More than three years and thousands of court filings after then-Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin and her deputies coordinated ill-fated searches at the home of her jail warden and the business of a blogger foe, the lawsuits arising from the searches have settled.
The settlements bring to an almost complete end the dizzying array of litigation that surrounded Franklin through much of her second term in office and persisted in the months that followed her departure.
Glenda Lockhart, a Falkville business owner who ran a blog harshly critical of the Franklin administration, filed her suit against Franklin and deputies Robert Wilson and Blake Robinson, in October 2016. Leon Bradley, whose 13-year tenure as the Morgan County Jail warden ended in October 2016 when Franklin fired him for allegedly providing official documents to Lockhart, filed his suit in July 2018.
“The Lockhart case and the Bradley cases settled,” Franklin’s lawyer, William Gray, said Friday. “They settled through mediation, and the terms are confidential. Basically all I can tell you is there was no admission of liability and all claims and counterclaims were dismissed.”
He said Franklin was relieved to have the lawsuits behind her.
"Litigation is no fun, except maybe for the lawyers," he said.
Lockhart on Friday said she also was restricted in commenting.
"The only thing I can say is that I'm glad it's over, but I'd do it again," she said.
In nearly identical one-page documents, the parties to the separate lawsuits stipulated Oct. 31 that all claims should be permanently dismissed, and U.S. District Judge Madeline Haikala obliged with dismissal orders.
In addition to Franklin, Wilson and Robinson, Bradley’s lawsuit named the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office and information technology employee Justin Powell as defendants. Franklin left office without seeking a third term in January, and none of the defendants remain employed at the Sheriff’s Office.
Bradley’s lawyer, Nick Heatherly, declined to comment, and Brandi Lee, Lockhart’s lawyer, did not return calls.
While the dollar amount of the settlement is confidential, court records show that the Association of County Commissions of Alabama Liability Self-Insurance Fund, the insurer for Morgan County, intervened in both lawsuits and was involved in ongoing mediation.
Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said Friday he had not been informed the cases were over.
“That’s good if they’ve settled,” Long said. “That’s just something the people of Morgan County won’t have to listen to anymore, something else to be cleared up. We’ll be glad to have it over.”
Of the many court proceedings in which Franklin was involved, most as a defendant, only one appears active.
Franklin last month was sentenced to two years probation and 300 hours of community service after she pleaded guilty to willful failure to file an income tax return, a misdemeanor. This case is the only one that is not entirely resolved. Several sealed pleadings have been filed since the federal magistrate judge issued the written order outlining the terms of her probation, which included a prohibition on her possessing firearms. A hearing is scheduled in that case in Huntsville on Tuesday.
In September, a lawsuit filed by Franklin, Wilson and Robinson against Bradley and Glenda Lockhart’s grandson, Daniel Lockhart, was dismissed.
That lawsuit, filed in January, also arose indirectly out of the October 2016 searches. It focused on testimony Daniel Lockhart gave in an April 2018 hearing and an order by then-Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson. Thompson’s order determined the searches were illegal, and accepted Lockhart’s testimony that he was a paid informant for the sheriff and had installed keylogger software on his grandmother’s computers. Because the search was illegal, Thompson dismissed a resulting misdemeanor charge that had been filed against Bradley.
The lawsuit by Franklin and the former deputies was thrown out by Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Gil Self, who was assigned to the case after all Morgan County judges recused themselves.
In August, Franklin settled a lawsuit brought by Morgan County District Attorney Scott Anderson seeking to recoup inmate food money he alleged she had illegally placed in a personal bank account. Franklin returned $45,000 of the account’s $55,000 balance to resolve the lawsuit.
In January, Franklin settled a claim by the bankruptcy trustee of Priceville Partners LLC, a now-defunct title loan and used car business. Franklin loaned the company, part owned by convicted felon Greg Steenson, $150,000 in jail-food money.
Her filing of a proof of claim brought to public attention her violation of a 2009 court order prohibiting Morgan County sheriffs from personally benefiting from surplus money designated for feeding inmates. The trustee not only refused to acknowledge her claim as a creditor, he accused her of fraudulent transfers. Franklin settled the claim by agreeing she would only recoup her loan in the unlikely event all unsecured creditors were paid in full, and paying $34,000.
In June 2017, Franklin entered into a settlement of a claim by the Southern Center for Human Rights alleging her loan to Priceville Partners violated the 2009 court order. She refunded the money to the Sheriff’s Office food account and agreed to a $1,000 civil contempt fine.
Steenson remains in Morgan County Jail without bond, awaiting a scheduled Feb. 3 trial on felony counts related to his management of Priceville Partners.