Where in the World is Mike Whitlock?

Categories
Archives

 

Upcoming Events
Bail Office of the Month


Alpha Bonding Atlanta, GA

One Down, One to Go

Posted June 2, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

CA AB42 Fails to Pass, SB10 Still Alive

What a night it was last evening.  Many of us were watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals on one device and the California General Assembly on another.  The Golden State Warriors won their battle against LeBron James and the Cavaliers while all of California won when AB42 failed to a pass out of the General Assembly.

AB42’s doppelganger in the Senate is SB10.  Senator Hertzberg’s SB10 passed out of the Senate earlier this week with little opposition.  The senator’s partner in bail reform Assemblyman Bonta, was not as fortunate.  Despite his efforts, Bonta’s AB42 went down late last night in a 36-37 vote.  He lost by one vote.

What a tremendous effort by the lobbying team and everyone and every organization that was involved with seeing AB42 defeated.  That said, we cannot rest on our laurels, SB10 is still alive and kicking and very much a threat.  The upside is, SB10 must travel through the same General Assembly where AB42 just met its fate. We need to continue to expand our support and opposition to SB10 in the General Assembly to ensure that SB10 does not become law.

What’s next?  SB10 has been sent over to the General Assembly for consideration where it will be assigned to committee.  SB10 is not expected to be heard in committee before June 15.

How can you help?  Continue to provide financial support to the associations working on behalf of bail and victims of crime.  Continue to inform your friends, family and associates to contact their Assembly representative and ask they oppose SB10.

You can also help by encouraging your associates to post only positive comments about the bail industry and informed statements as to why SB10 is bad for California.  Posting derogatory comments and personal attacks against supporters of SB10 is harmful to our overall efforts.  Any such postings should be deleted immediately.  Keep it clean and articulate, we already have the Constitution and common sense on our side.

The Warriors won Game 1 last night but they know it’s a seven-game series.  We can celebrate last night’s defeat of AB42 for a few hours, but SB10 still looms.  Stay positive.  We will keep you posted on further developments.  

Nevada Governor Veto's Bail Reform Bill

Posted May 29, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 2 Comments

Last week Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval returned AB136 unsigned, to the Speaker of The of the Nevada State Assembly.  Vetoed.  AB136 was the result of recommendations made by a Nevada Supreme Court Committee to Study Evidence-Based Pretrial Release.  The committee was chaired by Justice James W. Hardesty.

Governor Sandoval wrote in his May 26, 2017 letter, “No conclusive evidence has been presented showing that the risk assessment methods proposed by AB136 are effective in determining when it may or may not be appropriate to release a criminal defendant without requiring bail.”  He went on to write, “It is not clear that the provisions of AB136 will enhance the ability of Nevada’s judges to make these determinations (bail) in a manner that balances the interests of justice and public safety.”

Nevada was the second state in the last two weeks to reject the concept of a risk assessment tool and eliminate bail schedules.  California is still considering whether the release of hundreds of thousands of pretrial defendants without bail based on an eight-question risk assessment is right for their state.  Furthermore, they are considering whether eliminating bail schedules make it easier for criminal offenders to post bail.

California legislators should give weight to the decision made by the Governor of Nevada and vote against its bail reform measures, SB10 and AB42.  Leave bail decisions to the discretion of judges and leave the task of ensuring defendants appear for trial to experienced and surety back bail agents.  A civilian with a clip board and eight questions is not suitable to make decisions on whether someone will appear for court.  A preset and fair bail schedule allows those who can post bail to do so expeditiously and get back to work and family while preparing for trial.  Those who cannot afford bail should have the ability to request a bail hearing before a judge within 72 hours of arrest.

The California Senate will probably hear SB10 on the floor this week.  Last Friday, Senate President Kevin De Leon, this past Friday, said the Senate aims to hear 80 bills on Tuesday and 100 bills on Wednesday.  AB42 passed out of Appropriations Committee and is likely headed to the floor of the General Assembly this week, as well.

More and more legislators across the country are figuring out that the concept of a “risk assessment” tool is not some miracle cure.  It’s simply a marketing tool to expand government pre-trial release programs and eliminate the commercial bail industry. 

The rejection of these criminal welfare efforts in places like Nevada, Texas and Connecticut does not bode well for Senator Hertzberg and Assemblyman Bonta who have demonstrated an unwillingness to negotiate on their respective measures.  They have made it known, their concerns lie with the interests of criminal offenders and not California’s crime victims and law-abiding citizens.

Nevada Governor Sandoval made it quite clear in his Veto letter, there is “no conclusive evidence” risk assessment methods work.  Let’s hope California legislators get the message.

SB-10 Clears Appropriations

Posted May 26, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 5 Comments

It wasn’t an hour after SB-10 cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday on a 5-2 vote, I began getting phone calls from California bail agents.  Is this it, are we done?  Are we out of business?  No, we’re not done and we’re not out of business.  While California bail agents and surety companies operating in the Golden State do have a huge fight on our hands, we can prevail.

Proponents of these two criminal welfare bills SB-10 and AB-42 are probably feeling good today, their side advanced the ball.  There are still many plays left before either of these two measures can cross the goal line and become law. There is an adage in legislative circles, it’s easier to kill a bill than to pass one.  Our aim and the aim of many other stakeholders within California’s criminal justice system is to kill these toxic measures.

I wrote an article a couple days ago about Texas and how their legislature has elected to not perpetuate the desire by some to eliminate the idea of holding criminals accountable for their actions, to not reward bad behavior.  Texas bail agents just went through a process California bail agents are going through now, fighting legislation that could put the bail industry out of business.

Ten weeks ago Texas bail agents were very concerned they were finished.  Rather than sit back and whine and fret, they took substantive action to protect their place in the criminal justice system.   They contacted their legislators, contributed to PBT or other entities acting on their behalf and went to Austin when directed.   They fought and fought hard.  Assuming an Acme anvil doesn’t fall from the sky before the Texas legislator concludes today, they will have won their fight.  California bail agents must show similar resolve.

It is projected both SB-10 and AB-42 will be voted out of the Senate and Assembly respectively by the end of next week.  Both bills will then be sent to the opposite chamber where they must start the process over again; i.e., committee hearings, etc.  Every California bail agent must join the fight if this battle is to be won.  Contact CBAA, GSBAA or ABC to see how you can contribute.  Financial contributions are as important as your relationship to your local legislature and your ability to travel to Sacramento at a moment’s notice.

These legislative fights always seem daunting and unbeatable.  The legislators have the bully pulpit and seem to have everyone listening and believing every word uttered.  The reality is not every legislator is in agreement and those are the folks we need to reach.  The advocacy team assembled by the bail industry has been doing a remarkable job in Sacramento.  They’ve been successful in getting legislators to see the other side of the argument, the true facts.  Legislators are beginning to listen.

What can you do today?  Call your senator and assembly representative and ask them to vote no to SB-10 and AB-42.  Call your surety company to make sure they are engaged and participating in this fight.  Next, contact one of the agent or surety organizations and make a financial contribution.  How much is it worth to you to stay in business?

While the fight is far from over, the only way to win the battle is to fight the battle.  

TX Legislators Deny SB 1338 - Preserve Accountability

Posted May 24, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

 The 85th Texas Legislature is nearing its long-awaited conclusion. By all accounts that state’s long running bail system remains fully intact after a withering assault this session.  This legislature will be fallow in 2018 providing PBT’s Legislative Committee time to recoup after what could only be described as heroic efforts to fend off adverse legislation and keep Texas bail agents in business.


It was ten long weeks ago on March 6, when Sen. Whitmire filed his bill, SB 1338.  The toxic measure was aimed at providing welfare to criminals, marginalizing the rights of victims and killing an entire industry.  In the months’ prior PBT was already alerting its members of Sen. Whitmire’s intention to file a bill that had the real potential to put them out of business.

The Professional Bondsmen of Texas has always had a legislative committee that is engaged, prepared and proactive.  In recent years’ this committee has been led by North Dallas bondsman Scott Walstad. The committee members practically move to Austin during session spending long days at the State Capital.  They volunteer their time to the detriment of their own businesses and rarely if ever are reimbursed for their expenses much less their time.

ABC worked closely with PBT over the past many weeks providing support where requested.  Sen. Whitmire’s bill was initially stalled in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee after receiving intense opposition from the bail industry.  The bill ultimately made it out of committee only after the author cut his 30-page bill down to 10. What remained was still a threat to the bail industry.
 
SB 1338 eventually cleared the Senate and was sent to the House where the clock was ticking for the bill to get out of the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.  The bill made it out of that committee but suffered a procedural fate and SB 1338 effectively died.

But, where the legislative process is concerned, like a possum, death is but an illusion.  The language in SB 1338 could still be added to another bill in the form of an amendment.  The PBT legislative team kept its focus until it was determined all strategic options to pass the language contained in SB 1338 had been exhausted.

Thank you PBT, ABC and those Texas bail agents working independently but pulling in the same direction during this session. It’s times like these the tenacity and intestinal fortitude of bail agents shine through.  While things can look bleak at the start of a legislative session, it’s never over until it’s over.  If you write bail in Texas I encourage you to support PBT as they really came through for you this year.

California Bail Agents Answer the Call

Posted April 19, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Truckee, CA bail agent Leeann Curtis with Mike outside

the State Capitol.


Sacramento, CA - The call went out to all California bail agents to come to Sacramento to show support for their profession and oh did the heed the call. Room 126 of the State Capitol was filled to capacity with bail agents as was the corridor outside.  If you were not a bail agent you were claiming to be one just to be part of the crowd.

 
Assembly Bill 42 was first up on the agenda Tuesday morning at he  Public Safety Committee hearing.  Assemblymen Bonta is the author of this sister measure to Senate Bill 10, whose author is Senator Hertzberg, also in attendance.  Bonta and Hertzberg introduced the bill with wonderful facts and figures that would impress anyone not familiar with how the bail system works.  Unfortunately for them, those folks were in the minority on this day.
 
Representatives of the bail industry provided opposition testimony pointing out major concerns with AB 42.  The government pretrial release program would cost California taxpayers as much as $3.5 billion a year and cause tremendous jail crowding as offenders who would typically post bail soon after arrest, would wait days for a risk assessment before bail their bail is determined.  Nina Salerno of Crimes Victims United spoke emphatically about how AB 42 totally disregards crime victims.
 
Following testimony, the committee chair held an open mic for anyone wishing to speak in opposition to AB 42.  Be careful what you ask for.  Bail agents stepped forward one by one for twenty minutes to voice their opposition and they kept coming until everyone had their say.  What the committee and the bill authors saw was a diverse group of men and women from throughout the entire State of California who were very passionate about their profession and their role within the criminal justice system.  Duane Chapman was also present and took a few questions about fugitive recovery. 
 
AB 42 was voted out of the Public Safety Committee with one Democrat abstaining after voicing her concerns and two Republicans voting no.  The committee chair also voiced his concerns for the bill as currently written.
 
After 35 years in this business I guess I'm getting a little soft. I get little gushy when I see the huge turnout of bail agents like we had at the State Capitol on Tuesday.  The agent associations, surety associations and large retailers have put together an A-Team of legislative advocates who are doing an excellent job assisting us to inform legislators about the pit falls of this overreaching legislation. There is still work to be done and it is the hope of everyone that the next call to the Capitol will bring three times the bail agents.  We will keep you posted.

Team Bail

Posted April 14, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 2 Comments

I was very nearly shanked with a plastic fork this morning as typically harmless ASC team member, Earon Jamison cut the line for the tater tot casserole and other assorted goodies for the Good Friday office pitch-in.  Fortunately for me, I’m battle tested and on high alert, particularly in this legislative season when just about anyone will launch an unwarranted and overreaching attack on the profession I love and respect.

I am just one of hundreds of bail agents and my peers at the surety level, working tirelessly to protect and defend the continued use of bail bonds as an instrumental tool to guarantee criminal offenders appear for trial.  The American Bail Coalition (ABC) under the direction of current Chair, ASC CEO Bill Carmichael and Executive Director Jeff Clayton, have partnered with state associations across the country to fight unwarranted and overreaching legislation aimed to put commercial bail out of business.

ABC is currently working with Steve Zalewski and Michelle Esquenazi at NYSBAA where their governor mentioned the need for bail reform during his State of the State address.  Then there is Andrew Marocchini, Andrew Bloom and Dan Toner with the Connecticut State Bail Association where Governor Malloy has reintroduced his Second Chance initiative which included a 10% cash bail option.  There have been favorable negotiations that would make this threatening legislation considerably less impactful on Connecticut bail agents.

Moving west, members of the ABC Legislative committee chaired by AIA CEO Brian Nairin, has been working with PBT President Glen Meeker and Legislative Chair Scott Walstad to oppose SB1338 and HB3011.  Should either of these measures become law, it would create a statewide pretrial release system that would effectively eliminate the use of bail bonds.  The author of SB1338, Senator Whitmire said, on the record, he was not concerned with how much his proposal would cost (Texas taxpayers).  PBT is asking all Texas bail agents to be at the State Capitol on Monday, April 17, where HB3011 will be heard in committee.

The other battle front is on the Pacific Coast.  ABC representatives are working with a large coalition that includes California’s two state associations, CBAA and GSBAA and several large retailers and several high profile legislative advocates.  The two measures of concern are SB10 and AB42.  California bail agents are asked to travel to their State Capitol on Tuesday, April 18, for an early morning hearing on AB42.  I’ll be present for that hearing.

The cooperation among industry competitors at both the agency and surety level has been nothing short of inspiring.  Bill Carmichael and I have been working side by side with our peers at ABC for many years now.  These folks have become more like family than competitors but competitors we remain while we fight for our bail agent partners and our respective companies to remain in business.  I have seen the same bond formed among bail agents across the country who are traditionally fierce competitors.  We’re all in this together.

The battles the commercial industry continues to face are far from over but we are seeing some success as a result of our efforts.  The legislative process is working.  We’ve seen bills amended or tabled and legislatures taking positions opposing wholesale changes to a system of bail that has been effective for generations.

With multiple coalitions demonstrating patience, perseverance and a willingness to put in the work and financial resources, we will prevail.  What we’ve learned over the past few years is, state officials like Governor Malloy of Connecticut, Senator Whitmire of Texas and Assemblyman Bonta of California are good at speaking loudly and often about their initiatives; they have the bully pulpit which allows them to impact public opinion early.  It doesn’t make their ideas right or even popular among their colleagues.  Our task is to educate legislators and get them the information needed to make an informed decision based on common sense, good fiscal policy and eventually; the fiscal reality and efficacy shortcomings of such proposals comes to light.  Ultimately, facts and informed legislating prevail.

Sometimes a squeaky hinge just needs a little oil, you don’t need to replace the entire door or tear the house down and rebuild, cost be damned.  For those concerned about non-violent, non-repeat offenders sitting in jail simply because they are unable to afford bail, there is a simple fix.  Let those who can post bail, post bail.  For anyone still in custody after 48 hours, their bail should be reviewed to see if a reduction or a release OR is warranted.  If their bail amount remains unchanged after a review, there is good reason and this group of detainees should not be counted among those pretrial detainees considered too poor to post bail.

There was a time when the bail industry had to be concerned about being shanked from behind with killer legislation. These days, they come right at us in an effort to put a shiv right in our heart.  Well, this heart has soul and they shouldn’t bring a knife to a gun fight. 

Have an enjoyable and blessed Easter.

Texas SB 1338 - Making a Manageable Issue a Huge Problem

Posted April 6, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 5 Comments

 

Austin, TX - The Committee on Criminal Justice held a hearing at the Texas State Capitol, on Tuesday, April 4.  The hearing room was packed with bondsmen from around the state.  They traveled to Austin to register their opposition to Senate Bill 1338.  The measures underlying purpose is to put Texas bondsmen out of business.  The tension in the room was palpable.

On behalf of ABC, I was among several representatives of the bail bond industry who registered to testify in opposition to SB 1338.  Also providing testimony were expert bail attorneys Ken Good and Randy Adler and Houston based bondsmen, John Burns and Rodney Vannerson.
 
Sen. John Whitmire (D-15) is the Chair of the Criminal Justice Committee and the author of SB 1338. In his introduction of SB 1338, Sen. Whitmire pointed out the significant cost of holding in jail those defendants too poor to post bail. After hearing testimony about the exorbitant cost of holding every arrestee in custody until a risk assessment interview could be conducted, Sen. Whitmire quickly pivoted away from costs to public safety, 'We shouldn't be worried about costs when public safety is at issue!'.
 
