Thursday, July 14, 2011

Dallas County may never see $35 million owed by bail bond companies

The Dallas News has been covering the local bail bond industry lately, honing in on tens of millions in unpaid judgments owed to the county that bail bondsmen never paid and possibly never will. An editorial this week ("Dallas County still lacks answers in bail bond debacle," July 12) opened:
Questions about the $35 million in uncollected judgments racked up by local bail bondsmen continue to stump Dallas County officials.

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.
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:
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.

Incredibly, no one person or department within the county bureaucracy has been tasked with tracking this high-dollar function.
There's also an issue of attorneys who can themselves issue bail bonds for their clients but who in practice are relatively unaccountable.

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.


Anonymous said...

The federal system doesn't take any money. If it works there it would work at the state level also. Plus it would make things fairer, that is everyone would be treated the same whether you have money or don't. Additionally, it would likely solve the overcrowding problem many jails are experiencing. The only drawback would be that it would put the bondsman out of business and deprive judges and sheriffs of the campaign donations, kickbacks and other under the table perks they get from the bondsmen.

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't expect any of this to be rectified soon because the FBI have been all over Dallas County the past couple of weeks. Both Craig Watkins and Commissioner John Wiley Price (who also sits on the Dallas County Bail Bond Board) have been questioned...,0,233626.story

Brilliant Politics!

Anonymous said...

Yes it all sounds so terribly incredible, sensational even. But the facts really aren't. The alleged $35 million are account receivables dating back to 1964 for bonds originally posted in 1959. That's know, one year after Kennedy was shot.

No jurisdiction in the state collects every bond and every jurisdiction of any size has millions in account receivables dating to the formation of the county. There's no such thing as writing-off old debt in the public sector.

The blogger stated that most of the debts derive from bond companies. What evidence do you have of that? Since that is factually untrue, where did you get your information?

Remember that PR bonds always have a monetary value, but no money is put up as security. If the defendant is a no show, then the county is left with an outstanding debt that is generally uncollectable because PR bonds are typically given to poor defendants who don't have the money to buy a commercial bond. The county didn't issue the PR bond, the judge did.

Attorney bonds are the most problematic because they put up only a fraction of the bonds they write. That's why counties don't let them write many bonds. But yes, attorneys go out of business or bankrupt and the county, like any other creditor, is left holding the bag.

So there's much more to this story than a sensational article in the Dallas Morning News. Frankly, I don't know why anyone would take management advice from the DMN given the shaky financial state of Belo Corporation.

Anonymous said...

who snitch on the bail bondsmen I want to no.

Anonymous said...

With Craig Watkins and John Wylie Price on the bail bond board, they won't collect jack shit. Dallas employs some of the dumbest people on this planet. Some with even dumber ideas than grits...

Anonymous said...

I agree with the fact that Dallas employs and elects the biggest dummies; however, the Grits readers have ideas and are the smart guys and gals!!!!

Anonymous said...

something tells me the $35 million - is just tip of the iceberg.