Alabama sheriff loses bid to vacate ruling

Published 9:03 pm Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A federal judge refused Tuesday to overturn his ruling that resulted in an Alabama sheriff going to prison and agreeing to give up big profits from feeding prisoners in his county’s jail.

U.S. District Judge U.W. Clemon dismissed a request by Morgan County Sheriff Greg Bartlett asking him to set aside a contempt ruling earlier this month that Bartlett wrongly profited from the jail kitchen while feeding prisoners small, inadequate meals.

Bartlett argued in court papers that there was no evidence that prisoners suffered because of the skimpy meals, but Clemon said the claims were frivolous.

“Accordingly, the motion should never have been filed,” Clemon wrote in a terse, brief order.

The case could now go to the 11th U.S. Court of Appeals and Donald Rhea, an attorney for Bartlett, said they would meet to decide whether to pursue it.

An attorney for prisoners in Morgan County’s jail did not immediately return a message seeking comment. The jail is in Decatur, located in the Tennessee Valley about 80 miles north of Birmingham.

Clemon jailed Bartlett overnight after ruling the sheriff purposely fed prisoners inadequately to maximize his personal profits under a Depression-era Alabama law that lets sheriffs keep any profit they can generate from the jail kitchen.

Bartlett testified he legally kept about $210,000 from the system over the last three years, a period when prisoners told Clemon they were fed cold, small meals that included paper-thin bologna and lacked milk or fruit.

The judge let Bartlett out of prison after he agreed to give up the profits and put the money back into prisoner meals.

Evidence showed sheriffs are personally responsible for any shortfall in kitchen operations should they fail to turn a profit, and Bartlett asked Clemon to place that liability on the county since he can no longer keep the profits.

The judge refused.