SB 1338 calls for a risk assessment to be conducted on each defendant within 48 hours of arrest.  48 hours does not seem like a long wait until you factor in most people post bail within 24 hours of being arrested.  Dallas County bonding companies post as many as 800 bonds a day.  Factor in the high number of defendants who are released OR each day and that is a huge number of defendants requiring a risk assessments each and every day. Imagine the staff needed to process that many people on a daily basis, seven days a week.  The impact on jail crowding would be immediate, long lasting and terribly expensive.
 
During the hearing Senator Whitmire made it very clear he was not at all concerned that his bill, if implemented, would put Texas bondsmen out of business or whether or not the cost of his proposed program would be a burden to taxpayers.  Texas bondsmen post more than 400,000 bonds a year. Establishing a risk assessment based pre-trial agency system in 254 counties would costs Texas taxpayers as much as 2 billion dollars annually.
 
This hearing was very unusual in that standard decorum and protocol gave way to direct debate between Senator Whitmire and whoever was provide opposition testimony.  It was was remarkable to watch.  It was clear to me, Senator Whitmire believes the end will justify the means and he doesn't care how he gets there.  He's been selected to waive the flag of criminal welfare in Texas and he is determined to succeed.
 
Every state in the country has a few first-time offenders in jail who cannot afford bail.  And every state grants a judge the authority to release those individuals on their own recognizance should they so chose.  We have state supreme court justices, state representatives, senators and governors who want to make this relatively minor issue into a a cause celebre.  In doing so, these criminal welfare advocates are trying to convince law-abiding, tax-paying citizens they should fund the pre-trial supervision of those very people committing crimes against them.
 
Sen. Whitmire is the Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee and it is a safe bet SB 1338 will be voted out of that committee.  The Texas bondsmen community was well represented at this hearing but there needs to be five times as many at the next hearing of SB 1338.  Stay tuned for more information about upcoming hearings and your opportunity to show support for your profession.
 
Updated: 4/7/17

Texas Sen. Whitmire Coddles Criminals with Offer of Free Jail Release

Posted April 1, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

I've been traveling in Texas this week with my youngest daughter Samantha.  The primary purpose of our trip was to tour the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos.  Sam wants to be a forensic anthropologist and TSU is one of the few universities in the country that operates a "body farm".

 
San Marcos is situated  between and San Antonio and Austin which is where I am staying on this Saturday morning.  Yesterday afternoon Sam and I, together with my sister Cheryl, who lives in Austin, took a drive over to Fredericksburg, Texas to check out the Chuck Wagon cook off where bondsmen Mike Byrd and his wife Debbie where participating.  The food was excellent the old chuck wagons were really amazing. Think Lonesome Dove or John Wayne's, The Cowboys.
 
Texas is a great state and it's where I first started my career in bail 35 years ago.  When most people think of Texas they think of law and order and tough on crime, "they have the death penalty". If career politician Sen. John Whitmire of Houston gets his way, Texas' tough image will soon get a makeover, for the worse.
 
Sen. Whitmire has authored SB 1338 which, if passed into law, would extend free release to criminal offenders all across the state of Texas with little regard to victims of crime and holding criminal offenders accountable.
 
While Sam and I return to Indianapolis tomorrow, I'll be back in Austin in Tuesday to testify on behalf of ABC, in opposition to SB 1338, where it will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
 
Texas bondsmen and women should have received an email alert asking for their attendance at the State Capitol on Tuesday to show solidarity for the use of bail bonds as a means of guaranteeing criminal defendants appearance in court.
 
Our industry has a duty to represent law abiding citizens unfamiliar with the inner workings of the criminal justice system and just how the efforts of Sen. Whitmire's would undermined public safety and accountability for criminal offenders in Texas. That effort must be derailed.
 
Links
 
PBT Call to Action!
All Texas Bondsmen Needed
Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 at 10:00 A.M.
Texas State Capitol - North Side
1100 Congress Ave.
(Prepare to be in Austin for the day.)
For more info call (903) 780-7731

New Jersey - A Criminal Justice System in Disarray

Posted February 5, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

As of Friday, Rolando Arriso is back in custody.  Arriso failed to appear in a New Jersey court in 2016.  His $100,000 bail bond was forfeited by the court, as a matter of course.  Once the bail agent determined the FTA would not be easily resolved, the case was assigned to a recovery team and the search for the fugitive was underway.

Arriso proved to be elusive.  Once it was learned he fled to Florida, the recovery team spent hundreds of man hours and thousands of dollars in expenses in their efforts to apprehend Arriso.  After receiving a tip, Arisso was located and apprehended in a Tampa area Walmart parking lot where he was pulled out from under a vehicle.  It was reported he was wielding a tire iron and resisting arrest.  Arriso’s fugitive days are now over.  He’s resting comfortably in a Florida jail awaiting extradition to New Jersey.

Under New Jersey’s taxpayer funded statewide pretrial release program that went into effect January 1, 2017, Rolando Arriso would have qualified for a release on his own recognizance.  Had Arriso failed to appear while out on an OR release who, on behalf of the state, would have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars tracking down this fugitive in an effort to return him to custody?  After all, the strategy of most county pretrial programs with respect to fugitive recovery, is to wait until they are picked up during a traffic stop.

Since New Jersey’s government bonding program went into effect at the beginning of the year, there has been news reports of repeat and aggravated offenders being released OR.  It’s a criminal justice system out of control and welcome relief to bad actors running afoul of the law.  Failures to appear are already mounting and the unfunded costs of this expanded bureaucracy are skyrocketing.

On that point, a complaint filed with the Council on Local Mandates last December by the New Jersey Association of Counties, argues “certain sections of the Criminal Justice Reform constitute an unfunded mandate, and are therefore unconstitutional.”  The Council is expected to issue a ruling on this complaint later this month.

Fortunately, while the use of bail bonds has dropped considerably, they still remain a release option for the New Jersey courts. It is being reported, after seeing a sharp rise in failures to appear, some judges are returning to the use of bail bonds to guarantee a defendant’s appearance.

Wiser heads may ultimately prevail in weeding The Garden State of its criminal justice missteps, reinstating the notion, those charged with a criminal offense are expected to appear in court until their case has been adjudicated.  As for Rolando Arriso, with the help of a tenacious, expert recovery team, his case will be adjudicated upon his return, assuming that is, he is not released OR under New Jersey’s pretrial release program. Perish the thought.

Houston, We Have A Problem!

Posted January 13, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

If the filing of a lawsuit in a Houston Federal Court in 2016 was not a sufficient wake-up call to Texas bail agents then perhaps the filing of legislation aimed to put them out of business might do the trick.

I awoke at 4AM this past Wednesday morning to a flight to Austin.  I wanted to be on time for PBT’s first meeting of the year.  After a year off, the Texas Legislature was in session and criminal justice reform had been placed on the legislative menu in the form of multiple bills.  To my surprise this critical meeting was poorly attended with only the usual suspects taking time away from their businesses to show.  The usual suspects being most of the PBT Board of Directors, the association’s lobbyists and surety guys like me who travelled from out of state to attend this very important strategy meeting. 

Our adversaries have had no trouble organizing and raising sufficient revenue to file lawsuits all over the country and engage legislators on filing offender-friendly legislation.  Why then, are so many bail agents showing so little interest in participating in the protection of their livelihood?

Myself and many others have been sporting chainmail for the last few years fighting battles all over the country to preserve the commercial bail industry.  Like any war, it must be sufficiently financed.  Money and resources are critical to success.  In Texas, with its 254 counties, a relationship with your local legislator who understands your business and appreciates your contributions to the criminal justice system is worth more than money.  This resource cannot be tapped if you do not make yourself available to your state association, the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.  

Subsequent to the federal suit being filed in Houston, Harris County bail agents report business is down as much as 75%.  Houston has a problem and that problem could come to your county soon if we are not successful in derailing uniformed legislation.  Please reach out to PBT today.  Write them a check and ask how you can help.  We know the value commercial bail agents bring to the criminal justice system. We need to work as a team to educate legislators and the public who might not yet fully appreciate the work we do and the harm that would be brought to Texas public safety should our participation be reduced or eliminated.

2017 Legislative Log

Cease Fire Ends, Battles Resume

Posted January 7, 2017 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

The break from last year's battles in Connecticut, New Mexico and Utah was too short for my taste.  No sooner than champagne glasses were clinked welcoming in the New Year did we see the implementation of New Jersey's statewide pretrial release program go into full effect, turning The Garden State on its ear.

Several counties in that state have filed suit to have the new law overturned on the bases of being an unfunded mandate that is costing the taxpayers millions of dollars. The Council of Local Mandates is set to rule on this suit later this month.  In the meantime, it's Christmas in January for many a criminal offender in that state who are being released pending trial with no supervision.

I just returned from a trip to Sacramento working on behalf of ABC, where I attended a meeting that included representatives of the California's two state bail agent associations, lobbyist and other interested parties.  The topic of discussion was criminal justice reform and how we in the bail industry could work with the state legislature to bring about positive changes that would enhance surety bails vital role within the system.

My next stop will be the PBT meeting taking place in Austin, Texas January 10 -11. Aside from the pending lawsuit in Harris County regarding that county's bond schedule, some Texas legislators are seeking changes to that states current system of bail that would permit criminal offenders to receive unsupervised release pending trial.

The key battle states for the survival of commercial bail in 2017 will be AZ, CA, CO, CT, MD, NV, NJ, TX and WA. Don't be surprised if new battles flair up in the remaining states. Look to our 2017 Bail Bond Legislative Log for detail on pending legislation.

There is cause for optimism with incoming president Donald Trump who appears to be favorable to holding criminal offenders accountable than the outgoing administration. Ultimately, we are the only ones who can lead the fight in our battle.  We are not without our allies. There are plenty of entities within the criminal justice system who do subscribe to an agenda that entails reducing accountability for criminal offenders in deference to crime victims and public safety.

Rest assured American Surety Company will continue to play a key role in the fight for survival of the bail industry, committing time and financial resources directly and through our membership with the American Bail Coalition.  In 2016, I personally traveled more than 125,000 miles on 140 flights to numerous states throughout the country advocating for our profession.  ASC President & CEO, Bill Carmichael spends a great deal of his time working with ABC and the American Legislative Exchange Council to ensure commercial bail will always play an instrumental role within the criminal justice system.

All bail agents and interested parties should heed the call to participate and contribute to the fight in your state. We can continue to prevail, if we fight together.

ABC Holds First Agent Affiliate Conference

Posted November 13, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

On the morning of November 9, 2016, bail agents across the nation woke up with reason to be optimistic after learning Donald Trump was elected President of the United States.  After eight years of seeing our noble profession being persecuted by the current president we have some reason to hope in the coming days, months and years there will be a return to law and order, holding people accountable for their actions and respect for victim’s rights.

The election set a positive tone for the first American Bail Coalition Affiliate Agent Conference in Las Vegas.  The one day conference preceded only by an evening reception, was held at Mandalay Bay and was short on fluff and long on substance.  Those attendees who were looking to be immersed in specific details and strategy on how to combat agenda driven organization aimed at putting bail out of business did not walk away unhappy.  New York bail agent Steven Zalewski said, “It was the most informative bail association meeting I’ve attended in the last ten years”.  Mike Vester of Denver, Colorado commented, “This ABC conference could not have been more productive”.

ABC Executive Director Jeff Clayton presided over a day of discussion which began with a review of battles that took place earlier this year in Connecticut, New Mexico and Utah earlier.  In addition, there were presentations on the EJUL lawsuits to eliminate bail, lobbying efforts by certain State Supreme Court justices and, what challenges await commercial bail in the coming months.

There were several panel discussions addressing victims’ rights, pending EJUL lawsuits and understanding indigent defendant jail populations.  Jeff unveiled ABC’s Agent Tool-kit that contains a plethora of items including national talking points, legal case transcripts and briefs, Power Point presentations and media articles on bail.

The pending inauguration of a new president does ease concerns that the targeting of a well-established and successful private sector component of the criminal justice system, bail bonds, will cease.  And perhaps, H.R. 4611 – No Money Bail Act of 2016, will be permanently placed in the waste basket where it belongs.  There still leaves the state legislatures and study committees convened by state supreme courts, considering bail reform.  This is why supporting organizations like ABC and its Affiliate Agent Program are so important to the survival of the most effective means of guaranteeing a criminal defendant appear in court.  I encourage all surety bail agents and surety companies to visit www.americanbail.org to sign up for membership.  It would be a worthwhile investment in your future.

ABC to Hold First Agent Conference in Las Vegas

Posted October 7, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Micheal J. Whitlock Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Check presentation to Camp Esperanza (L-R) Mike Whtilock, Lisa Langrehr, Marge Walstad, Logan Runde, Mike Runde, Doreen Bruner and Jack Whitlock

What the heck is going on?  Well, you can find out when if you attend the American Bail Coalition's (ABC) inaugural Affiliate Agent Conference next month in Las Vegas.

The commercial bail advocates at ABC have been working non-stop the last several months opposing initiatives targeting the elimination of commercial bail.  ABC has also been introducing initiatives and ideas to improve the system of bail and the criminal justice system as a whole.

ABC's team will be providing a myriad of updates on battles and initiatives occurring all across the country at their first conference November 9-10, 2016, at Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas, Nevada. The conference will also include a national data symposium, 2017 legislative strategy session and panel discussions on jail crowding, treatment bonds and accommodating indigent defendants.

The ABC Affiliate Agent Conference is open to all surety bail agents regardless if your surety company is a participating member of the American Bail Coalition.

This is the, can't miss conference of the year!  You should absolutely attend, if you're at all interested in learning more about the threats to the commercial bail industry and ABC's efforts to keep bail agents in business. There will be a reception the evening of November 9 and a full day program November 10.  I'll be there and I hope you will too. Click here to register for this must attend event.

Bail Agents Raise Money for Pediatric Cancer Patients
The 27th Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament was held earlier this week at the Golf Club at Twin Creeks in Allen, TX. The Professional Bondsmen of Texas is the partner of this annual event benefiting Camp Esperanza, a summer camp for pediatric cancer patients.

Largely due to the continued participation, contributions and support from bail agents and surety companies in Texas and around the country, this year's event raised funds sufficient to send 76 kids to Camp Esperanza in July, 2017.  Many thanks to everyone involved.  Click here to view the 2016 sponsors that made this annual event a tremendous success.

 

Sooners should question the wisdom of Oklahoma's SQ780

Posted August 31, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

State Question 780, also known as, the Oklahoma Smart Justice Reform Act is on the ballot November 8, 2016, for consideration by that state’s residents.  Its likely few Sooners appreciate the adverse impact SQ780 will have on the safety of their children, communities and businesses should this initiative pass in November. 

SQ780 has two objectives 1) ease up on drug offenders and 2) ease up on property crime offenders by reducing felonies crimes to misdemeanors. 

At a period in Oklahoma’s history where crime has been on the decline, proponents of SQ780 want to relax the very laws that have been the basis for that reduction in crime. The threat of a felony conviction can be an effective deterrent of criminal behavior.  Removing the threat removes the deterrent.  SQ780 would be welcomed by would-be criminal offenders and bad news for law abiding citizens.

SQ780, if passed, would permit drug dealers to operate more freely with the threat of arrest resulting in only a misdemeanor and not a felony.  Law enforcement will be frustrated in their inability to effectively fight the distribution of drugs.

Not only will drug dealers get a break under SQ780, so will shoplifters, car thieves and burglars.  SQ780 would double the value of what bad actors can steal by increasing the minimum property value from $500 to $1000 and still qualify as misdemeanor offense. Big box stores and small retailers should be very concerned over the anticipated doubling of their annual losses through theft should SQ780 become law.  Where once a would-be shoplifter could only risk stealing a wireless 3D printer, they can now wheel out the back door a Whirlpool French Door Refrigerator risking only a small fine and a slap on the wrist.

