A federal judge will hear arguments from attorneys at a hearing next month about whether Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin is entitled to keep money left over from feeding jail inmates or if she is required to spend all money on food for the inmates.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon late Thursday afternoon set a hearing for April 14 at 1:30 p.m. for attorneys representing Franklin and representing jail inmates to make oral arguments on the issue. The hearing will be in the federal courthouse in Decatur.
Kallon said in his order setting the hearing that what Franklin can do with money in the inmate food account is the only remaining issue after both sides filed a joint stipulation of facts Wednesday detailing the movement of $160,000 that Franklin removed from the account in June 2015. The $160,000 has been returned to the account, the joint stipulation said.
Kallon said Franklin’s admission that she used $150,000 from the account to make a personal loan to a used auto dealership leaves only one issue to be resolved.
“… the sole issue remaining as to the motion is Sheriff Franklin’s legal argument regarding the scope of the consent decree as it relates to her ability to utilize excess monies in the inmate food account,” Kallon wrote.
Franklin’s attorneys have argued in court filings that a 2009 amended consent decree does not apply to her because state law allows her to keep unspent money from the account, and that then-U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon erred in ordering that all money the sheriff receives to feed inmates be used exclusively for that purpose.
They argued that the order applied to Franklin's predecessor, but not to her.
Attorneys for the Southern Center for Human Rights, which Clemon assigned to monitor compliance with the consent decree, have said that the order applies to Franklin because federal civil lawsuit procedures made Franklin a defendant when she succeeded former Sheriff Greg Bartlett.
The center, which is based in Atlanta, had asked for a hearing for Franklin to show why she should not be found in contempt of the decree for removing the $160,000. That hearing was to be held Thursday, but was canceled after the two sides filed the joint stipulation of facts Wednesday.
The case began in 2001 when Morgan County Jail inmates filed a class-action lawsuit against the county and former Sheriff Steve Crabbe over conditions in the jail. The two sides agreed to a consent decree later in 2001 that resulted in the county building a new jail and making other improvements.
The matter returned to the courtroom in 2008 when inmates complained about the meals they were served, including eating corn dogs three times a day for two months.
Clemon found Bartlett in contempt of the decree and sentenced him to federal prison until Bartlett could offer a plan to feed inmates nutritious meals. Bartlett spent one night in a Talladega federal prison before proposing that all money the sheriff receives for jail inmate food be used for that purpose.
Clemon agreed to Bartlett’s proposal and amended the consent decree in January 2009.