A federal court hearing about Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin’s use of $160,000 from the jail inmate food account has been postponed, but the issue of whether money in that account belongs to the Morgan County sheriff remains to be resolved.
Attorneys for Franklin and the Southern Center for Human Rights, which is monitoring a federal court consent decree regarding Morgan County Jail conditions, late Tuesday filed a joint motion to postpone a show-cause hearing scheduled for today in the federal courthouse in Decatur.
The attorneys for both sides also filed a joint stipulation of facts late Tuesday that details Franklin’s withdrawal of $160,000 from the account in June 2015 and her restoring the money in the account less than two months ago.
“The purpose of the hearing was to establish the facts surrounding the removal of the money from the jail food account,” Sarah Geraghty, managing attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, said Wednesday. “We were able to negotiate the joint stipulation of facts with the sheriff.”
Barney Lovelace, one of Franklin’s attorneys, said Wednesday that the two sides are working on a resolution of the issue about the use of inmate food money.
“The parties have agreed to work together to see if we could resolve the issues in the motion to show cause filed by the attorneys for the inmates,” Lovelace said.
State law allows a sheriff to keep any money remaining after feeding inmates. A 2009 amended federal court decree in a case filed by Morgan County Jail inmates about jail conditions said all money the sheriff receives to feed inmates is to be used exclusively for that purpose.
“The contempt issue remains in front of the court,” Geraghty said.
No further hearings have been scheduled by U.S. District Judge Abdul K. Kallon.
The stipulation of facts filed Tuesday and signed by Franklin said she took $160,000 from the food account in June 2015 and loaned $150,000 of it to Priceville Partners, a used automobile dealer which filed for bankruptcy a year ago.
Franklin’s attorneys in a filing last week argued that Franklin should not be held in contempt of the amended decree because then-U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon’s 2009 order was not narrowly drawn, was not the least intrusive means to provide nutritious meals, and did not find the state law unconstitutional.
Greg Bartlett, the sheriff in 2009, proposed that all money intended to feed inmates be used only for feeding inmates to have him cleared of contempt of the original 2001 decree. Bartlett was found in contempt after Clemon heard testimony that inmates ate corn dogs for breakfast, lunch and dinner for two months.
An exhibit filed with the Southern Center for Human Rights’ reply filed Wednesday said recent interviews with inmates indicated that not much has changed since 2009.
The exhibit said inmates complained that entire cell blocks were fed reduced portions because the jail didn’t have enough food to feed all the inmates.
They told the center’s attorneys that they sometimes got a spoonful of grits and five or six green beans, and once were served cooking liquid from pans because the jail ran out of chicken cooked in the pans. Other complaints included finding rocks and a nail in the food, raw meat, moldy bread, and frozen items with ice on them, the filing said.
The center’s response said Franklin has the same incentive as Bartlett to serve inmates skimpy meals and pocket the savings.
“Class counsel recently sent a letter to the sheriff concerning complaints about underfeeding of inmates over the past year — the same timeframe in which $160,000 of funds designated for the feeding of inmates was devoted instead to a failing used car business,” a footnote with the center’s filing said.
The center’s reply said Franklin has never sought to have the 2009 amended decree concerning the use of food money clarified, modified or terminated.
“The sheriff is not entitled simply to ignore a federal court order, pocketing money that the court clearly and unequivocally forbade the sheriff from spending on anything but the ‘feeding of inmates,’ ” the center’s attorneys said.