SQ780 is modeled largely after California’s Proposition 47 which passed in 2014.  The backers of Prop. 47 put lipstick on that pig claiming the proposed changes would reduce incarceration costs and the savings would be invested in drug and mental health treatment and provide assistance for at-risk students.  There are few reports of any successes in these areas.  However, there have been plenty of reports about the increase in property crimes and violent crimes throughout California.  Shoplifting is up 12 percent, thefts close to 11 percent and violent crimes are up 8.4 percent since Proposition 47 became effective.  The crime rate in the rest of the nation remains flat while California’s crime has increased.  Passing SQ780 will generate the same result in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma should learn from the mistakes of California and not deviate from what has been working.  Oklahomans’ should say no to criminal welfare, say no to SQ780.

My Elevator Speech on Bail

Posted July 15, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 3 Comments

I traveled to the gulf shore early this week to attend the PBUS 2016 Mid-Year Meeting in Biloxi.  PBUS President Beth Chapman and her board of directors produced one of the more informational meetings I’ve attended for the national association.  The lineup of speakers was first rate and the reports on the commercial bail industry’s efforts to derail criminal welfare was detailed and illuminating.

Milwaukee County Sheriff David E. Clarke, Jr. was the Keynote speaker Monday night.  Although Sheriff Clarke’s home state of Wisconsin has not benefited from the use of commercial bail since 1978, he did voice his support for returning the most effective form of pretrial release to The Badger State.

After listening to Sheriff Clarke’s speech the gentlemen I was seated next to ask me what my elevator speech was on the need for commercial bail.  Even though I had made this argument hundreds of times I wasn’t prepared for the question and I stumbled on my answer.  Having been up for 15 hours and in a relaxed state of mine was no excuse for not being able to provide an immediate response to that question as if drawing a gun from a holster.  Here is what I should have said.

Commercial bail is the lynchpin of the criminal justice system.  I believe the system of bail is in place not for the accused as much as it is for victims, society and the interest of justice.  While mistakes happen, the impetus for an arrest is probable cause and therefore on its face, justified.  The accused has a right to reasonable bail if a capital offense was not committed.  Society has a right to know the accused will appear for trial.  The most effective means to insure the accused appears for trial is a fully guaranteed bail bond backed by an admitted surety company and executed by a licensed bail agent.  Unsecured release does not offer a guarantee and are akin to an air sandwich.  Only commercial bail bonds guarantee the production of the accused in court or payment of the bail amount when an offender cannot be produced.

I read an article on bail in the Huffington Post today.  They spoke of commercial bail only being legal in the Philippines and the United States, as if that was a bad thing.  If asked to defend this perceived rarity I would say, I don’t know anything about the Philippines but the requirement or the entitlement, depending on your perspective, of bail was made a part of the U.S. Constitution through the Eighth Amendment.  Anyone seeking to move to the United States must respect our Constitution; otherwise, they should just stay home.

Hold the elevator!

Public Safety Prevails in Connecticut

Posted June 2, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

In spite of the last digit media blitz and threats to line item veto certain elements of the budget, Connecticut Governor Malloy’s effort to pass his Second Chance 2.0 legislation failed to get a vote on the final day of the special session and his bill died.

In a week where it is being reported the homicide and violent crime rates saw a major increase across the country, Governor Malloy was trying to pass legislation that would have increased the age to 21 for which an offender can be charged with a juvenile offense.  He also wanted to release misdemeanor offenders on their own recognizance and no guarantee of appearance in court.  The problem, too many Democrats and Republicans were not buying into a proposal that, if passed, would have degraded public safety and made it easier on criminal offenders.

The American Bail Coalition with the help of its local agent affiliates and other members of the commercial bail community, played a major role in educating legislators to the fallacy that too many poor people were sitting in jail who could not afford bail.  That requiring misdemeanor and felony offenders to post a secured bond is critical if the criminal justice system is to function as intended.  Offenders have to be held accountable.

Governor Malloy regularly referred to the 500 offenders sitting in jail unable to post bail.  He did just want to let those 500 free on their own recognizance, he wanted all misdemeanor offenders to be released in the same manner.  What he didn’t say was most of the offenders in that group of 500 had prior arrests and/or had various holds for outstanding warrants in other counties or probation or parole violations.  They had burnt the bridges with family and friends who would typically come to their aid and post bond on their behalf.  In most cases those among the 500 had already had their second and third chance.  The right to public safety prevailed this week which was not just a win for the bail profession but a win for the citizens.

Articles Related to Second Chance 2.0

http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-house-special-session-20160602-story.html

Bail-reform bill dead in state House - Connecticut Post

http://www.courant.com/politics/hc-house-special-session-20160602-story.html

Indiana Bail Agents Poised to Shine Light on Court's Deposit Bail Scheme

Posted May 11, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 1 Comment

A simple check of the Michiana Crime Stoppers website will highlight why the practice of granting criminal offenders a 90% discount on their bail is woefully ineffective.  The majority of Indiana counties release all or a portion of criminal offenders on cash bail equal to a mere 10% of the original bail amount.  St. Joseph County, South Bend, Indiana and home to Notre Dame University is known for permitting nearly every criminal offender to post 10% cash bail and walk out of jail unsupervised. 

As of May 9, 2016 Jason Pasley was a fugitive wanted for failing to appear for court in St. Joseph County on March 10, 2016.  Pasely is charged with residential entry, battery and strangulation.  Another fugitive Edward Johnson failed to appear April 13, 2016.  Johnson is charged with Strangulation and domestic battery.  Also failing to appear for court was Deonte Stutzman on February 28, 2016, on a charge of burglary.  Where is the elected prosecutor in these cases?  Who was the judge who determined that violent offenders should be granted a 90% discount on their bail?  Who is looking for these fugitives?  Is there no concern for the victims of these crimes or the general safety of these communities?

Indiana bail agents met in Indianapolis yesterday for the Indiana Surety Bail Agents spring meeting. At issue was the proliferation throughout Indiana of 90% discounted bail.  Why are state legislators standing by while the bail system is high-jacked by local judiciaries more concerned about using 10% cash bail deposits to secure payment of fines and costs than they are requiring sufficient bail to guarantee appearance?  The number of warrants issued for failure to appear continue to mount. Public safety minded Hoosiers and victims of crime are left frustrated and scared due to some judges and prosecutors showing indifference to holding criminals accountable for their actions.  Hooray for those judges still requiring a bail bond to secure a defendant’s appearance in court.  There are still a few out there.

Indiana bail agents have pledged to bring public awareness to this abhorrent policy of discounting bail.  Those Indiana courts who have embraced this policy have been flying under the radar for three decades relying on the public’s lack of information about the true nature and intended purpose of the 10% bail scheme; revenue in lieu of appearance.

In defense of Indiana’s law enforcement agencies, they simply do not have the manpower or resources to track down and arrest tens of thousands of fugitive some of which have moved out of the area though some live within a stone’s through of the courthouse.  Bail agents have the resources, time and financial incentive to get their clients to court and chase them to the ends of the earth if necessary when they fail to appear.  There is no one more stressed than a fugitive released on a bail bond.

It’s time to shine light on Indiana’s deposit bail scheme and bring some bail reform back to this state by way of increasing the use of private sector bail bonds.  With just a little effort we can make Hoosiers aware of this policy and I can assure you, they won’t like it.

Millions of Warrants - The Closeted Epidemic

Posted April 21, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

I was in Sacramento earlier this week where I joined ABC’s Policy Director Jeff Clayton and California lobbyist Katherine Brandenburg in meeting with state officials and legislative staff at the State Capital.  At issued was yet another legislative proposal targeting the commercial bail industry.  Assembly Bill 2449, is a bill that would have added a $10 fee to each bail bond in favor of a bail investigation and prosecution fund controlled by the California Department of Insurance.  The language in this bill also included a significant increase in license related fees for bail agents.  Fortunately, this taxation bill was left wanting for support among California legislators and it was withdrawn by its sponsor, Assemblywoman Susan Eggman.

During one of the many conversations we had at the state house we learned Los Angeles County had more than one million open warrants.  While that may be news to some it is not news to those of us in bail industry.  Open warrants have been the proverbial elephant in hearing rooms across the nation when discussing matters of criminal justice reform.  It’s as if they are targeting bail as an area of reform in order to distract everyone from the real problem, a massive failure to appear epidemic for offenders released on promises to appear, 10% cash deposit bail and through toothless taxpayer funded pretrial release programs.

It is well known in my home state of Indiana, offenders released on the dominant 90% percent discounted bail (10% cash to the court) option fail to appear for court in record numbers.  Some counties have ceased making their outstanding warrants public because of the embarrassing numbers.  Indiana courts have become so reliable on the forfeited cash deposits that failures to appear are just a means to an end, the end being generating millions in revenue.

Then there is Nevada where I have previously reported the manager of the Clark County (Las Vegas) pretrial release program recently informed a Nevada Supreme Court study committee on criminal justice reform, more than 50% of offenders released through their program violated their conditions of release, the most important of which is to appear in court.

Proponents of public pretrial release programs and 10% cash bail routinely hold up Illinois, Kentucky and Oregon as utopian models of non-commercial bail pretrial release options.  In 2009 I had participated in a study committee in Oregon that included representatives from all stakeholders within that state’s criminal justice system.  It was freely mentioned during those hearings 30% of offenders released on 10% cash bail and monitored by public pretrial release failed to appear for court.  Oregon has been using this system for decades as has Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin.  The outstanding warrants in these states must be in the millions.  Oregon actually adjusted their staffing through time to account for the 30% of defendants who were not showing for court.  I recall one clerk of court being genuinely concerned that if bail bonds were to be required their staff would be overwhelmed due to the anticipated reduction in failures to appear.

So, as the adversaries to commercial bail push their bail reform agenda across the country keep in mind it’s a trick, a slight of hand, to distract the general public and media from the millions of offenders who are released from jail everyday on unsecured or under-secured bail who fail to appear for court.  That is a policy catastrophe opponents of bail prefer to keep in the closet.

Connecticut's 10% Bill Should Not Pass

Posted March 25, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 4 Comments

Governor Malloy’s Second Chance 2.0 initiative was under review Wednesday in the Joint Committee on Judiciary at the Connecticut State House.  I was present for the hearing along with ABC Policy Director Jeff Clayton, American Surety Company agent Mary Casey and other members of our profession to testify in opposition to S.B. 18, a bill proposing reforms in that state’s criminal justice system.

Jeff and I arrived a day early to meet with ABC’s lobbying team and legislators to discuss S.B. 18.  The two components of this bill that would have an immediate impact on commercial bail are 1) a 10 percent deposit bail option and 2) releasing all misdemeanor offenders from jail without bail.

The 10 percent cash bail scheme is nothing more than the state competing against commercial bail for the sole purpose of providing 90 percent discounts to defendants so the court can use the cash bail deposits to pay a defendant’s fines and costs.  When Mike Lawlor went before the committee he was asked who would be apprehending defendants released on 10 percent bail who failed to appear for court, Mr. Lawlor had no answer.

With regard to the proposal contained in S.B. 18 to release all misdemeanants with no bail, this was scrutinized by the committee, as well.  There are serious Class A Misdemeanors such as criminally negligent homicide, sexual assault 4th degree and assault of the disabled as well as repeat offenders and defendants with prior failures to appear who should not be eligible to be released without bail.

Mike Lawlor, chief of justice policy for Governor Malloy, was the first to testify in favor of S.B. 18.  He made some interesting claims.  He said New Mexico recently declared money bail unconstitutional.  This, of course, is not correct.  New Mexico passed legislation that will put the issue of preventive detention on the ballot in November to amend the constitution.  If New Mexicans vote yes, judges will be empowered to detain persons deemed a threat to individuals or public safety pending trial.  All other arrestees are eligible for bail, posting a bail bond remains an option for the defendant regardless of what voters decide on the constitutional amendment issue.

Mr. Lawlor went on to say law enforcement arrests the majority of defendants who skip bail.  Before you come through your computer screen, I provided rebutting testimony (six hours later) refuting this claim.  Yes, it is true, some fugitives are arrested on warrants discovered during a traffic stop or while committing a new crime but those are few and far between.  Bail agents and their recovery teams spend countless hours and incur significant costs to apprehend the majority of their fugitives.

During my testimony I provided American Surety Company’s forfeiture detail from 2015 to demonstrate while some losses were paid to the State of Connecticut in cases where the defendant could not be returned in a timely basis, most fugitives had their cases reset with the help of their bail agent or were apprehended and surrendered by their bail agent.

Earlier this year Governor Malloy tasked the Connecticut Sentencing Commission with studying the criminal justice system, including pretrial release options, and offering suggestions for reforms where needed.  Regardless, Governor Malloy still put forth his bill (S.B. 18) which included reforms not yet deemed warranted by Sentencing Commission.  This fact was not lost on some members of the committee and many state officials and members of the private sector providing testimony.  It is the desire of the commercial bail industry that this bill be tabled if not killed and allow the Sentencing Commission to conduct its study.

How many failures to appear have you resolved in the last 12 months, 10, 25, 100 or more?  Post a comment to let everyone know how bail agents are living up to their responsibilities.

The "In Lieu of Accountability Act of 2016"

Posted March 17, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

The effort to roll out the red carpet for criminal offenders by eliminating secured release pre-trial has a new champion: Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D-33) of California.  Rep. Lieu filed H.R. 4611 on February 24, which contains language that prohibits the use of money as a condition of pretrial release.  The In Lieu of Accountability Act of 2016” also proposes that states that continue to hold criminal offenders accountable by requiring surety to guarantee their appearance will discontinue receiving government funding.

The irony of Rep. Lieu pursuing this agenda is that he’s from California.  California has been slowly marching toward a lawless society with the passing of legislative measures that have proven to be colossal failures and responsible for a surge in crime and profound threat to public safety in that state.

They said too many people were in prison so they passed AB 109 and released tens of thousands of convicted felons from California state prisons.  They said too many people were being charged with felony crimes so in order to white wash this reality supporters swayed Californians to vote yes to Prop. 47.  Prop. 47 reduced a number of felony crimes to misdemeanors on a promise that the savings to the criminal justice system would flood the schools with much needed cash. This resulted in California schools receiving nothing and crime soaring because criminal offenders no longer feared law enforcement or arrest. Life has never been so good for criminal offenders in California.

The supporters of the In Lieu of Accountability Act of 2016 will come as no surprise.  H.R. 4611 has endorsements from the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, EJUL, PJI and the National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies to name a few.  Classic government group think, find one person held in jail who cannot afford bail and then offer a proposal to eliminate an effective surety system that has been in place for more than 200 years.

Fortunately, these groups are in the minority.  Most Americans are justifiably concerned with their personal safety and expect those who break the law by committing crimes against people and property to be held accountable.

The only true means to ensure accountability is to make sure the defendant appears for trial.  While we would love to trust those who are irresponsible enough to commit crimes to be responsible enough to do the right thing and appear at every court appearance through trial, history has shown us this doesn’t work.  A third party providing surety to guarantee a defendant appears for trial has been proven to be the most effective means of seeing justice is served.

Timing is Everything

Posted February 26, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 2 Comments

It was February 2006 when reality TV personalities Duane and Beth Chapman were welcomed into the arms of PBUS.  A decade later with endorsements from the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen, Oklahoma State Senator Ralph Shortey and 50 percent, plus six of PBUS voting members, Beth Chapman was elected President. PBUS has just entered a new era.

While PBUS was holding elections this week the attorneys for Equal Justice Under Law were filing an amended complaint in Buffin v. San Francisco, U.S. Representative Ted Lieu (D-CA) was filing H.R. 4611 the No More Money Bail Act of 2016 and ABC’s Policy Director Jeff Clayton was testifying in opposition to a Utah bill that, should it pass, would severely limit the amount of commercial bail written in The Beehive State.

This year will be a year to remember in the fight to preserve the use of commercial bail.  It’s reminiscent of the epic battle between David and Goliath. The American Bail Coalition and its limited membership is going up against various State Supreme Court Justices/activists, millions of dollars from special interests and state and federal legislators more interested in easing accountability for criminal offenders than working in the best interest of law abiding citizens, victims of crime and public safety.

ABC has a great team with tremendous experience, knowledge and commitment and an ever-growing agent membership program.  However, it is still a partial team.  To complete Team ABC we need more players.  For instance, we need the legislative prowess of a Dave Hyatt, the legal mind of a Mandy Krasney and the extensive bail experience of a Cheryl Burns to enhance the ABC squad.  ABC would also benefit from the surety and bail expertise of industry veterans like Armando Roche and Mark Heffernan.

