Former Dallas attorney Steven Yu continued to write bail bonds even after his personal and professional life began to unravel.Reports the News, "Attorneys in Dallas County, to establish their accounts, are required to post collateral worth 10 percent of the bonds they want to write. If they exceed that limit or fail to pay bonds judges order forfeited when their clients don’t show, the county officials can suspend or close their accounts." However, "The News identified several attorneys still with active accounts who have written bonds in excess of their account limits." The article goes into quite a bit of useful detail about the "attorney exemption" regarding bail bond regulation, including this notable tidbit:
He was arrested for tampering with evidence in a killing. Clients complained he mishandled their money and legal affairs. He was accused of professional misconduct in more than two dozen cases.
But the criminal charges and financial troubles weren’t enough to stop Yu from writing bonds. County officials didn’t close his account until years later. He still has $260,000 in bail bonds listed in county records.
Texas is one of the few states that allows attorneys to provide bail bonds for their clients, and that’s a potentially lucrative practice in Dallas County.
County records examined by The Dallas Morning News show that attorneys have more than $37 million in bail bonds on the books as of late June. But attorneys typically have even less oversight than bail bond companies. And sometimes they walk away from money owed to the county.
Yu and more than 200 other individuals identified by the county as attorneys have written more than $10 million in bonds that may not be backed by any collateral. Because of that, the county could find it difficult, if not impossible, to recover any bonds forfeited when their clients don’t show for court.
Attorneys in Texas are allowed to write bonds for clients under the so-called “attorney exemption” in the Texas Occupations Code.Grits was unaware of that practice, making me wonder what proportion of bonds are issued by attorneys instead of professional bail bondsmen, and what are the comparable absconder rates? The most prolific bond writer among Dallas attorneys had 654 outstanding bonds, as of the News' recent records request, with #2 coming in at 368. So while this may be a relatively common practice, according to the numbers presented in this story, attorney-issued bonds don't appear to make up a sizable percentage of bonds written overall. Still, it's not an insignificant number and apparently a much more common practice than I'd realized.
It requires them to be licensed to practice law in Texas and to be the defendants’ “counsel of record” at the time bonds are written. Attorneys also aren’t supposed to engage in conduct that would subject a bail bond company to “license suspension or revocation.”
In practice, that means attorneys who write bonds don’t face nearly as much oversight as bail bond companies. But they potentially pose a greater financial risk to the county: Most bail bond companies are backed by insurance companies who can be held responsible for paying the full amount of a bond forfeiture.
Dallas County has sought to impose additional requirements for attorneys writing bonds, such as posting collateral covering 10 percent of the amount of bonds they wish to write. But, if challenged, even that may be unenforceable, said one bail bond expert.
“Basically, the county cannot require attorneys who are writing on their bar license to put up any money,” said Randy Adler, a Dallas lawyer who represents bail bond companies. “All they’re required to do under the governing statute … is to present [their] financial statement. And once they do that, then the sheriff is obligated to accept their bond.”
In many Texas counties, Adler said, attorneys aren’t required to place any money in trust with the county.