DECATUR, Ala -- A federal judge today said Morgan County Sheriff Ana Franklin violated a court order that bars converting jail food money for personal use, but he stopped short of holding her in contempt.
U.S. District Judge Abdul Kallon said the language in a longstanding consent order concerning operations of the Morgan County Jail is explicit that money given to the sheriff’s office for prisoner meals, can only be spent on prisoner meals.
Alabama law allows sheriff’s to pocket leftover jail food budget dollars, but the practice was explicitly barred by a court order for Morgan County in 2009.
Franklin admits taking $160,000 from the prisoner meals budget in June 2015 and investing $150,000 in a car dealership that later went bankrupt. She returned the bulk of the money in December 2016 and the remainder in February.
Franklin’s attorney Barnes Lovelace argued that Franklin thought the language regarding prisoner meal money only applied to her predecessor, Greg Bartlett, who’d been jailed for contempt after feeding jail inmates corn dogs, three meals a day, for months.
Franklin said following the hearing that she’d been told repeatedly the food budget provision didn’t apply to her. She was asked who told her that. She said a number of people, including attorneys had given her that advice
Franklin was then asked if the attorney for Morgan County had told her the consent order didn’t apply to her.
At that point, Franklin turned to her attorney, Lovelace. He said “She did not get any advice from the county attorney at the time of whether this portion of the order applied to her or not. He told her that generally consent decrees follow the next person in office. He did not give a specific opinion about the food issue.”
Lovelace argued during the hearing that the consent order by former U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon was overbroad and that there was no current issue with the adequacy of prisoner meals in Morgan County.
Judge Kallon acknowledged the question of whether the prisoner meals are adequate is an issue that still needs review, but he showed little patience with the argument that Franklin didn’t think the food budget decree applied to her.
The judge repeatedly questioned why, if Franklin had a problem with it, she didn’t come to court and ask to have the consent order removed. But instead, she just ignored it, the judge said. He also disagreed that Judge Clemon exceeded his authority jail food budget ruling.
Franklin said she respected the court and would never defy its authority. She said she takes pride in providing proper health care and food for inmates and looked forward to proving that inmates were properly taken care of and there was no effort to misuse funds.