The Southern Center for Human Rights is seeking records the group could use to argue a federal court order regarding the treatment of inmates at the Morgan County Jail should be retained.
Sheriff Ana Franklin and the Morgan County Commission filed a motion last week seeking to dismiss the 2001 court order and later amendments, arguing they were no longer needed.
In response, the Southern Center, which represents prisoners at the jail, has filed a motion seeking to delay for 60 days an automatic stay that would free the jail from the conditions of the court order pending a final determination by the court.
It also sought a hearing at which the Southern Center could present evidence to argue that at least some of the 33 numbered provisions of the court order should be retained due to ongoing violations of the inmates' rights.
The provisions of the court order, which was initially made to require the county to build a new jail, range from access to a law library for inmates to provisions regarding adequate food, medical care and sleeping arrangements.
Among other records, the Southern Center sought complete medical records for approximately 20 inmates, all food menus since Jan. 1, and complete financial records for all funds received and expended by the sheriff for the purpose of providing meals since Jan. 1.
It further sought all incident reports related to use-of-force at the jail since Jan. 1 and records indicating the number of prisoners using temporary floor bedding on a weekly basis since Jan. 1.
County Commission Chairman Ray Long on Monday described the court filing as expected, predicting the county would prevail in its motion to free itself from the court order.
“I think the records that they'll be reviewing will show that the jail has been run well above what the consent decree requires and, at the end of the day, that we'll get out from under it,” he said.
Barney Lovelace, attorney for the sheriff’s office, said the defendants raised no objections to the latest filing.
“They're doing their due diligence as they should,” he said.
The federal law the county is using generally favors the termination of federal court orders after two years if there are no ongoing or current violation of prisoners’ rights.
Sarah Geraghty, an attorney for the Southern Center, did not return requests for comment Monday.
The proceedings come after the court held Franklin in civil contempt last month and fined her $1,000 for removing $160,000 from an inmate food account when a federal court order expressly stated all of the money must be used for inmate food.
The contempt ruling came as part of a settlement agreement between opposing litigants as the defense conceded Franklin was in contempt and the plaintiffs conceded there was not enough evidence to require that particular provision of the court order should remain, allowing it to be struck.
Franklin was not subject to more severe penalties because she returned the money before the motion for contempt was filed.
That particular provision of the court order stemmed from Franklin’s predecessor, Greg Bartlett, who was held in contempt and temporarily jailed for failing to provide adequate nutrition to prisoners while testifying he legally pocketed $212,000 from state money intended for the feeding of inmates over a three-year period.
A 1939 state law allows most Alabama sheriffs to personally keep leftover food money as a supplement to their incomes. Bartlett agreed to the provision as a condition of his release from jail.
Franklin said she withdrew the money and invested $150,000 of it in a used car dealership, hoping to recover a $21,000 cost overrun in the jail food account. The dealership bankrupted, and one of the investors paid her the money back, she said.