Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin pleaded her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 30 times in a written response filed Wednesday to a Falkville blogger's federal lawsuit.
In each instance, Franklin declined to admit or deny specific allegations asserted against her by plaintiffs Glenda Lockhart and a business Lockhart owns, Straightline Drywall & Acoustical.
“The defendant neither admits nor denies the material averments in this numbered paragraph but asserts her Fifth Amendment rights,” her lawyer responded each time.
“The Fifth Amendment privilege is open to anyone who has not waived that privilege with regard to any questions that pertain to any possibility of criminal activity,” said William Gray, one of Franklin’s lawyers. “The fact that she claimed that privilege would not have any effect on her doing her job for the remainder of her term.”
Franklin is not running for re-election. Her second term ends in January.
Lockhart’s lawyer, Brandy Lee, said she was not surprised Franklin pleaded the Fifth, but was surprised she pleaded it so many times.
“Depending on the grand jury that convened this week, if she gets indicted, I expect there will be another motion to stay,” Lee said, referring to a motion to halt the civil case.
According to a motion filed last week by one of Franklin’s lawyers, a grand jury was scheduled to convene Monday.
Lockhart’s third amended complaint is 46 pages and includes 128 numbered allegations. It generally claims Franklin and three of her subordinates in 2016 convinced Lockhart’s grandson to hack into her computers to obtain information used to secure an unauthorized search warrant. Franklin’s goal, according to Lockhart, was to suppress Lockhart’s Morgan County Whistleblower blog. The blog has for years been critical of Franklin.
The answer to the complaint was filed Wednesday by Franklin’s lawyer in the case, Robert Spence of Tuscaloosa. Spence made his first appearance in the case Friday, two days after Franklin’s previous counsel announced his plan to withdraw from the case.
“I've just gotten in the case, but the trial judge had directed that an answer be filed,” Spence said Wednesday in an email responding to questions about the assertion of the Fifth Amendment. “I have not met with the sheriff yet, so this seemed the most prudent way to comply with the court's order.”
Spence filed the answer two days before a court-ordered Friday deadline.
The other defendants in the lawsuit are deputies Robert “Bones” Wilson and Blake Robinson, and the information technology director for the Sheriff’s Office, Justin Powell. They had not filed answers to the third amended complaint as of late Wednesday.
Franklin’s previous lawyer in the case had said in a motion that her Fifth Amendment rights could be infringed upon if she was required by the court to give a deposition or respond to discovery requests, but he had stopped short of refusing to respond to questions based on her Fifth Amendment rights.
Franklin in her answer to the complaint pleaded the Fifth Amendment in response to numerous allegations involving the use of keylogger software on Lockhart’s computers. The software was the focus of considerable testimony last month in a hearing on a motion by former Warden Leon Bradley to dismiss a misdemeanor computer tampering charge. The charge, which was filed 11 months after searches of Lockhart’s business and Bradley’s home, alleged that Bradley had forwarded confidential Sheriff’s Office documents to Lockhart for use in her blog. Circuit Judge Glenn Thompson granted the motion and dismissed the charge.
In last month’s hearing, Franklin denied she had any knowledge that Daniel Lockhart had installed keylogger software on his grandmother’s computer and testified there was no evidence such software had been installed. In response to an allegation in the complaint that Powell helped Daniel Lockhart install the software and that it was used to obtain passwords and to access emails, Franklin pleaded the Fifth. In last month's hearing, Powell testified he supplied the software to Daniel Lockhart on a thumb drive and told him how to install it.
Franklin also pleaded the Fifth in response to allegations that the defendants used the keylogger software to intercept Glenda Lockhart’s emails in real time. These allegations form the basis for Lockhart’s claim that Franklin and the other defendants violated a federal wiretapping law.
The complaint alleges that Franklin lied to Daniel Lockhart by “telling him that the Whistleblower Blog was registered in his name and that it had been used to commit a felony,” and that he would be arrested if he did not cooperate with the Sheriff’s Office. Franklin pleaded the Fifth to this allegation, and also to an allegation that Wilson told Daniel Lockhart a felony conviction would keep him out of the U.S. Army.
Franklin asserted her Fifth Amendment rights in response to allegations that she paid Daniel Lockhart a total of $500 to act as a confidential informant. In the hearing last month, Franklin admitted to the payments.
She pleaded the Fifth in response to an allegation that she in June 2015 “invested for her personal interest $150,000 of funds collected in the Morgan County jail food account into Priceville Partners,” a used car and title loan company that declared bankruptcy in March 2016. Franklin previously has admitted to loaning jail food money to the company, and she was found in contempt of a 2009 court order for making the loan. She has previously denied, however, that she made the loan in an effort to benefit personally.
She pleaded the Fifth in response to an allegation that she “voiced to many that she wanted the Whistleblower Blog shut down and Glenda Lockhart arrested.” In a hearing last month, she admitted to telling others she wanted the blog shut down.
Franklin denied in last month's hearing that she had tried to get a Madison County investigator to sign the search warrant affidavits for Glenda Lockhart’s business and Leon Bradley’s home. The investigator, however, testified she had. In response to an allegation in the complaint that she had asked him to sign the affidavit, Franklin pleaded the Fifth.
Several allegations in the complaint claim that documents unrelated to the search warrant were removed from Lockhart’s business, including data critical to business operations and documents relating to Priceville Partners. One of the allegations is that Wilson or other defendants destroyed some of the wrongfully seized documents. Franklin pleaded the Fifth in response to these allegations.
Franklin referred all questions to Gray, who said he has been retained by Southern States Police Benevolent Association to represent Franklin, Robinson, Wilson and Powell.
“Neither the sheriff nor anyone else connected with the Morgan County Sheriff’s Office committed any criminal activity,” Gray said.