Dalton turns over records in response to court order

Friday, June 20, 2014

By Karen Hall


In response to an order issued by Chancellor J. B. Cox on June 13, Sheriff Norman Dalton handed over records to Alex Friedmann this week.

Friedmann, managing editor of "Prison Legal News," a project of the Human Rights Defense Center, started requesting public records from Dalton and the Marshall County Jail in February. He received no records, and was repeatedly told to come to Marshall County to request the records in person. Even when the Tennessee Office of Open Records Counsel stated the law did not require a citizen to appear in person to make a public records request, Dalton and county attorney Bill Haywood refused to agree. Finally, Friedmann had no alternative but to file a law suit.

Cox heard arguments from both sides in Chancery Court on June 4, with Friedmann represented by local attorney Robert Dalton.

The chancellor's 12-page ruling summarizes the facts of the case as he heard them in court, discusses the relevant law, and then gives his analysis and ruling.

Cox had criticisms for both sides.

He wrote Friedmann's attitude "left much to be desired" and "did not make the process flow smoothly." Cox also wrote that the sheriff's lack of response after March was "tantamount to a denial of the records."

"Sheriff Dalton's reliance upon his counsel's advice and his willingness to produce the records upon personal appearance show the Court that he was not willfully denying Mr. Friedmann his access to the records," Cox wrote.

Robert Dalton had asked for all his client's attorney fees to be paid by the sheriff, but Cox denied this.

"However, the law appears clear ... Sheriff Dalton shall turn over the requested records ... and he shall do so at no cost to Mr. Friedmann," Cox concluded.

Cox completed and dated his order on June 13, and it was recorded in the Clerk and Masters Office the following Monday, June 16. By Wednesday, June 18, Friedmann had at least some of the requested records in his hands.

In an email, Friedmann confirmed he had received records relating to the mail policy and the grievance procedure at Marshall County Jail.

He had also requested records of the policies relating to medical care for prisoners, including who will provide the care, and what medicines are kept at the jail and information on telephone service for the inmates, including costs to prisoners (or their family members) and what, if any, commission is received by the county for this service.

"The sheriff indicated he did not have copies of other records, and referred me to a different county agency -- so I'll do some follow-up requests," Friedmann wrote.

When asked what he thought of the documents he had received so far, Friedmann wrote, "The mail policy appears to be facially unconstitutional because it prohibits all correspondence other than postcards. The grievance policy does not comport with certain practices at the jail that we have been informed of, which we will investigate further."

Marshall County has definitely not seen the last of Alex Friedmann and "Prison Legal News."