Questions about the $35 million in uncollected judgments racked up by local bail bondsmen continue to stump Dallas County officials.Some of this is owed by attorneys, but most of it is attributable to regular ol' bail bond companies. The county may hire a law firm (taking a 25% cut) to collect the debt, but many people think the bulk of the amount owed cannot be collected, for a variety of reasons. Much of the fault lies with the obscure board tasked with oversight of bail bond practices, said another News editorial:
How much of that money is actually owed by attorneys who write bonds? The county can’t say.
How much of that sum is collectible? That seems to be a moving target.
Who owes what? The county will have to get back to you on that.
Of course, the $35 million question is: How did Dallas County get in this mess? That’s followed closely by: And how will this be fixed?
Incredibly, beyond disclosing the staggering sum of $35 million that the county has failed to collect, officials have few answers about this money or the people who should have paid up.
A Dallas Morning News investigation reveals that a haphazard approach to tracking bond forfeitures, coupled with an antiquated computer system, has allowed millions to go uncollected.
Part of the problem traces back to bail bond companies that failed to pay judgments when criminal suspects they’ve gotten out of jail did not show up for court.
The county’s bail bond board hasn’t sought or received regular reports detailing collections, outstanding bonds or other relevant information. And while the board has the power to yank a company’s license when it fails to pay, that hasn’t happened even once in recent memory — perhaps because board members haven’t been alerted to delinquencies.There's also an issue of attorneys who can themselves issue bail bonds for their clients but who in practice are relatively unaccountable.
Incredibly, no one person or department within the county bureaucracy has been tasked with tracking this high-dollar function.
These stories by the Dallas News are not just important for Big D, they can and should be replicated by media in other jurisdictions and I'll bet reporters who did so would find similar results. The arguments against more aggressive use of personal bonds become weaker if it turns out bail bondsmen often don't pay up after their clients skip. If other jurisdictions show similarly poor payment performance on defaulted bail bonds, that could change the terms of debate significantly among judges and county officials regarding best practices for pretrial release.