A judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit filed by former Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin against her former jail warden, possibly bringing to an end one of numerous lawsuits surrounding her two-term tenure as sheriff.
"This lawsuit was frivolous and without merit. Justice was served," said Nick Heatherly, who represented longtime Morgan County Jail Warden Leon Bradley, a defendant in the suit along with Daniel Lockhart.
The ruling dismissing the lawsuit was issued by Lauderdale County Circuit Judge Gilbert Self, who presided over the case after all Morgan County judges recused themselves.
"I don't have any comment, beyond that we are considering whether to appeal," William Gray, the Birmingham lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said Tuesday.
The case was filed in January by Franklin, former deputies Robert Wilson and Blake Robinson, and Justin Powell, a former information technology employee at the Sheriff's Office.
Daniel Lockhart is the grandson of Glenda Lockhart, a blogger who was a harsh critic of Franklin and her deputies, and he was at one time a paid confidential informant for Franklin in her investigation of his grandmother and Bradley.
In their lawsuit, the four plaintiffs focused on an April 2018 order issued by former Morgan County Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson. After hearing testimony, he dismissed a misdemeanor charge of tampering with government records that had been filed against Bradley.
The complaint focused on the language of Thompson’s order. The order dismissed the charge against Bradley after concluding the Sheriff’s Office had improperly obtained search warrants — also issued by Thompson — through false and misleading representations to the court. The warrants authorized October 2016 searches of Bradley’s home and Glenda Lockhart’s Falkville business.
The plaintiffs' complaint disputed many of the factual findings of Thompson’s order, which was issued after two days of testimony from multiple witnesses, including Franklin, Wilson, Robinson and Powell. They particularly objected to language in the order that the four of them “endeavored to hide or cover up their deception and criminal actions under the color of law,” and that Franklin and Robinson “deliberately misled this court for the purposes of obtaining search warrants.”
According to a motion filed with the complaint, the April 2018 order harmed the plaintiffs’ credibility to the point that “District Attorney (Scott Anderson) had stated his intent not to use Wilson or any of the other plaintiffs as witnesses.” The complaint alleged that since Thompson's order, the plaintiffs have never “been called upon by the Morgan County District Attorney’s Office to provide sworn testimony.”
According to the complaint, Thompson's 2018 order so damaged the deputies' credibility that Sheriff Ron Puckett, who took office in January, fired Wilson and convinced Robinson to resign. Powell left the Sheriff's Office after the complaint was filed.
“Their reputations have been damaged,” according to the complaint. “Their careers, including current positions, have been terminated, and the prospect of future employment, have been jeopardized.”
Heatherly said the dismissal should give people confidence in the judicial system.
"These people — former Sheriff Franklin, (Wilson, Robinson and Powell) — were sworn to protect and serve the residents of Morgan County," Heatherly said Tuesday. "What they did was the complete opposite. They sought to silence and violate the constitutional rights of the residents of Morgan County, and then tried to sue people who were vocal about it, who brought their wrongdoings to light."
Franklin, Robinson and Wilson suffered another legal setback last week when the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled they were not protected by governmental immunity from a lawsuit filed against them by Bradley, who Franklin fired in October 2016. The 11th Circuit in June ruled they were not immune from a lawsuit filed against them by Glenda Lockhart.