Thursday, December 29, 2011

Unregulated bail bonds can burn smaller counties

The Dallas Morning News offers up a cautionary tale ("Smaller Texas counties struggle with bail bond regulation," Dec. 29, behind paywall) regarding bail bond regulation, or the lack thereof, in smaller Texas counties (with populations below 110,000, which are not required to have a local bail bond board. They tell the story of
a West Texas bail bond company [that] ended up in a financial bind.
The company shut its doors. Dozens of its clients forfeited their bonds when they failed to show for court dates.

And when county officials tried to collect what was owed, they discovered that the bail bond company’s listed assets didn’t match with reality.

Dozens of Texas counties face similar prospects. At a time when, critics say, some larger counties don’t have enough authority to regulate bail bond companies, smaller counties have even less.

Bail bond boards are required in counties with at least 110,000 residents. The boards have significantly more power than the sheriffs responsible for regulating bail bondsmen in smaller counties.

For example, bail bond boards require security deposits of “not less than $50,000” from licensees. But sheriffs cannot impose the kind of licensing system found in bail bond board counties, according to a state attorney general’s opinion.

That means less oversight of such companies and potentially more trouble for counties trying to recover bond money.

The counties that lack bail bond boards “are just the wild, wild West,” said Bryan Clayton, first assistant district attorney for the 119th Judicial District, covering Tom Green County and two nearby counties.
Ed Timms and Kevin Krause have been doing a great job on their bail series throughout 2011, and this end-of-the-year special is no exception. Terrific stuff, guys.


Anonymous said...

all bondsman ought to immediately forfeit minimum 50% of a bond is their client fails to show. then forfeit the other 50% within 30 days if they don't put the defendant back in jail. a simple clear cut system will fix the problem. eliminate all the grace periods, loopholes, delays, remissions, favors. anyone who directly posts cash - does not get all these privileges. equal protection under the law does not apply when grandma (wants to save some money and bypass the bondsman) skips the bondsman and directly posts the cash deposit with the court. if grandson skips court, they take her money immediately - swift, simple, understood - no games. why do bondsman get special perks when they fail in their job. grandma doesn't.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, there is indeed a double standard when it comes to posting bond in TX. Those who choose to pay their bail in cash must pay the full sum to the court and their funds are forfeited swiftly and promptly by the court when the defendant fails to appear. The party posting the cash bail is notified of the forfeiture, but unlike property bail agents or insurance company backed bail agents there is little to no legal maneuvering that occurs before the funds become the property of the state and local jurisdiction. Bail agents, however, file appeals, delay payment proceedings, close up shop as your article illustrates, and often settle for less than the full amount owed. If bail agents were treated like the public posting cash bail then this process would be fairer and more just. When and if a bail agent is successful in returning a defendant to the court following a failure to appear then the bail agent could be returned a portion of the funds immediately forfeited by the court. This practice would still encourage bail agents to pursue those who forfeit bail where the bail agent has paid the full sum of the bail to the court as agreed in the executed bail bond.
Don't look for this to change anytime soon though because bail agents are actively involved in the funding of local politicians and state legislators campaigns, as well as they have numerous well financed lobbyists that will continue to advocate and defend the loopholes and perks bail agents currently have built into the law and the system.
Perhaps it is time for property bail bonding to be outlawed or eliminated as an option. The Dallas articles on this topic and this post illustrate the games played in appraisal, re-appraisal, and just closing up shop that make tracking the value of property pledged very difficult. If a property bond were to be posted then it should not be the basis for an individual or company to use as collateral for a bail bonding business. Rather property back bail should be used only in individual cases or instances and not the basis or collateral for operating a bail bonding business. Seizing property from a property bail agent is a costly and lengthy process, and in many cases the property is overvalued so the county never recovers the funds owed. Another problem with bail agents, especially property backed agents, is their ability to write bail valued at ten (10) times the amount of the property pledged. If I pledged property valued at $100 K then I could write up to $ 1 M (yes, $1 million) in bail bonds. Surely this is a practice where government can and does end up holding an empty funds or an inadequate amount of funds to pay the judgement due and the costs to recover the judgement. The legislature needs to correct the problems that exist in the bail bonding practices of courts throughout Texas by implementing regulations for all counties regardless of population and eliminating or reducing the ability of property backed bail agents to operate. Equalizing the process and sanctions for the posting of bail by bail agents (both insurance backed and property backed) is a great first step.
Again, don't hold your breath.

rodsmith said...


"And when county officials tried to collect what was owed, they discovered that the bail bond company’s listed assets didn’t match with reality."

Guess i'm just dense but wouldn't that be FRAUD?

just arrest the bonds office owners and seize THEIR assets! Most texas sheriff's are EXPERTS on that!

Anonymous said...

The current bail bond system is about money, nothing else. It makes money for the bondsmen who donate to the campaigns of judges and sheriff's and provide other perks (see the scandal a few years ago when a bondsman was taking members of the Smith County sheriff's dept. on gambling trips). Its also about making counties money. While some counties may not be collecting, the system is designed to make them money. Bonds are set so high that most people cannot afford to post them without going to a bondsman. How many people can post a $50,000 bond? But, many people can come up with $5,000. But, if the judge set the bond at $5,000 where the person could post it themselves, if the defendant failed to show up for court, the county only gets $5,000. But, if a bondsman is used, the county, theoretically (although apparently some aren't collectin) would get $50,000, or 10 times as much. But, think about it. Wouldn't the fact that the person would get their $5,000 back if they show up give them more incentive to show up? Whereas if they use a bondsman, the money is just gone and they have no additional incentive to show up. So, if the system were about ensuring appearances, the bonds would be set where people could post them and get their money back when they show up. But, that is not the point of the system. The entire purpose of the system is to make money for bondsman and counties. I also suspect there are probably a fair number of judges receiving some types of bribes from bondsman.

So, what's the solution. Do what the feds did a long time ago. Do away with bail bonds completely. The federal system no longer requires bail. The defendant is usually released on "bond" with conditions but no money is involved. If it works for the feds it would work for the state. But, then who'd be giving the judges and sheriffs their bribes, kickbacks and perks?

Stephanie said...

I'm sorry, Grits, but what does "behind paywall" mean?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Steph, it means you have to have a subscription to view certain Dallas News content, including this story.

Anonymous said...

Reply to Rodsmith

Hmmm, maybe the Sheriff and favorite local defense attorney who also has ownership in a bail bonding company are all in bed together?

Why would you go after someone who has been giving you a "finders fee" for bidness....

rodsmith said...

LOL i know that 0900 but once it happens enough then and ONLY then MAYBE the general public will wise up and take matters in their own hands where it legally belongs and do a few CITIZENS arrests that include the crooked lieing bail bondsman and the crooked sheriff

EVERY one of these articles to hit the web and the public is that NEXT STRAW that might break the back of the public's apathy and get them moving