempt of the decree.
Franklin’s attorneys in their response argue that Bartlett’s proposal to use all money to feed inmates for that purpose went further than necessary to ensure inmates received adequate meals, and that it was not needed to remedy a constitutional violation.
The court could not impose the language in the amended decree because Clemon did not find that requiring all the money for feeding inmates was “narrowly drawn, or that it was the least intrusive means necessary to correct any such violation,” they argued.
The federal Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1996 required Clemon to make such a finding for “prospective relief” in a civil case, Franklin’s response said.
The response also cited two federal cases to argue that the consent decree should not be binding on Franklin because she was not a party to, and did not agree to, Bartlett’s 2009 proposal “so he could get out of jail.”
Maclin and Lovelace wrote that if Bartlett had proposed to work every day in the jail kitchen, order food and cook food, “Would that mean every sheriff after Sheriff Bartlett would also be required to work every day in the kitchen, etc.?”
The Southern Center for Human Rights said in its motion for a show cause hearing that Franklin must comply with the consent decree because Federal Rules of Civil Procedure automatically substituted her as a party when she succeeded Bartlett in office.
Clemon, now retired, said recently that his order about using inmate meal money only for food applies to whoever is sheriff.
keith.clines@decaturdaily.com or 256-340-2438. Twitter @DD_KeithClines.