There is too much talent among this group of people along with their incredible company resources to not be fully participating in the defense of commercial bail.  Team ABC is fighting multiple fronts encountering a new battle every week.  Team ABC needs these fine individuals and their surety companies to join Team ABC in the the fight.  There is nothing that cannot be accomplished when the collective talent of the bail profession work together.

PBUS has its purpose, education and networking. ABC is on a mission and has the battle scars to prove it.  Time is everything and the time for the best talent in the bail industry to join Team ABC is now.

Governor's S.B. No. 18 - A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

Posted February 5, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, - 2 Comments

Connecticut’s Governor Malloy issued a press release last week announcing his new crime reduction initiative Second Chance 2.0.  In his press release Governor Malloy is quoted as saying crime is down, recidivism is down and prison population is down.  Astonishingly, after citing all this success, he says more reforms are needed. 

Who can argue against efforts or programs to facilitate a reduction in crime?  I’m all for it.  Where bail agents come into play is when those expensive programs didn’t work in some cases and someone did commit a crime, perhaps several of them and they were arrested.  That’s where bail agents enter the picture.  Bail agents work with family members and the defendant to make sure all appearances are made and justice is served.  So, why is there a need for a change in Connecticut’s current system of bail as proposed by Governor Malloy?

A new bill was filed yesterday as part of Governor Malloy’s reform initiative.  Governor’s S.B. No. 18 proposes to address the inability of poor people to afford bail.  S.B. No. 18 does this by proposing a move to a ten percent cash bail system exclusive of a bail bond alternative.  Ironically, an exclusive ten percent deposit bail program makes it more expensive to the defendant yet a less secure alternative.  Less secure because even with a ten percent cash deposit the remaining ninety percent of the bond remains unsecured and there is nobody to return the defendant to court in the event of a failure to appear.  More expense because, comparing apples to apples, purchasing a bail bond costs less.

Connecticut bail agents charge a premium of 10% on the first $5000 of bail and 7% on any amount above $5000.  Using a $10,000 bail amount as an example, the premium on a bail bond would be $850 whereas ten percent cash to the court would be $1000.  A bail agent can offer the defendant or family members a reasonable payment plan and obtain release from jail quickly.  Conversely, the court cannot offer payment plans on ten percent cash bail. Therefore, only the wealthiest defendants can post bail immediately while those with less means sit in jail for days or weeks trying to raise the money necessary to gain their freedom. 

S.B. No. 18 backers says ten percent bail is cheaper because the deposit is refundable.  That’s great, current law in Connecticut allows for the posting of a ten percent cash deposit in lieu of a bail bond.  One would assume those who can afford to pay the full ten percent up front have been doing so already.  So, why does this bill want to move to ten percent cash bail exclusively?  Money, plain and simple.  State Government wants to take money out of the pockets of bail agents forcing them to close their doors and put it in their own pockets.

What we have in S.B. No. 18 is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  They want the public to believe a move to ten percent deposit bail is a magnanimous gesture on their part and cheaper and fairer for criminal offenders.  In reality it’s Government competing with private sector bail agents.  Only Government can sell something for ninety percent less than its private sector competitor and get away with it.  Only Government can take money from a consumer and not be required to pay any penalty for nonperformance, in this case a defendant’s failure to appear for court.

The cash deposit is refundable?  Sure, after they deduct fines and costs and the private attorney is paid the balance of their fee.

Before I can buy into the concept of S. B. No. 18, I would first want to expand and extend its perceived generosity and fairness and propose the following amendments.  In addition to refundable bail deposits I propose the exclusive use of public defenders with a refundable deposit for attorney fees, a refundable deposit for electronic monitoring bracelets and ignition interlock devices.  And refundable deposits for alcohol and anger management classes as well.

Of course, my proposed amendments will never be considered much less adopted because the ten percent cash bail exclusivity language is expressly directed at putting bail agents out of business by permitting the courts to take cash from criminal offenders sans the messy things like financial penalty for nonperformance and obligations to locate and return absconders to court.  Let’s face it, how do you think the wolf got the sheep’s clothing in the first place?  It ate the sheep. 

Happy New Year!

Posted December 31, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

How was your Christmas?  Mine was good.  It was spent with family.  My wife gave me a Go Pro.  An interestingchoice for me.  On occasion when leaving the house I would say I was going base jumping.  I didn’t think she took me seriously.  I am looking forward to getting some fast action video on the golf course this summer.

Speaking of interesting choices have you been reading about the lawsuit filed in San Francisco by a couple of Harvard Boys?  Seems they want to get rid of the bail schedule.  They say it’s unfair to the poor and unconstitutional.  Their true goal is to release all criminal offenders without requiring any bail to guarantee appearance.  Clearly, increasing public safety and personal accountability is not one of their New Year’s Resolutions.

Even though lawyers for both the City of San Francisco and the State of California have filed motions to dismiss this lawsuit, bail agents are still concerned about the impact this suit would have if the Harvard Boys prevail.  The concern is legitimate.  It is possible a federal judge could disregard the motions to dismiss the constitution and the efficacy of bail and rule in favor of the plaintiffs, but I don’t think so.

Every year millions of defendants are released from jail pending trial with their appearance in court guaranteed by a bail bond backed by a surety company and supervised by a licensed bail agent.  Only a fraction of these defendants never appear for court.  That’s not dumb luck; that’s the effectiveness of the bail bond system the Harvard Boys seek to eliminate.

Bail schedules serve a purpose.  They keep the criminal justice system moving.  Someone arrested for DUI, aggravated assault, auto theft and the like have preset bail amounts which permit a secured release from jail soon after they are arrested.  The law says someone charged with a crime is innocent until proven guilty.  They have a constitutional right to reasonable bail.  Society has the right to see criminal offenders appear for trial and the case adjudicated.  Only bail bonds offer this assurance.

Doing away with a preset bail schedule would result in defendants waiting days and weeks before receiving a bail hearing before a judge.  The system would grind to a halt as there would be no space in the jail to house new arrestees arriving daily.  As a result local law enforcement would be forced to reduce arrests thereby permitting an inevitable increase in crime.

If the Harvard Boys are worried about a criminal offender’s inability to make bail they shouldn’t.  A truly indigent non-violent offender with no prior criminal history is a candidate for release on their own recognizance.  Perhaps the Harvard Boys could focus their attention on ways to reduce crime.  That is something we can all get behind.

Bail agents, please do not enter the New Year with overwhelming dread and concern for your livelihood.  The California Bail Agents Association and The American Bail Coalition are on the case.  It is always in your best interest to support these associations and your state association who tirelessly work to preserve the commercial bail industry.

Here is wishing everyone a safe and prosperous New Year!  As for me, I’m going base jumping.

http://www.sfexaminer.com/federal-lawsuit-filed-to-overturn-citys-unequal-bail-system/

Connecticut to Evaluate Bail

Posted December 22, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

The Sentencing Commission for the State of Connecticut issued a press release December 17 stating at the request of Governor Malloy the Commission will be studying the current bail system and diversionary programs for their “efficacy and cost effectiveness”.  The Commission projected it would take one year to provide recommendations to that state’s legislature meaning there would be no legislative proposals until 2017.

What is occurring in Connecticut is just one more example of a state taking a look at their criminal justice system.  The objective, determine if the system is equitable and fair.  Are there too many people in prison?  Is there a class of criminal offenders being unfairly treated?  Are treatment plans or prison sentences the answer?  Should everyone deemed by a judge to be a threat to public safety be held in jail without bail pending trial?  Should states pay millions of dollars to supervise offenders released pending trial when the private sector currently does it for free?

These are reasonable questions that should be asked.  The likely answers will be the problems within the criminal justice system are not coming from the system of bail, but rather the bureaucracy itself.  The central problem with most bureaucracies can be traced to the lack of financial incentive and efficiency.

Where there is an absence of profit incentive and threat of financial loss threatening the survival of the program, so too is there an absence of incentive to succeed.   The private bail system provides a profound financial incentive to perform.  If the bail agent does not succeed in their effort, they cannot survive.

Any consideration of expanding the use of a taxpayer funded pretrial release program using risk assessment tools and eight to five employees is pure folly and exorbitantly expensive.  This is evidenced by the failed pretrial release programs in Illinois, Oregon, Kentucky and Washington D.C.  Advocates of taxpayer funded pretrial programs point to these states as successes. What they don’t tell you is thousands upon thousands of defendants are failing to appear for court every day and nobody is making a real effort to apprehend those fugitives.

The purpose of bail is not only about allowing an offender to be released from custody pending trial, it’s about making sure that offender appears for trial.  The latter condition is where the public systems fails society and where private bail succeeds.  There can be no justice when a defendant fails to show for court.

We can only hope the Connecticut Sentencing Commission is comprised of individuals who understand the purpose of bail as it relates to public safety and serving victims of crime.  They need to tune out the voices of those who believe nobody should be required to post bail.  Groups who support the concept all criminal offenders should be set free on a promise to appear for court.  Rest assured the private bail industry will take every opportunity to provide the Commission with the facts they need to make an informed recommendation to the legislature.

State of Connecticut Sentencing Commission Press Release

It's as Simple as ABC

Posted November 17, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

It’s very possible you have been hearing a lot about the American Bail Coalition (ABC) recently.  With on-going efforts to reduce or eliminate the use of money bail in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, New Jersey, New Mexico and Utah, ABC has had a full plate.  Wherever the use of commercial bail has been in jeopardy ABC has been there to advocate, testify and educate local officials and decision makers on the efficacy of bail bonds.

The American Bail Coalition was formed in 2001 as a continuation of the National Association of Bail Underwriters (NABIC).  Today ABC members include the majority of the largest and most prestigious surety bail underwriters in the Nation.

While ABC has always been known as a bail surety company association, the ABC Board recently approved an Agent Affiliate Membership level aimed at incorporating the knowledge and expertise of retail bail agents into ABC’s efforts to preserve the use of commercial bail.  Bail agents who are currently affiliated with an active ABC Member Surety Company are eligible to become an Affiliate Agent Member.

This is a significant development.  ABC expends more time and financial resources working to develop and implement best practices and strategies to address jail crowding and failures to appear than any other bail association in the country.  Without the sustained efforts of ABC – as well as state and local associations -the intrinsic value of commercial bail would go undefended.  We would be out of business.

ABC continues to work with state and local associations on matters of legislation and policy to ensure a coordinated effort is being put forth to protect the use of bail bonds to guarantee defendants appearance in court.

ABC has a tremendous staff experienced in working with public officials, lobbyists and impacting public policy decisions. The bail industry is enduring a level of assault on its very existence not seen before.  Efforts are ongoing by parties who would see the use of secured release eliminated and to keep offenders in jail without bond until trial.  Lawsuits, legislation and constitutional amendments are the avenues taken by the adversaries of the Eight Amendment and Public Safety.  The members of ABC stand in their way.

If you are a licensed bail agent with an affiliation with an ABC member company I encourage you to contact your surety representative today to inquire about becoming an ABC Affiliate Agent Member.  If your surety company is not currently a member of ABC, encourage them to join and participate in a collective effort to keep commercial surety bail in place as a vital component of the criminal justice system.  This only works if we all work together.

Visit AMERICANBAIL.org for more information about ABC. 

EJUL - Actions favor criminal offenders over victims and public safety

Posted November 9, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

 What to make of Equal Justice Under Law (EJUL) and the efforts to eliminate the use of commercial bail?  According to the website for this D.C. based group, they filed nine lawsuits in seven states seeking to do away with any form of guarantee that would assure a criminal offender appears for court.  EJUL’s latest volley is a suit filed against the City and County of San Francisco and The State of California.

Before now EJUL has filed lawsuits in small counties with few resources who have had little choice but to enter a settlement.  The San Francisco case which was filed in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco seeks to eliminate the use of bail schedules and financial damages for their clients.

While bail agents may be concerned their livelihood could be adversely affected by EJUL’s agenda, so to should the citizens of this Country who value the idea of accountability, public safety and the pursuit of justice.  There can be no justice if the accused does not appear for trial.

EJUL seeks to eliminate the use of proven financial guarantees of appearance and replace it with the trust criminal offenders can be relied upon to appear for trial.  This is simple case of wishful thinking on the part of EJUL.  It’s been proven time and again a large percentage of criminal offenders who have no incentive to appear for court, do not appear for court.

No doubt there are criminal offenders who are legitimately indigent and cannot afford bail at any level.  In those cases judges can and do have the option to release qualified offenders on their own recognizance.  As a result there are tens of thousands of offenders released everyday throughout the County on their own recognizance.  Regrettably, many of the offenders released on a promise appear to do not return to court and often times reoffend.

EJUL’s effort to eliminate money bail is counterproductive to reforming the criminal justice system as it relates to bail.  There are measures that can be taken by all invested parties to reach a consensus on procedures that would help indigent arrestees, while at the same time requiring secured release for those who can afford to post bail and pay for private counsel.  It doesn’t have to be an all or nothing scenario.  Life isn’t that simple.

Decades of Bail

Posted October 28, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Micahael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Last Friday I travelled to Newhall, California to attend the funeral of longtime surety representative Scott Anschultz.  Scott worked for several decades in the bail profession in both the retail and surety side of the business.  The chapel was filled with family members, friends and associates from the bail industry.

Scott was remembered for his love of family, sense of humor, and his commitment to his profession.  Scott was a strong supporter of the California Bail Agents Association and Professional Bail Agents of the United States, where he had been inducted into the PBUS Hall of Fame.

Scott, like many of us who have been working in bail for several decades, lived through the evolution of the bail profession from the encroachment of unsecured pretrial release initiatives to shifting marketing trends in the private sector.

The trials continue.  This year representatives of commercial bail are challenging efforts to implement court supervised, no personal accountability programs in New Mexico, Connecticut, Nevada, New York and New Jersey.

Within the last three weeks I’ve attended bail conferences in California, Texas and South Carolina with bail related meetings in New York and upcoming meetings in Las Vegas, Sacramento and Atlanta.  It’s a never ending, yet necessary endeavor if we are to continue to fight for the expanded use of time tested bail bonds.

While Scott Anschultz leaves us far too early he leaves the bail bond business intact and effective.  My heart goes out to Scott’s family, friends and associates.

Ride-Along with LEO

Posted September 4, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

It’s been an unusually hot summer in the Pacific Northwest.  Seattle saw a streak of 90 degree days recently not experienced since the summer of 1981.  I experienced this first hand while in Washington State last week visiting American Surety agents in Vancouver, Olympia, Port Orchard and Kennewick.  On top of the heat was the lack of rain and resulting in water rationing due to the extreme drought conditions and the smoke in the area from the forest fires.

While in Kennewick I was invited on a ride-along by Sgt. Erik Magnuson of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office.  I immediately jumped at the offer.  Bail agents and law enforcement complement each other, they arrest them and we make sure the get to court.  I really wanted to experience the world of law enforcement, if only for a few hours.

While out on patrol we stopped a few speeders and one arrest was made on a lady with an outstanding warrant.  All in all it was a light day on the crime side but a memorable experience for me.

Our country’s 900,000 or so law enforcement officers have a dangerous job.  They have be on guard every time they interact with a motorist or a potential law breaker.  In the current climate they have to be on guard with anyone in their vicinity.   I appreciate the work they do protecting life and property.  It takes a special individual to put on a gun and badge and place their life at risk on a daily basis.  Law enforcement should not be taken for granted.

I caught a flight out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport that Friday morning as the rain began to fall bringing some welcome relief to the upper northwest.

Bail Agents Helping Some Good Kids

We’re just a few short weeks away from the 26th Annual Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament held in Allen, Texas.  With the help of a lot of local folks and a large number of bail agents and surety companies this event raises money to fund the cost of sending eighty or so kids to Camp Esperanza, a summer camp for kids battling cancer.

Our partnership with The Professional Bondsmen of Texas has been an absolute success.  Since joining forces we haves seen a significant increase in participation and fundraising.  One thing is for certain, the kids and volunteers of Camp Esperanza have experienced the compassion and selfless generosity of bail agents all over Texas and throughout the country.  It’s not too late to participate as a player or a sponsor for this September 28th event.  Visit www.sgwmemorial.com for more information. Everyone is welcome.

Home Sweet Home

Posted August 18, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

It's good to be at home this week working in our northside Indianapolis office.  I've never minded traveling the country visiting with bail agents though spending time at home with family is always welcome.

It's looks like I'm not the only in Indianapolis this week. The National Association of Pretrial Services Agencies (NAPSA) is holding its 43rd Annual Conference and Training Institute at the JW Marriott Hotel situated downtown next to Victory Field, home of the Indianapolis Indians.

