DISCLAIMER: This site does not collect or share any personal information from our readers. We do not ‘phish’ or ‘troll’ or track our loyal readers.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
Don't sweat the small stuff
Folks, don't sweat the small stuff. There is more to come on another day. Let Ana enjoy her day in the sun.
Settlement proposed in jail food dispute By Evan Belanger Staff Writer, Decatur Daily
Opposing attorneys in a legal fight over Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin’s alleged misuse of inmate food money have proposed a settlement that would concede Franklin violated a federal court order but also would win her fight to strike a key provision of that order.
Subject to court approval, the proposed order filed jointly by attorneys for Franklin and the Southern Center for Human Rights admits Franklin should be held in civil contempt and fined $1,000 for removing $160,000 from the jail food account in violation of a 2009 court order.
The money since has been returned to the account, according to court records.
The proposed order also concedes Franklin is due to win her motion to strike language in the 2009 decree that requires the Morgan County sheriff to use all money paid into the food account by the state to feed inmates.
“In other words, Sheriff Franklin’s position that the inmates have been properly fed has been shown to be true by them agreeing to this motion,” said Franklin’s attorney, Barney Lovelace.
Striking that language would allow Franklin and future Morgan County sheriffs to tap into the fund for other purposes, including their own profit, under a state law that allows sheriffs to keep leftover food money as personal income.
The consent decree was established after the court held former Sheriff Greg Bartlett in contempt and had him jailed overnight for failing to provide adequate nutrition to inmates while legally pocketing about $212,000 from the food fund over a three-year period.
Sarah Geraghty, attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights, said her organization agreed to the concession because federal law would have made it difficult to preserve the provision.
“We did that with great reluctance, because frankly we think the statute that permits sheriffs to skim from the food accounts for their own profits is terrible policy that leads to unfortunate consequences,” she said.
Specifically, she said, the 1996 Prison Litigation Reform Act would have required the court — upon request from a defendant — to terminate any provision of a jail consent decree that is more than two years old unless the court can find there is a current and ongoing violation of the Constitution.
Geraghty called the legal standard “exceedingly high” because the plaintiffs would have to prove Franklin or other jailers were aware of a significant risk of harming an inmate, that they deliberately ignored it, and that the problem was ongoing.
“You have to show more than the food is bad, more than the food is not enough,” she said, adding later that “the fact that there may have been food issues even last year is not enough to make that determination.”
Lovelace said lawyers for the inmates agreed to the concession because defense counsel was prepared to call numerous independent witnesses, including a U.S. marshal responsible for inspecting the jail, to testify the inmates were well fed.
“The evidence was going to be overwhelming that the inmates have been fed nutritious diets as required by law,” he said.
Other provisions of the consent decree, including those requiring monitoring of jail nutrition programs by the Southern Center for Human Rights, would remain intact under the proposed order.
The joint motion proposes language clarifying that the center should have access to financial records related to the jail food account, a prior point of contention between the two litigants.
In addition to Franklin’s $1,000 fine, the proposed order calls for the Morgan County Jail to pay $5,000 to compensate the Southern Center for Human Rights for its services in the legal fight.
Geraghty said that figure was substantially reduced from the actual fees incurred by the center in litigating the contempt issue.
“From our perspective, this was an issue that could and should have been resolved a long time ago with an order like the one we have proposed,” she said. “Unfortunately, for several months the sheriff was very resistant to negotiate a reasonable settlement.”
Lovelace disputed that, saying Gerhaghty only called last week to concede Franklin’s motion was due to be granted.
“Until they made that concession, it was not possible for a settlement to be reached,” he said.
District Judge Abdul Kallon had not yet ruled on the motion as of Tuesday evening. The law grants him broad latitude to accept the proposal as is or alter it as he sees fit. On Friday, he issued an order requiring to Franklin to appear in court next Wednesday to explain why she should not be held in contempt.
Franklin removed the money from the jail account in 2015 and loaned it to Priceville Partners, a used car dealership that declared bankruptcy last year.
After a hearing in April, Franklin said she loaned the money to recoup $21,000 from the jail food account lost when food expenses exceeded revenue, intending on interest on the short-term loan to make up for the loss.
Court records show the $160,000 has been returned to the jail food account. Lovelace declined to say where that money came from, directing the question to Franklin.
Franklin declined to answer questions about the proposed settlement, saying any comment would be “untimely” until the judge has an opportunity to review the motion and issue his order.
Gerharghty said she believes there have been improvements in food-related issues at the jail, but full-day inspections on Monday and Tuesday had uncovered issues that the center will be contacting the sheriff about.
“I think it will be important for us to closely monitor conditions at the jail going forward,” she said.