The Circle City is a great convention destination.  As a taxpayer I'm happy to have them spend their money in our city.  That said Indiana has largely gone towards the 90 percent discounted bail folks so our state doesn't make for fertile farmland for the NAPSA version of pretrial release.

You may have been reading some of the recent editorials on the current bail system in Albuquerque, New Mexico, such that it is.  These days most criminal arrestees, regardless of the offense, are walking out of jail on an unsecured release.  Those that believe in unsecured release for all believe criminal offenders can be trusted to get themselves to court on time, every time.  In many cases this may be true, in many cases it is not. Unfortunately, it's anyone's guess which people will show and which will not. 

There is a reason bail bonds are the most effective means of guaranteeing a defendant appears for trial.  The risk of financial loss is a powerful incentive to perform.  This is true for the bail agent as it is true for the parents, employers or friends who have agreed to vouch for the defendant's good intentions to appear.

Unsecured release advocates operate on blind faith individuals who have already demonstrated a diminished level of responsibility can be relied upon to appear in court and answer to the crime of which they have been charged.  One simply has to check the outstanding warrants posted on the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office website to see a list of offenders with outstanding warrants who are currently at large that community.  On this site you will find a list of 1783 outstanding warrants for domestic violence and 8216 warrants for DWI.  That is 9,999 warrants on just two crime classifications.

Crime is real.  Victims of crime are real.  Society demands accountability and deserves safe communities to work, live and raise families.

I encourage those attending the NAPSA meeting in Indianapolis this week to visit some of the locl bail bond offices and speak with the fine professional bail agents in hopes they gain a better understanding of the commitment and financial risk these agents assume everyday while working within the criminal justice system.

Four of Eleven

Posted July 25, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Every now and again I’ll go on a travel splurge where it seems I’m on a plane more than I am on the ground.  I’m currently in the midst of a six day travel schedule where I’ll have a flight each of the six day of travel for a total of eleven flights.  It’s no track record for me but its close.

This stretch of travel began last Thursday with a trip to Weatherford, Texas where I attended a meeting of the Parker County Bail Bond Board.   American Surety Company was on the agenda for a new license.  Our license was approved.  Congratulations to our new agent Melissa Thompson, it’s a big deal in Texas when you obtain your obtain your first license from a bail bond board.

Before the meeting I had lunch at the Weatherford Downtown Café, situated across from the Parker County Courthouse, with Melissa and expert bail attorney Randy Adler.  Visiting local restaurants is just one of the perks of the job.

Yesterday morning while awaiting my departure from DFW I read another strawman article about how bail caused the death of women who had committed suicide while in custody.  The article states the defendant had been in custody for three days held in lieu of $5000 bail and was working with a bondsman to make bail.  The issue of bail had nothing to do with this person’s suicide, in my opinion.  The bail amount was not significant and the family was working with a bondsman to post bail.  There were clearly other issues go on in this person’s life.

Today, Saturday I travel to an undisclosed location for an overnight state.  Its business related!

Monday I’m off to Gulfport, Mississippi to attend the MSBAA 2015 Summer General Meeting.  I’ll sit in on the general meeting on Tuesday morning before catching a flight to Atlanta where I’ll join Georgia bondmen at the GAPB Working Summer Conference 2015 held at the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort. 

Travel is part of the job.  By the end of this week I’ll have flown 80 times so far in 2015 and there is still five months left in the year.  Have to say goodbye now, my next flight leaves in three hours.


Corrections - In my article E-Filing Bail Bonds dated July 20, 2015, I incorrectly said Collin County will begin requiring E-Filing of bail bonds later this year.  Collin County is slated to move to E-Filing but bail bonds are not included at this time.  I also incorrectly stated Lee County was the only county in Texas currently processing bail bonds through E-Filing.  Smith County, Tyler, Texas is the only county presently processing bail bonds through E-Filing.  I apologize for the errors.

E-Filing Bail Bonds

Posted July 20, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 4 Comments

I attended the PBUS Summer Conference last week at the Cheyenne Mountain Resort in Colorado Springs.  It truly is a beautiful part of our country.

Like most PBUS events there were classes and seminars, cocktail parties and dinners. Bail agents from across the nation sharing tips and stories.  I always walk away with something useful from these events.

E-filing was the hot topic at this meeting for some reason.  I'm aware of only two counties in the country that currently permit the e-filing of a bail bond, Lee County, Texas and Gadsden County, Florida. Texas in particular is demonstrating the most interest in e-filing bail bonds with Collin and El Paso counties announcing an intent to transition to an electronic filing process.

There were many bail agents at the conference voicing concern over e-filing.  They feared e-filing would give some agencies an unfair advantage. Others, including myself, believe e-filing, if done properly and with the appropriate security measures, could save bail agents and the courts tens of thousands of dollars annually in travel fees, paper costs and processing time.

The decision whether or not to move to e-filing bail bonds will largely be decided at the county level. With only two counties out of 3143 counties, parishes and the like actually processing bonds through e-filing, we may be better served preparing for the next meteor to strike than how e-filing will impact the way bail agents do business.  In the meantime, we will deal with e-filing as it arises, one county at a time.

Pennsylvania Lawmakers Back Commercial Bail

Posted July 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 2 Comments

In the waning months of 2009 The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a series of articles exposing the chronic problems plaguing the criminal justice system in the City of Brotherly Love.  For a period of decades there had been rampant witness intimidation, an ineffective deposit bail system costing the city hundreds of millions of dollars and a list of outstanding warrants that would put the white pages to shame.  Significant changes were desperately needed.  Thanks to members of the private sector and Pennsylvania legislators interested in public safety and accountability for bad actors, changes to the bail system have arrived in the form of SB397.

Change doesn’t happen on its own.  In the case of SB397, change took five long years and was spearhead by Nick Wachinski, outgoing Executive Director of the American Bail Coalition and Pennsylvania resident.  Nick began working with legislators soon after the Inquirer went to print on its expose of Philadelphia’s criminal justice system and a couple years before he took the Executive Director post at ABC.  My hat’s off to Nick and ABC for their dedication and tenacity to effect change in Pennsylvania’s broken bail system.  It was a text book example of how a successful legislative initiative.

What does SB397 contain?  This enacted legislation requires all bail agents to be appointed by an approved surety insurer.  It provides for a 90 day forfeiture period with a tiered remission period to incentivize bail agents to continue to pursue clients who have absconded to avoid prosecution even after a bond has been paid.

SB397 is not without a hammer.  To emphasize a “produce or pay” environment, failure to pay judgments arising out of an inability to timely produce a defendant will result in the suspension or revocation of the bail agent’s license to write.  The bail agent’s surety may be subject to administrative penalties if an unpaid judgement goes unresolved.  Rules are necessary.  Penalties for failure to perform are expected in the private sector.

With the enactment of SB397, the majority of the Pennsylvania Legislature demonstrated their belief the prerequisite to any functioning criminal justice system is the appearance of the criminal defendant at trial.  That the use of bail bonds to provide a financial guarantee of a defendant’s appearance in court gives the justice system the best chance for success.  This bill received a unanimous floor vote in the Senate and a near unanimous vote in the House.  Governor Tom Wolf signed SB397 into law, July 2, 2015.  The changes become effective October 31, 2015.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­-------------------------------------

Click here to read a recent press release from the American Bail Coalition on their new Executive Director.

Oh, John Oliver, tsk tsk

Posted June 11, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 3 Comments

John Oliver recently took up the issue of bail in his most recent episode of Last Week Tonight with John Oliver.  I say episode because most of what he espoused on the bail system was fiction.  I watch this show every so often and I do find Oliver funny.  However, having heard his thoughts on bail I now have to question the veracity of any topic he chooses to address. 

Because his show is only 30 minutes long Oliver must paint pictures with broad strokes, no time for specifics and details.  John Oliver uses an example of one man jailed for a suspended license, unable to pay a $1000 bond, so he sat in jail.  What is not disclosed is, why this man’s license was suspended?  Was he convicted of DUI or was it too many points against his license for speeding or other traffic violations?  Then there is the fact he could ostensibly afford to pay the cost of maintaining (gas and insurance) the car he was driving illegally when was arrested, yet he could not pay a $100 bond premium?

Oliver then cites a statistic 38.5 percent of persons in custody pending trial in New Jersey cannot afford bail.  Really?  Is it possible most if not all of this 38.5 percent had other reasons they were unable to bond out of jail?  Perhaps they had outstanding warrants for crimes committed in other jurisdictions, they decided to stay in jail to get time served on their crime or the defendant is a repeat offender and having burned all their bridges there was nobody willing to provide help with bail.  The devil is in the details.

John Oliver was not very kind to Pre-Trial Services either.  His video spoof intended to show how easy the appearance process was, that statistically everyone shows up for trial.  Instead, he made the taxpayer funded employees at Pre-Trial Services appears as though they do very little to monitor or assure offenders appear in court.   I’m not going to say these employees do nothing, I will say what they are doing is already being done by the commercial bail industry at no costs to taxpayers.

Finally, at what point do people like John Oliver who can stomach nonviolent transactions like someone selling single doses of heroin to America’s kids, begin to think about the victims of these crimes and their families?  How about business retailers who endure property theft on a regular basis.  Should those people committing these crimes not be arrested or if arrested, be assured of appearing in court by posting bond?

The John Oliver’s of the world seem to have a level of tolerance for nonviolent crime, that people should not be held accountable for their actions.  It’s naïve to think everyone shows for court.  Just ask any county sheriff across the country and they can show you hundreds and thousands of outstanding warrants for criminal offenders who failed to show for court. There are so many in fact the U.S. Today did a series of articles in 2014 about how a significant number of prosecutors were not extraditing fugitives arrested in other jurisdictions citing cost.

John Oliver, I sincerely hope neither you nor a family member is ever a victim of a crime.  Should this ever happen, I suspect you would want that person arrested and jailed and some form of guarantee they will appear for trial if released from custody.  Rest assured a bail agent is always standing by ready to carry out their obligations to the state to make sure that offender will be in court.  That’s a wrap.

Let's get to the Point

Posted May 14, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 2 Comments

 I read in the paper earlier this week the average attention span of Americans is currently eight seconds, so let me keep this brief.

Attended the ISBAA Spring Meeting in Indianapolis this past week.  Turnout was excellent.  Program was informative.  Deposit bail is still a problem.  Most Hoosier judges and prosecutors continue to value cash deposit over appearance, justice, victims’ rights and public safety.  Profit without performance. In the words of John Mellancamp, “there is no new news there”. 

Indiana legislators decided to ignore the elephant in the room this past session.  The sale continues; 90 percent discounts for nearly all defendants seeking bail.  So much for the notion Republicans opposing government competing with private business and holding criminal offenders accountable for their actions.

I taught an hour of continuing education.  Most people stayed alert long enough to see our new video on Indiana Bail Agents.  You can click here to view the video.  You can also visit ASC’s Facebook Page to check out pictures from the ISBAA meeting.

Time?


Pictured below, Nick Pantella and Brian Cain with ASC President & CEO Bill Carmichael

 

Participation Expectation

Posted May 5, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Bail agents are no different than those who work in other professions.  There are those who participate in the advancement, protection and preservation of their profession and then are those who go about their business.  Others volunteer their time and spend their financial resources to everyone’s benefit.  This is often referred to as riding coattails.

In the bail industry we see apathy at the retail level and the surety level.  As I travel around the country to various state association meetings I see the same faces volunteering their time, contributing to PACs and sponsoring events which raise money for their state association.  These state associations then use the money to provide continuing education classes and pay lobbyists to advocate for bail related issues.  Well, these efforts taken on behalf of commercial bail benefit everyone who writes commercial bail, so one has to wonder why the lack of participation by many who benefit from these efforts?

For the last several months there has been a battle taking place in El Paso, Texas over the expansion of their taxpayer funded pretrial release agency.  Commissioner Vince Perez has been having to defend his proposal against challenges by local judges and the El Paso County Bondsmen Association.  Commissioner Perez says the program will save the county money but has been unable to provide any evidence to support his claim.

If plans to expand government pretrial prevails in El Paso, it will reduce the amount of bail being written.  If for no other reason, Commissioner Perez will need to justify millions of dollars and additional staff required for his program.  So the question is, did all  bondsmen writing in El Paso County contribute to the efforts made by the El Paso Bondsmen Association through membership or donations or did some sit back while others did the fighting?

Last week I was in Austin attending the Spring Meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas.  Member attendance was down considerably from past meetings.   Who was there were those bondsmen who continue to work free of charge, and many times at their own expense, on behalf of bondsmen all over Texas.

The trio of PBT President Scott Walstad, PBT Legislative Chair Wynn Dillard and PBT Past President John McClusky were all present and accounted for.  While these guys work out of McKinney, Denton and Houston respectively, they have been spending a great deal of time in Austin at the Texas State House in recent weeks monitoring bail related legislation, meeting with legislators and working with PBT lobbyists to make sure Texas bondsmen stay in business.  They have been doing this every session over the last several years at no cost to PBT or its members.

Knowing this I’m amazed when I hear membership renewals are down for PBT.  Participation is down.  Texas and its 254 counties is second only to Alaska in terms of size.  By all rights Texas should be the largest bail association in the United States but it’s not.  PBT CE classes should be the class of choice for all bondsmen in Texas.  Revenue generated through these classes, taught by volunteers like expert bail attorneys Randy Adler and Ken Good, help keep you in business.  So why would any Texas bondsman ever consider giving their money to a for-profit school?

The bail industry nationally is under constant assault by big-government thinkers and local governments whose only interest is generating revenue through the use of cash deposit bail.  In most cases the only thing standing between a bondsman and the unemployment line is their state association.  So, you have to ask yourself, is that weak excuse for not paying a few hundred dollars in membership dues worth risking being put out of business?  To paraphrase Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, ‘you want them on that wall, you need them on that wall’.  But that wall costs money and isn’t it time you paid your share?  That’s a big Texas YES!  Join your state association today, in whatever state you operate and tell them Mike Whitlock sent you.

The Original G.W.

Posted March 29, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock Executive Vice President - 11 Comments

In the lobby of American Surety Company’s Indianapolis Home Office hangs a plaque recognizing the years of service of our team members in increments of five, ten, fifteen, twenty and twenty-five years and above.  Soon a name will be etched under the twenty-five year level, Gary W. Logue.

Gary or G.W., as I often call him, began working at Underwriters Surety, Inc. in March, 1990, shortly after obtaining his degree from Purdue University, ironic because Gary’s an ardent fan of Indiana Basketball.  He fit in immediately.

Gary was a God’s send for me personally because he joined our team at time when USI was in its fourth year of existence and we were extremely busy.  It wasn’t long before Gary and I were sharing after hour’s on-call shifts, a week at a stretch, while still putting in full days at the office.  He acclimated himself in good time on bond underwriting and forfeiture management and soon became an essential member of our team.

Over the next twenty-five years USI and American Surety Company evolved into a major player in the surety bail industry.  During this time Gary established himself as one of the elite members of our staff with high marks for service, in particular.  If I heard it once I heard it a thousand times from our agent partners how appreciative they were of Gary’s easy going style and eagerness to accommodate.

We’ve been fortunate at ASC-USI to maintain a high employee retention rate creating a family environment where everyone works well and efficiently as team.  Gary’s wealth of knowledge and leadership qualities has contributed greatly for the top drawer service for which ASC-USI has become known. 

Gary is our Vice President of Underwriting and I’m proud to call him a friend. Congratulations Gary on 25 years of service.  It’s has been and continues to be a pleasure working with you.  You are truly an original.

Click here to post a comment

Keeping an Ear to the Ground

Posted March 8, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

I'm back on the road again with trips through Louisiana and Texas over the next two weeks. Business as usual.  There is also business as usual around the country as the landscape in the criminal justice system continues to evolve.

I read an online article last week where deep pocket political powerhouses George Soros and Koch Industries have joined forces with the ACLU, Americans for Tax Reform, Freedom Works and others to form the Coalition for Public Safety. These groups have pulled together $5 million dollars of initial funding to get the program off the ground.  The gist of the program being to reform the criminal justice system by finding ways to reduce jail crowding and addressing overcriminalization and overincarceration.

Of course, the criminal justice system is in need of reform.  We have to be careful to not over correct by creating an environment where the consequences for illegal behavior is insufficient to deter crime as Californians have experienced in the wake of Prop. 47.

It is essential representatives of the appearance bond industry have an opportunity to participate in any discussions involving reforms to pretrial detention and jail crowding.  The wealth of knowledge bail agents possess should not be ignored.

We are also keeping an eye on electronic bonding efforts in Texas and Florida and minimum premium requirements in Connecticut and South Carolina. These initiatives can be positive if implemented properly.

Be sure to check out our 2015 Legislative Update to see what is occurring in your state and trending around the country.  It's easier to hear the train coming down the tracks if you keep your ear to the ground.

It's all about that Bail

Posted March 2, 2015 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Las Vegas, NV - I've just returned from my annual February trip to Las Vegas to attend the PBUS Winter Conference.  I've been present for this annual meeting of bail agents nearly every winter since 1986.  This trip can be exhausting though I do enjoy seeing familiar people I have gotten to know while attending this event through the years.

I have a special affinity for PBUS.  My father Jack was a founding member.  I have fond memories attending PBUS meetings with him in the late eighties when the conference was held at the Golden Nugget in downtown Las Vegas.  I was learning from the master.

PBUS is a place where bail agents and surety representatives from around the country converge on Las Vegas for a few days to discuss issues impacting the commercial bail industry.  There is always a little drama mixed in with the networking and seminars.  This year was tame compared to years passed which was a welcome relief, it was all business.

Attending CBA classes at PBUS meetings and instructing those classes has been a way of giving back to the profession.  It’s imperative we continue to help one another with training and education as laws and regulations are changing every day.

The networking that takes place at PBUS can be helpful in those instances where a bail agent may need help with a client or tracking a fugitive outside their jurisdiction because fugitives will try to hide anywhere in the United States and internationally.  Having contacts across the country can greatly impact whether or not efforts to locate a fugitive are successful.

I was invited to speak at the Opening Luncheon for the conference.  My remarks centered around how valuable bail agents are to an efficient criminal justice system.  They are indispensable as the process comes to a screeching halt whenever a defendant fails to appear for court.  Nobody is more impacted and frustrated by this occurrence than the crime victim.  For prosecutors and judges it’s just one of many cases they deal with, but for a victim the issues is singular in nature.  A defendant failing to appear not only stops the process but increases the anxiety of the victim creating fear and vulnerability, particular in cases of domestic violence or aggravated assault.  Bail agents carry a heavy burden each time they post bond for a criminal defendant, the pressure is on to get their client to court, every time.

I also recounted my early years working in retail bail and how that experience has continued to provide perspective during my years working on the corporate surety end of the business.  Nothing gets me more excited than speaking to a room full of hardworking bail agents.  There is no more underappreciated stakeholder working within the criminal justice system than the bail agent.  Bail agents must work harder, be more professional and turn in a higher rate of performance than the other guy if they are to earn respect.  It’s not fair but it’s the reality.  It’s about crime, it’s about arrests and it’s about appearance which means it’s all about the bail.  

Check please!

Posted December 31, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michel J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

Whew!  Another year is nearly behind us.  Is it too much to ask that 2015 be an uneventful year?  This past year was anything but calm.  There were some good decisions and a few bad decisions rendered throughout the last twelve months that will impact the bail profession and public safety for years to come.  Here are but a few.

The Supreme Courts in Ohio and Washington State ruled earlier this year their lower courts could no longer deny criminal defendants the right to secure their bail with a surety bond.  Courts in these two states were setting bail with a ten percent cash option (ninety percent unsecured) to the exclusion of bail bonds.  Criminal defendants in these two states now have the option on how they choose to meet their bail requirement.

You Walk Bail Bond Agency, Inc. of Michigan won a critical decision whereby the courts are now compelled to provide the surety notice of failure to appear within seven days as required by MCL 765.28.   This case was appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court after a lower court denied the surety’s motion to set aside forfeiture on the basis the court waited three years to send the surety notice of a defendant’s failure to appear.

The Governor of New Jersey decided he wanted to do a full court press on the bail system at the expense of taxpayers by pushing through legislation that will put in place a statewide pretrial release program.  This cost prohibitive taxpayer funded program will run into the tens of millions of dollars annually. Fortunately, there is still time to make necessary changes to the new law before it goes into effect January 2017.

Then there is California’s Prop. 47 recently put into law to the detriment of that state’s citizens.  Prop. 47, which reduced a number of felony level crimes to misdemeanors has already had a negative impact on the crime rate in California.  Increasing the level of tolerance of bad behavior is simply a bad idea.  Expect to hear more complaints from law enforcement and public safety advocates in the coming months.

You may have read the USA Today series which ran throughout the year on the issue of the thousands of outstanding warrants across the country and the lack of enthusiasm among prosecutors to extradite fugitives.  The final installment of this series Finally wanted:  Police to chase thousands of fugitives from reporter Brad Heath was published December 30, 2014.  In the article Brad Heath reports prosecutors from across the country have revisited their policy on issuing non-extraditable warrants and are now seeking the return of thousands of fugitives.

Bail agents have experienced first-hand what it is like to track down a fugitive over several states, place them in jail locally only to be told the prosecutor does not want to extradite the fugitive for whatever reason.

Justice was clearly not being served in these cases and law enforcement and bail agents were putting themselves at risk serving warrants on fugitives where prosecutors had no intention of extraditing the fugitive.

Brad Heath and USA Today should be commended for their efforts in waking up hundreds of prosecutors from around the nation from their apathetic stupor and reminding these justice pursuers of their inherent responsibilities, to prosecute criminal offenders.

Well, that’s a wrap for this year. Happy New Year!  Check please!

Prop. 47 arrives in time for holidays

Posted November 20, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Attention all you would be shoplifters!  California just released its greatest hits with the passing of Prop. 47, just in time for the holidays.

Much to the chagrin of retailers throughout California, this new law allows someone to shoplift items with values up to $950 and still avoid being charged with a felony.  If someone can get an LG-7.3 Ultralarge-Capacity Steam Electric Dryer, an $849 value, passed Best Buy’s security, it’s theirs.   If they happened to get caught, no worries, it’s only a misdemeanor as opposed to a felony which went the way of last year’s Ferby.  In most cases the offender will not be taken to jail, only handed a citation and a notice to appear. 

To further illustrate the new law, a person can walk in to an Apple Store and and out with a stolen iPhone 6 while carrying a baggy of Rohypnol in one pocket and a pad of forged checks in the other with no threat of a felony violation.  Imagine the reduction in stress in one of the most stressful times of the year.

Prop. 47 has had an immediate impact.  According to several news reports, jail beds are being freed up due to fewer felony arrests.  Felony courts are seeing a major reduction in cases while misdemeanor courts have been instantaneously overloaded.  Fewer appearance bonds are being written due to fewer arrests and those with pending felony cases are petitioning the courts to reduce their charges to misdemeanors.  It's too soon to know the impact this reduction in deterrence will have on crime.

San Mateo Police Chief Susan Manheimer was recently quoted in the SFExaminer.com on the issue of being in possession of Rohypnol now being a misdemeanor offense, saying, “To make date rape drugs a misdemeanor boggles the mind.”  She was further quoted saying, “What compassionate person would say possession of date rape drugs should be a misdemeanor?”

The penalty for bad behavior has gone from a clank of a cell door to a slap on the wrist.  Bad behavior is now being rewarded which only begets more bad behavior.  While reducing the level of some felony offenses to misdemeanors may have merit there are many that do not.  Perhaps it would have been more appropriate to address the various criminal violations in smaller numbers rather than one big sweeping change.

One thig is for certain, Black Friday 2014 in California will be an all-together new experience this year.  Happy holidays!

Proposals Pass in NJ and CA

Posted November 5, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Tuesday night yielded little to smile about if you’re of Democratic persuasion as Republican candidates had their way in most of the races across the country.  That said, for many states the candidates were not the only issue on the ballot.

New Jersey voters approved an amendment to that state’s constitution allowing judges to hold serious criminal offenders in jail without bail, pending trial.  Public Question 1 (SCR 128) will also make it easier for criminal offenders to be released on their own recognizance if they claim to be indigent.  These changes go into effect January 2017.

On the west coast, Californians voted in favor of Prop 47 which will reduce certain drug charges and theft crimes from felonies to misdemeanors, ostensibly to control crowding in the local county jails, a problem created by Prop. 109.

San Diego bail agent Lilly Riley said “just after midnight last night the jail began showing lower bonds for possession charges, with bail reduced from $5000 to $1000”.

Continuing to dumb down the system and rewarding bad behavior is an assault on the societal norms of public safety and accountability for one’s actions.  Woe is us if these efforts metastasize nationally.

Oh the Irony

Posted October 24, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

Did you hear about the Pennsylvania bail agent arrested for using forged powers of attorney to post several million in bonds? He’s currently sitting in the county prison with bail set at $250,000. Ironically, this guy was arrested for obtaining the release of criminal offenders using forged bonds and the court’s response is to set a phony bail amount of $250,000 of which they will require the defendant to post only 10% cash to obtain release from custody pending trial. So, unlike the forged bonds the bail agent had been posting that had zero value, the court will release him on a 10% bond which is 90% bogus.

For the past year or so some Minnesota judges have been complaining about bail agents permitting clients to make payments on premium, thus circumventing their authority. Regardless, of the surety appearance bond being fully secured they didn’t like defendants getting out on payment plans or so they said. They’re response, begin offering 90% discounts on bail to defendants requiring only 10% cash be posted with the court. I guess it’s okay if the perceived circumvention is self-inflicted. Or, did they just want the cash all along?

California continues its assault on public safety. In the wake of Prop. 109, which involved the early release of thousands of convicted felons, Prop. 47 is now on the mid-term ballot. Prop. 47 will reduce a number of felony charges to misdemeanors. The motivation of this initiative appears to be to reduce the number of arrests and felony convictions. The consequences of Prop. 47 would be an increase in crime due zero threat of punishment for criminal offenders. In likeminded thinking there is backing for “cite and release” legislation in Texas. Again, an initiative that would remove the inconvenience of accountability from lawbreakers. The losers will be law abiding citizens.

It’s almost as if the deciders in chief have totally abandonany sense of civil order and public safety. It’s all about making it less offensive to be an offender provided the county and state generate some revenue in the process. Now that offends me.

DVN is A-OK

Posted October 4, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice Presidentr - 0 Comments

My wife Marcia and I attended a fundraiser last evening called “A Night with the Network”.  The event’s purpose was to raise money for the Domestic Violence Network whose goal is to end domestic violence in Indiana.

The venue for this event was the Indianapolis Art Center in mid-town Indianapolis.  A great setting to hold a fundraiser that included a silent auction, wine tasting and cigar bar.  In the end a lot money was raised for a very worthy cause.

 

The event program states that one in four women will experience domestic violence in their lifetime and 1.3 million are victims of physical assault each year. These are startling numbers.

 

At one point DVN Executive Director asked those in the audience to raise their hand if they had any front-line involvement in dealing with domestic violence.  I thought about that for a quick second then raised my hand.  The bail profession does have at the very least a lateral involvement with domestic violence cases.  Bail agents make sure the person charged with the offense appears to court and that is no small contribution.  I don't write retail bail however our company does provide financial backing to those who do, so I raised my hand.

 

Regardless if the court sets bail in a domestic violence case at $500 as is typical in Huntsville, Alabama or $50,000 as it is typical in Los Angeles, CA, bail agents understand their role; supervise the client and make sure they appear for court until the case is adjudicated.  Aside from keeping an offender locked behind bars until trial, is there any more critical a contribution to the process than that provided by a bail agent?

The Domestic Violence Network and victims group like it are valuable assets in helping victims of crime and working to eliminate physical and mental abuse.  It was a nice evening, a worthwhile event and Marcia and I were honored to attend.

Roll the Tape

Posted September 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock Executive Vice President - 3 Comments

It’s been a tough few weeks for the National Football League and Commissioner Roger Goodell.  The video tapes of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée in a casino elevator have brought national awareness to the crime of domestic violence. Until now the NFL’s policy of a soft handed disciplinarian approach has sufficiently mollified the fans, those days are gone.  The videos changed everything as seeing something is different than hearing about it.  It’s vivid, it’s personal and it’s real.

According to a Bureau of Justice Statistics report Nonfatal Domestic Violence, 2003-2012 about one in five violent crimes with a victim was a case of domestic violence.   Knowing this, why then are so many judges and prosecutors routinely releasing offenders of domestic violence on low bonds or no bonds?  If a video of the assault was available in these cases, would these decision makers elevate the requirements to secured appearance?

Even though the “O.J. Simpson Rule” (if the police are called to a location of a domestic dispute someone will be arrested) is a component of most police policies regarding domestic violence, an appropriate bail schedule is not.  The bail required to secure the release of someone charged with domestic violence should equal the offense and should be secured by nothing short of full cash or a surety backed bail bond.

Retail bail agents see it every day; people being arrested for domestic violence and other equally serious offenses.  There are judges, without a challenge by prosecutors, releasing these offenders from jail on low bail, OR (a promise to appear) or discounted cash bail (cash equal to 10% of the bail deposited with the court).

Why are prosecutors not demanding fully secured bail to guarantee the appearance of those criminal offenders with a victim?  Is it not their duty as an advocate for victims?  The courts are either releasing these offenders with a promise to appear for expediency or on discounted cash bonds because they are more concerned about generating revenue from cash bail than seeing justice done.

The court’s apathy is spreading across the country.  In Indiana where I’m based, we have courts in Evansville, Columbus, South Bend and Gary where nearly every criminal offender is required to accept a 90% discounted cash bond whether there is a victim or not.  A 25 to 30 percent failure to appear rate among defendants released on unsecured bonds is common place and an acceptable rate in those jurisdictions.  I’m told South Bend courts have a practice of allowing failure to appear warrants to expire after six months in order to hide from the public the thousands of outstanding warrants in St. Joseph County.

Would a video tape depicting the indifference and disregard many judges and prosecutors have towards public safety and victims’ rights be enough for the public to demand changes?  I’m not so sure, let’s roll the tape and find out.

New Jersey Lawmakers Leaning Towards Leniency

Posted June 23, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock,Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

June 23, 2014

Today in New Jersey, lawmakers will hear testimony on a proposed bill that promises big changes in that state’s bail system, and not necessarily good ones.  If passed into law, the bill would take the cost of guaranteeing the appearance of criminal defendants in court and shift the cost from the defendant to the taxpayer.

This bill, A1910, will be heard by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.  A1910 guarantees criminal defendants will be first considered for release on their own recognizance and supervised by a taxpayer funded pretrial release agency.  Requiring a defendant to post a bail bond would be the third release option and used only after a pretrial release person or a judge deems it necessary.

Again, if this bill passes, the 9 million citizens in New Jersey will incur the cost of funding a new $200 million plus annual liability and in return they must endure persons committing crimes in their communities being released from jail pretrial with no financial guarantee of appearance in court.  When these defendants fail to appear for court the burden of returning them to jail will fall upon local law enforcement that is already suffering from cutbacks.

There is a coordinated effort nationally to push taxpayer funded pretrial release programs with their risk assessment tools to replace or marginalize the effective and efficient money bail system.    Proponents of this effort are quick to demonize bail agents, who have for decades have guaranteed their clients appear for court.  The underwriting guidelines and procedures employed by the bail profession are the likely source for pretrial’s risk assessment tools.  At least two elements of private bail not being copied by public pretrial programs are accountability and penalties for nonperformance.

If this bill passes, the costs of getting fugitives to court, not to mention those defendants who comply with the conditions of their release, will be shouldered by New Jersey taxpayers and reducing, if not eliminating, the inconvenience to those persons committing crimes in communities throughout The Garden State.

A state government run pretrial release system is someone’s notion of governments answer to a perceived problem.  The criminal justice system may have struggles to overcome but reducing money bail – the one component of the system that works – is not the place to start.

Community Points

Posted May 2, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Like any other small business, bail bond company owners must pay taxes, hire staff, require the services of rental space, telephones, marketing companies, yellow pages and web companies. You can also find many bond companies participating in community events.

 

A few weeks ago I was invited by Gene and Amy Points of Muskogee, Oklahoma to join them as their company, Advantage Bail Bonds, took part in an annual chili cook off event.  I brought along my youngest daughter Samantha, who has not yet reached that age where she's embarrassed to hang out with Dad. We spent two beautiful days in Muskogee attending the cook off and enjoyed some great food and lively company.  We even took part in what must be the world’s longest small town parade riding on the Advantage Bail Bonds float.

 

Gene and Amy are great people who epitomize your typical bail agent; hardworking, goal oriented and proud of their city. Purchasing a large booth at the annual chili cook off is just one way they give back to their community.  The manner in which they take care of their many customers is further evidence of the respect they have for their fellow Muskogeeians.

 

Gene and Amy appreciate the predicament their clients and families find themselves in after an arrest.  It can be a very difficult and confusing experience especially for first time offenders.  The compassion, patience and tolerance Gene, Amy and their staff exhibit is all part of running a healthy, conscientious and profitable business.

 

American Surety Company could not be more proud to be partners with these two fine individuals.  We are fortunate to have similar representation throughout the country.  In many ways business partners from all over the United States form our own little community and this neighbor is very appreciative of that reality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit our Facebook page to view pictures from this trip .

Daily Issues Small by Comparison

Posted April 22, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 5 Comments

This has truly been the week from hell.  Agent issues, fugitive issues and logistical issues.  Throw in an overnight trip to South Carolina with back to back 6:00 a.m. departures for extra measure.

It’s easy to get wrapped up in our own problems and mini-crises and forget what is really important; the well being of friends and family.

Dale Neese is a longtime friend of mine out of Cumming, Georgia.  Dale also happens to write bail for American Surety Company.  This morning I received an update on his webpage at CaringBridge.org on the status of his battle with cancer that began with melanoma more than seven years ago.  The update told of yet another surgery Dale will undergo next week.  He has persevered through several surgeries and various and continuing chemotherapy.  He has endured much.

Dale has had tremendous support from family and friends but none more than his wife Sherri and his business partner Janice Grimes.  They make regular trips from their homes in Cumming, Georgia to Houston, Texas where Dale is receiving treatment at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.   Receiving regular treatment Dale and Sherri found it necessary to rent an apartment in the Houston area to avoid staying at hotels.

Dale was a regular participant in our annual charity golf tournament in Dallas supporting Camp Esperanza until his health declined to a point he could no longer golf.  He regularly donates to the Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament even though he and Sherri continue to pay huge medical bills related to his treatment.

It is remarkable to witness the devotion and commitment Sherri and Janice have shown Dale in support of his treatment for cancer.  The staff at their bail bond agency has stepped up to manage a large share of the business responsibilities, everyone working together to help a friend, father and business partner in need.

My daily battles are trivial compared to the unwelcome fight Dale is enduring.  Dale, I’m thinking about you and praying you have a successful surgery next week.  If I had a tenth of your strength and determination I would be a better man for it.

Hug Your Mom Today

Posted April 9, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 22 Comments

My memory takes me all the way back to our house in Memphis circa 1972 when Dad had the multi-line phone stationed on the coffee table so he could listen in on bond calls taken by the office staff.  My Mom would take it in stride every time Dad would accept a call during dinner or the holidays and when he would leave the house to run a bond down to the jail.

Mom would occasionally work at the various bonding company’s dad had owned.  She also worked at Texas Fire & Casualty and Underwriters Surety, Inc. through the years.  She handled agent licensing and prepared contracts.  Mom would find herself closing Dad’s door often because he had a tendency to cuss a lot in those days.

 

In addition to being a mother to seven kids and managing a house Mom was married to a bondsman for 52 years which made her a defacto bondsman. That's just how it works when your spouse is on duty 24 hours a day.

 

Mom would often comment on my blog posts, heaping undeserving praise upon me.  That’s what moms do, they’re always propping you up. 

 

We lost Mom last week after a battle with lung cancer.  No, she didn’t smoke, but she still got lung cancer.  I’m going to miss my Mother very much.  Here's to you Mom, you were the best Mom a son could have bar none.

70% Effective, No Thank You

Posted March 10, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

 How would you feel about driving a car with brakes guaranteed to work 70% of the time?  What about strapping on a parachute with a low failure-to-open rate of just 30%? 

According to an online article posted by the Los Angeles Times, System would change how L.A. County inmates get early release the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office will be submitting a proposal to the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to move to a “risk based” system to determine which inmates should receive early release.  A 70% success rate appears to be good enough for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office.

California’s prison realignment has really made a mess of the criminal justice system that was already facing big challenges.  California is notorious for it 70% recidivism rate among parolees and those where the parolees released early through the normal procedure.

Your typical county jail is not designed to house state inmates for extended periods of time.  Under realignment county jails are now managing state inmates, defendants held pending trial and the mentally ill.  According to the Times article Los Angeles County has added 6000 inmates to their population since realignment was initiated.

Part of the problem in California and in other states is taxpayers do not want to underwrite the cost of building and maintaining more prisons.  Taxpayers would rather spend money on roads, bridges and football stadiums.  By not adding prison space, California is left with too many inmates and too few beds resulting in the necessity to release criminals back into society before they’ve served out the entirety or the majority of their sentences.

According to the Times article, men convicted of nonviolent crimes are serving just 20% of their sentence while women with similar crimes are serving only 10%.  Men and women with more serious charges including robbery and misdemeanor child molestation (is there such a thing?) are serving as little as 40% of their remaining terms.

Moving to a system that tries to predict human behavior based on past actions may sound pretty cool, but the rate of effectiveness falls short.   Susan Turner, a criminology professor at UC Irvine, is quoted in the Times article as saying “the tool has an approximately 70% accuracy rate in its assessments”.  This leaves 30% of convicted felons released early committing new crimes.  That’s unacceptable.

There are two remedies Los Angeles County should consider.  First, rather than release defendants from jail pending trial on their own recognizance, reduce their bond by half whenever the jail reaches 98% of population.  This would make it more affordable for defendants to post bond.  Some guarantee of appearance is better than no guarantee.

Secondly, with respect to releasing convicted felons early, require candidates for early release to post an Early Release Bond which would guarantee any parolee charged with a violation will reappear at parole revocation hearing.

These are not new concepts.  Assemblyman Curt Hagman proposed a new bond schedule which would help jail crowding and The American Bail Coalition has pushed legislation to implement an Early Release Bond.

Now is a great time to consider these solutions before a poor alternative is considered.  As we know in the bail profession, a 70% percent success rate will put you out of business.

Smart Bail Bill Helps Kids, Schools

Posted February 1, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Every now and then a bill will be introduced in a state legislature that has something for everyone.  Indiana State Sen. Brent Steele authored SB395 and filed it earlier this month and it should have broad appeal to all Hoosiers.

SB395 would benefit school kids, public safety, victims rights, fair competition, defendant's rights and taxpayers. This measure won a Do Pass vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee January 28th and must now receive sufficient votes to pass through the Senate.  That vote will take place Monday or Tuesday. SB395 must receive sufficient votes to pass.
 
All Indiana bail agents and recovery agents are urged to email or call their State Senator today and ask them to support SB395. Spread the word to your friends, family and teachers SB395 is good for them as parents, taxpayers and for their personal safety.  Here's why.

Indiana's Bail System has been imbalanced for decades.  A number of courts in Indiana have repurposed bail from guaranteeing a defenant's appearance in court to guaranteeing the payment of fines and cost and they're not shy about admitting to satisfying their fiscal needs at the expense of public safety.
 
If passed into law SB395 would significantly increase the amount of cash being contributed to Indiana's Common School Fund.  While forfeited insurance backed bail bonds already contribute to the Common School Fund SB325 proposes that cash bail deposit directly with court would go to the Common School Fund as well whenever a criminal defendant fails to appear for court.  Kids are rewarded when criminals behave badly. How good is that?

SB395 also increases the minimum cash deposit the court can accept from the defendant from 10% of the original bail amount to 15%. Translated, the court would only be able to grant a defendant an 85% discount on their bond instead of a 90% discount.
 
The increase in the minimum cash deposit the court can accept would effectively remove the government as a competitor to the private sector.  This is good because we know the government doesn't play by the same rules we do and the private business must perform to survive.
 
Finally, SB395 allows a criminal defendant to decide how they want to secure the bail set by the court. Presently, a judge can set the bail amount and then dictate to the defendant how to cover the bail. Indiana law provides bail can be secured with full cash, real estate, a bail bond or in many cases a mere 10% cash deposit to the court. SB395 would permit the defendant the choice.
 
An opportunity to favorably change the law does not come around often.  If you want to see bail help kids then call your Indiana Senator today and ask for their support of SB395.
 

Give me five minutes

Posted January 15, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Just last night my daughter Samantha, a seventh grader, sang the National Anthem at the boys’ middle-school basketball game with just five minutes’ notice.  She volunteered after the scheduled singer cancelled.  She had never before sung the National Anthem in front of a crowd.  Kids are fearless.

As we roll into another legislative season there will be times when someone representing the bail profession will testify at their state house in support of, or in opposition to, a piece of legislation.  I’ve had the opportunity on several occasions to testify before a legislative body about bail bonds.  I’ve found it to be exhilarating.

In my experience, one must be prepared to articulate the purpose of a bail bond and the function of a bail agent as it relates to the criminal justice system in the course of five minutes of testimony.  Legislators don’t want to hear someone ramble on.  Get to the point of your concerns and leave time for questions.  Questions provide the opportunity to address specific concerns about the bill and clarify your position.

The first installment of the 2014 Bail Bond Legislative Log is now available.  Please take five minutes to review the list of bail related bills to see what is happening in your State and across the Country.  Let me know of bail legislation in your area not listed on this update.

Now, please stand while I sing the National Anthem. :)

A New Year Brings Renewed Faith in Bail

Posted January 3, 2014 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 2 Comments

Happy New Year!

Wow!  It’s 2014.  Let’s not think about how long we’ve been working in this business and the fact bail agents never seem to retire.  Dan Gibbs of Knoxville, Tennessee recently told me he will breathe his last breath sitting at his desk at City Bonding Company writing a bond.  Dan loves to write bail and work with his clients.

It’s fair to say a retail bail agent lives the equivalent of three years to just one of your typical professional. This is because bail agents are usually on duty at some point during the first shift, second shift and the graveyard shift while they’re on vacation, taking their kids to school and when their attending Sunday services.  It’s the all consuming nature of this business.

Bail agents make this major commitment not only because it’s their livelihood but because it’s their life.  You have clients who depend on you as do their family and friends who are unfamiliar with the criminal justice system and require the guidance of an experienced professional to walk them through the process.

All bail agents should take pride in the work they are doing within and for their communities.  It’s neither feasible nor legal to confine criminal defendants until trial.  A bail agent makes sure their clients get to court and everything begins with the defendant’s appearance in court.

Be proud of what you do and the services you provide.  Make an effort this year to get to know your judges and legislatures.  Seek out opportunities to speak about the bail profession and the positive fiscal impact the private bail system has for your state compared to the financially draining impact public bail options have on taxpayers.

On behalf of American Surety Company I want wish you all the best both personally and professionally in 2014.

No Payment Terms for Criminals Some Say

Posted December 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 15 Comments

Six months same as cash, twelve easy installments, you can buy just about anything on a payment plan.  Why should bail bonds be any different?

Just last week I received my quarterly statement for my life insurance policy (being a surety rep has it’s risks).  I suppose I could pay my annual premium all at once.  From a cash management standpoint, quarterly payments are preferred.  The same goes for the payments on my car, house, homeowners insurance and cable TV.  So why do some judges, prosecutors and legislators have a problem with bail agents allowing criminal defendants or their family members to pay off the premium balance over time?

Newspapers in Maryland, New Jersey and South Carolina recently ran articles and editorials on the subject of bail agents extending credit to their clients.  That this was a bad thing.  It circumvents the courts authority because it makes it easier for defendants to obtain bond and be released from jail pending trial.

The express purpose of bail is to guarantee a defendant appears in court at all times required until the case is adjudicated.  The amount of bail is set based on a defendant’s risk of flight.  The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says bail shall not be excessive.  There is no mention of how bond premiums are to be paid.

Once bail is set a defendant has a minimum of two options.  Post the full amount of the bond in cash with the court or pay a bondsmen ten percent of the bond and the bond will provide a financial guarantee for the full amount of bail.  If they don’t have sufficient cash on hand they can borrow the money from the bank at eleven percent interest or they can pay a bail agent a ten percent premium to guarantee the full amount of the bond.  The bank would set up a payment plan so why should a bail agent be prohibited from doing the same?

When someone is arrested they will invariably require the services of a bail and a criminal attorney.  It’s common knowledge criminal attorneys extend payments terms to their clients.  How has this inexcusable practice escaped scrutiny by the newspapers? 

So where is the concern?  If a judge sets a risk appropriate bail amount why would they be concerned about how the defendant or their representatives pay for a bail bond provided the surety guaranteeing the bond is deemed sufficient?  After all, the premium is not the guarantee; the bond provides the financial guarantee.

Have the premium plan police found a correlation between the percentage of those defendants who bond out on payment terms and the percentage of defendants who fail to appear for court or commit a new crime?  I’m not familiar with that study, if one exists.

Personally, I would like to see all bail agents receive their full premium prior to posting a bond.  Who wouldn’t?  Premium payments are a direct result of competitive forces.  Someone’s marketing strategy.  Once one agency extends payments the rest or forced to do the same.

Some bail agent’s do get a little carried away with their payment plans.  Zero down, one percent down?  There are reasonable payments and then there are giveaways.  What marketing strategy promotes the assumption of financial risk without even minimal payment?  In the words of Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, “Don’t get stuck on stupid”.

Some court officials believe the answer is to replace bail agents by hiring more county employees to managed defendants released from jail pretrial.  Currently bail agents assume all the financial risk and operate at zero expense to the taxpayers.  If the court enters the bail bond business the taxpayer inherits the cost of administering the program and law enforcement inherits the added bourdon of spending valuable time serving warrants for failure to appear.  Time better served protecting the public.

The upside to allowing payment terms on bail bond premiums is it makes it affordable for anyone to post bond provided they have family or friends willing to cosign their bond.  If defendants are able to make bond it keeps the jail population down, which saves the taxpayers money on housing and medical costs.  The bail agent gets the defendant to court allowing justice and victims of crime to be served all at no cost to taxpayers.

Does the current bail bond system need tweaking with respect to how bond premiums are paid?  Perhaps.  Requiring a minimum down payment is not a terrible idea.  That said if the bail bond is valid and the full guarantee is in place, I’m not sure the court should be concerned about whether or not the bail agent gets paid.  The bail profession should address this issue and find a workable solution because asking the taxpayers to put out a shingle is certainly not the answer.

Welcome back Carter!

Posted November 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 3 Comments

Indianapolis, IN - I was watching another electrifying episode of American Pickers last night when my phone rang.  I hit pause just as Mike Wolf was about to make an offer on a rusty Harley-Davidson bicycle frame.  The call came in from Memphis.  A high value fugitive was spotted living in a low rent hotel within ten miles of the Shelby County Jail.

I had received a number of similar, “I know where AC is located” calls since the time Austin Carter failed to appear for sentencing in June, 2011.   Carter was looking at a lengthy prison sentence for multiple counts of attempted first degree murder, aggravated assault and using a firearm with intent to commit a felony.  He allegedly attempted to kill his wife and kids.

Austin Carter is a really bad guy and we needed to get him back into custody.  Not only to avoid $250,000 loss but because it’s our job.  It’s what bail agents do.

During the thirty months Carter has been at large we had assigned the case to no fewer than four recovery teams working leads in Atlanta, Chicago, North Carolina and Mississippi.  Carter proved elusive.  These recovery teams enjoyed the cooperation of local law enforcement and the U.S. Marshall’s Office.  Everyone wanted this guy off the streets.

The forfeiture period eventually ran out and the bond had to be paid.   That didn’t slow us down.  Tennessee law provides for a remission, refund that incentivizes the surety to continue its efforts to locate and return the defendant to the custody of the court.

Well, it turns out the tip was correct.  Carter was staying in a local hotel damn near in the shadow of the Shelby County Jail.   Because Carter was known to be armed and dangerous, our recovery agent requested assistance from the Memphis Police Department Fugitive Task Force who expertly hit the motel room and took Austin Carter into custody without incident.

Victims of crime are often overlooked when a criminal defendant fails to appear for court.   Carter was charged with attempting to kill his wife and kids.  They have had to live everyday of the last thirty months with the fear Austin Carter was roaming free.  I’m sure the stress was unimaginable.  This fact was not lost on us.  Everyone benefits when the surety performs.

After several hundred man hours and thousands of dollars of private sector money spent, the Shelby County Jail welcomed back Austin Carter to their cozy confines last night about 11:40 p.m.  The lecture he’s sure to receive from the presiding judge will be the least of his worries.

With that done, it was back to Mike Wolf and that Harley-Davidson bicycle frame.  I can’t believe he paid $400 for that bucket of rust.

Austin Carter taken into custody

The Real Deal

Posted November 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Washington State, the only state to be named after a United States president, is home to Microsoft, Starbucks and the Green Darner Dragonfly.  It’s also home to some of the best bail agents in the country.

Becky Magnuson is one such bail agent.  She’s a married mother of two and the owner of Able Bail Bonds in Kennewick, Washington.  A licensed bail and recovery agent since 1997, Becky has been affiliated with American Surety Company since 2002. 

Becky is not afraid of hard work and is overtly passionate about her chosen profession, bail.  Not only is she running her own business, Becky also volunteers her time as the Treasurer of the Washington State Bail Agents Association and as the Greater Northwest Director for the Professional Bail Agents of the United States.  As a regular attendee at PBUS conferences I can attest Becky is a regular attendee as well.  Her energy is limitless.

Becky and her family endured a personal and professional challenge earlier this year when a fire destroyed most of her office and its contents.  Becky spoke about this difficult period at the recent WSBAA meeting in Spokane.

The fire occurred earlier this year and several months later Becky is still trying to get back into her original location.  Becky spoke specifically about the actions she needed to take even while the firefighters were putting out the fire.  Her first concern was to make sure no one was hurt, nobody was injured.  Her second concern was gathering her client files.  Fortunately, these files were kept in fireproof cabinets and were fully preserved.

Maintaining her client records using an internet agency management program also proved prescient.  Client information is the lifeblood of any business and to lose this data would have been devastating.  This information is essential for continued service to her clients who are all dealing with their own life struggles.  Becky did not lose site of this important fact.

So, in addition to managing a business that operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, Becky now had to be a general contract overseeing the rebuilding of her office, deal with insurance companies and make sure there was no interruption of her business to prevent further loss.  Becky is the first point out this could not have been done without the support of her husband Erik, her staff, family and friends.

Becky is a survivor and this adversity will not set her back.  She even took the time to attend this recent meeting of the WSBAA knowing her renovated office would be ready for occupying next week.

It is business professionals like Becky Manguson who epitomize the quality and characteristics we look for in our leaders.  It makes me proud to be a member of the same profession, a profession that is comprised of professional, goal oriented individuals intent on running a successful business and providing for their families.   I tip my hat to you Ms. Magnuson, you’re the real deal.

Bail Agents...What's not to like?

Posted November 1, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 3 Comments

Bail agents are constantly being depicted in a poor light as shady and untrustworthy.  Typically, those casting aspersions are ignorant of exactly what a bail agent does, their function and purpose.

Earlier this week a Denver area bail agent recounted on his Facebook page an experience he had in court.  He had arrived early to a court hearing in Adams County.  The judge and criminal attorney, unaware the bail agent was in the court room and believing he was a no-show, began making derogatory comments about bail agents in general.  This agent, stood up, approached the bench and said he had been in court since 8 a.m. and he didn’t appreciate the remarks being made in open court.  The courtroom fell silent.

I read this post and it really set me off.  Judges, criminal attorneys and bail agents are all cogs in the wheel of criminal justice.  We all have a job to do and a function to serve.  A judge oversees each case, officiating and making sure the law is followed.  A criminal attorney represents the accused and the bail agent makes sure the defendant is in court, whenever required.

The judge, criminal attorney and prosecutor have nothing to do if the defendant is not present for court.  I guess that makes the bail agent’s job pretty important.  A bail agent’s role is also distinctive in that of all the parties involved, the bail agent is the one person who suffers a financial loss if they do not perform.  Everyone takes this for granted, not the bail agent.

While a licensed bail agent, I don’t write retail bail.  I suppose if I did, I would make it a practice to make my presence known around the courthouse.  Not in search of clients but in support of existing clients.  It’s not always easy to attend each client’s court appearance.  It is possible, in most cases, to attend arraignments and trials.

It’s important the court is aware of who is getting these defendants to court.  If your judges don’t know who you are, shame on you.  The judges know most criminal attorneys.  Heck, they know most defendants.  Do they know you?

Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court Judge Nancy Russo has often said she can pick up the phone at anytime and reach one of her Cleveland area bail agents because she knows them and they know her.  There is a professional relationship between Judge Russo and “her” bail agents.

Judges, criminal attorneys and prosecutors would be less likely to speak ill of bail agents if they knew them personally.   Bail agents should take the initiative and get to know their judges and prosecutors.  I’m sure like bail agents, they’re generally nice people and professionals.  Make sure you’re adequately representing yourself and your profession.

Winter is Coming...to the Criminal Justice System

Posted October 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 2 Comments

One of my favorite TV shows is the HBO mythological series Game of Thrones.  For those of you who watch this series you’re familiar with the oft stated ominous warning of dread, “winter is coming”.   In the Game of Thrones winter can last ten years.  Well, winter is coming to the commercial bail bond industry and that’s no myth.

The Indiana Legislature’s Commission on Courts held its final hearing of this summer study committee earlier this week.   Senator Brent Steele, Chair of the Commission, proposed changes to the statue that would in part allow a criminal defendant to choose how they want to secure their bond.

Indiana Supreme Court Justice Brent Dickson and members of the Commission spoke in opposition to the proposed bill expressing concern the proposed changes would prevent a defendant from being released on their own recognizance.  Not so, said Senator Steele.

Justice Dickson went on to read NAPSA talking points in support of risk assessment tools.  These magical tools would empower judges or their proxies to make decisions on the type of release option that would determine the likelihood of a defendant reappearing for court.   There was no mention of what would happen when a defendant failed to appear. Winter is coming.

On the east coast, New Jersey, The Garden State, is considering legislation that would keep aggravated criminal offenders in jail pending trial and release all other offenders on their own recognizance.  Should this legislative effort succeed, the negative fiscal impact on this state would be immense and the increase in crime unprecedented.  Winter is coming.

The State of California has been dealing with the fallout of AB 109 for several years now.  AB 109 was this State’s answer to the court ordered reduction of the state prison population.   The early release of tens of thousands of convicted felons to local California communities has not gone well, to say the least.  Crime is up significantly, parole officers are overwhelmed and public safety under attack.  Winter is coming.

While several state and local governments devise plans to take over the pretrial system of bail from the private sector commercial bail agent and place it on the backs of the taxpayers, bail agents are going about the business of the day, getting their clients to court.

Earlier this week Indiana recovery agents working for Ace Bail Bonds apprehended fugitive Daniel Pennington.  Pennington, who was hiding on a farm in Southern Michigan, had failed to appear for sentencing in a case where he was charged with running over 19 month old Mariah Gibson with his truck.

Pennington, who has begun serving his 23 year prison sentence, was at large for several months before being apprehended by bail recovery agents.  Bail agents are motivated by the threat of financial loss, personal pride and duty, to bring fugitives back to court.  These characteristics are totally lacking in any government run pretrial release program that operates without risk or accountability.

Winter may be coming; however, as long as members of the commercial bail industry continue to remain cohesive and diligent we can prevent winter from arriving.

South Carolina Bail Agent Association

I attended the SCBAA fall meeting in Columbia earlier this week.  The primary issue of discussion centered around South Carolina Department of Insurance Bulletin 2013-10 released October 10, 2013.

The SCDOI’s Willie Seawright spoke to a packed room at the Embassy Suites addressing questions on Bulletin 2013-10.   Yes, surety bail agents must begin remitting premiums to their surety company within thirty days of the execution of the bond.  Yes, surety bail agents must notate the gross premium charged on the home office copy of the power of attorney.  This is necessary for calculating the premium tax the surety pays the state.  Yes, surety companies must timely report any violations to the SCDOI. 

Mr. Seawright went on to say there is no such thing as a lost power of attorney.    The surety will be charged premium tax on the face amount of each lost power which means the surety bail agent can expect to pay their surety on any power reported to be lost or stolen.

The SCDOI will be reminding the State’s General Sessions Courts to begin charging the $10.00 bond fee per bond.   Apparently this has been overlooked by some courts. 

Finally, don’t forget to report any change of address to the SCDOI.  Failing to do so will cost you $2500.  Ouch!

Bondsmen Meet in San Antonio

Posted October 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

San Antonio, Texas - This is the last 4th quarter meeting for Professional Bondsmen of Texas, at least for the foreseeable future.  Beginning next year this venerable Texas bondsmen association will move to just two meetings a year.   Meetings are expected to be held in the Spring and Fall.

Scott Walstad of Dallas is the head of this association and has done a fine job guiding the PBT board through fiscal reform.  Reducing the number of meetings from four to two is one such example of cost control.

Most associations receive financial support through membership dues and continuing education.  It’s in the best interest of Texas bondsmen to obtain their required CE hours through a PBT sponsored class, as their tuition goes towards efforts to protect and preserve their profession.

The PBT Legislative Committee, currently chaired by Wynn "Doc" Dillard, has demonstrated time and again its effectiveness in keeping vigil on the Statehouse and efforts to erode commercial bail in Texas.  A lobbying team is one such expense PBT membership dues serve to underwrite.

If you were unable to attend the year-end meeting last week in San Antonio you missed a great event.  This annual meeting included a golf outing, auction, continuing education and a visit from The Mayberry Deputy, a Don Knott’s look alike who stayed in character the entire meeting and performed for a hilarious 30 minutes.

Texas bondsmen do themselves a favor being a member and supporting their state bail association.  Tell them I sent you.

Bail Conference Trifecta

Posted October 14, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

Mason, Ohio is but a two hour drive from Indianapolis.  So, no early flight, airport security or peanuts and pretzels for me, just five o'clock traffic on the north loop around Cincinnati.

Eddie Miller, President of the Ohio Bail Agents Association, gathered his members at the Kings Island Conference Center for their annual conference.   The Dog and Beth Show was invited which accounted for a slightly greater attendance than usual, even beyond the film crew and producers.

The meeting's engaging speaker was Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Frank E. Green who spoke on the issue of  bail agents  soliciting in the courtroom and professional dress, a cause I champion.  Judge Green emphasized his support of bail agents and noted bail agents must dress for success.

I returned to Indy for two nights before catching a Sunday morning direct flight to LAX where I met up with American Surety Company Vice President Tom Anderson in Long Beach then we boarded the permanently moored Queen Mary for the CBAA Annual Conference.

The Queen Mary is an awesome venue; a massive cruise liner with expansive wood planked decks and glorious history.  One could imagine Clarke Gable leaning against the iron rail with a lifeboat hovering above smoking a Lucky Strike.

Dr. Robert G. Morris, Ph.D., with the University of Texas at Dallas, addressed California bail agents about his study Pretrial Release Mechanisms in Dallas County, Texas.   The results of his study only reinforced what we in the bail profession already knew, bail bonds is the most effective release option for ensuring criminal defendants appear for court.

There was also an election of new officers at this meeting.  Among the new officers elected were Maggie Kreins to the position of president.  Congratulations to Maggie who has held this position before.  She did a great job then and I’m sure she will be effective.

I was unable to stick around for the final day because I had to catch a flight to Savannah, Georgia to attend the 25th Anniversary meeting of the GAPB.

My good friend Scott Echols is the president of the Georgia bondsman association.  GAPB is well known for their accomplishments, providing education for their members and pushing legislation that improves state regulations permitting Georgia bondsmen to effectively and efficiently carry out their responsibilities.

Next week I travel to San Antonio to attend the annual meeting of the Texas bondsmen followed by a trip to Columbia, South Carolina for their final meeting of the year.  November holds for me trips to Spokane and Memphis for their fall meetings.  I’m looking forward to these events and I’ll be sure to keep you posted on what transpires.

Click to View Conference Photos

Warrants No Issue for AR County When Money to be Made

Posted August 26, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

An Arkansas county makes it easier for criminals to post cash, county to profit

Why does a county of 98,000 citizens with outstanding warrants equal to ten percent of the population take steps to make it easier for criminal offenders to be released from jail unsupervised pending trial by posting a cash bond?  Could free money be the motivator?

The reason is made clear in an article posted to Kait8.com by Jessi Turnure entitled Craighead County bail bond payment system goes digital.  This article posted August 23, 2013, puts a positive spin on how Craighead County District Court Clerk Joe Monroe has made it easier for those charged with criminal offenses to post cash bail using a credit card.  The Craighead County Sheriff’s Office is set to begin using the electronic payment system today.

The unnamed credit card provider euphemistically referred to in the article as, the “New System” will charge a seven percent fee on each cash bail transaction where a bail agent would typically charge ten percent, “..cheaper than going through a bail bondsman” says District Court Clerk Joe Monroe.

The purpose of bail is to guarantee those charged with criminal offenses appear in court each and every time required until the case is adjudicated.  Sheriff Marty Boyd and District Court Clerk Monroe appear not to have implemented this change because the “New System” would be more effective in getting criminal offenders to court, rather “it’s cheaper than going through a bail bondsman” indicating the transaction price of seven percent was specifically set to undercut the cost of a bail bond and beat the “New System’s” only competitor, bail bondsmen.

This self serving move by the Craighead County government is unabashedly and unfairly competing with private sector bail bondsmen while simultaneously furthering a public policy that moves away from public safety towards generating a revenue source.

Craighead County has more than 9500 outstanding warrants, many for failure to appear, one would think the Sheriff and the District Clerk would be finding ways to expedite the release of criminal offenders through a licensed bail bondsman who will supervise the defendant and guarantee appearance.

Sheriff Boyd and District Clerk Monroe make no effort to camouflage the county’s move to enter the bail bond business.

Presumably, the “New System” is not licensed by the State of Arkansas to transact bail bonds.  Arkansas bondsmen are not permitted to solicit in and around jails and courts.  Law enforcement officials are not permitted to refer specific bonding companies.  Yet, this is precisely what will occur with the “New System”.  Jailers will be pushing the credit card option to captive detainees highlighting the fact the credit card transaction is cheaper than using a bail bondsman.

In fact, the system is not fair to detainees either.  A typical ATM transaction carries a fee of $3.00.  Craighead County will be charging detainees a seven percent transaction fee plus a $14 service fee to deposit a full cash bond with the county to secure their release.  The defendant will also incur interest on their credit card for a cash transaction.  So, is this release option really cheaper?

Like so many counties who have engaged in the bail bond business, Craighead County officials will soon be hooked on the cash needle and the euphoria that comes from generating free revenue unburdened by risk and overhead.  Euphoria will lead to justification as to why this system is working even though failure to appear warrants are mounting and the number of criminal cases being adjudicated are dropping.

Those of us working in the private sector understand there is no financial reward without financial risk.  It appears Craighead County has found the Holy Grail, a revenue source with no risk or accountability. 

Professional Appearance - Would you trust you?

Posted August 21, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President - 8 Comments

August 21, 2013

It’s Wednesday morning in Indianapolis.  I’m scheduled to teach an hour of continuing education today to a group of property and casualty agents on the issue of bail bonds.  In preparation, I got up early, showered and dressed in a pair of dark gray slacks, light pink shirt, dark pink tie with a light gray sport coat with light pink strips.   What can I say; I’m not afraid of pink.

At every bail association meeting I’ve attended through the years, the issue of professional dress is almost always mentioned.  When it comes to professional attire, the bail industry gets very low marks and it most likely has to do with the hours a bail agent keeps, all 24 of them.

One never knows when the bail line is going to ring and one has to head down to the jail to meet a client or post a bond.  Most people will not take the time to put on a nicer set of clothes before heading out.  More often than not, they go with what they have on, jeans, sweatshirt, warm-up suit, etc.  With this 24/7 lifestyle it’s easy to get away from the habit of dressing professionally.

We fifty-something’s still remember when you were expected to be at work on time, stay late if you had to and work the occasional weekend day.  We also remember the requirement or rather expectation of having to wear a tie and jacket or a nice outfit for the ladies.  That was normal then, not so much today.

I’m one of the hold outs.  I have found through the years I’m treated differently when I’m professionally dressed as opposed to when I’m outfitted in jeans and a golf shirt.  People give you ten points for just wearing a tie.

I still cringe when I see members of our own staff setting out to visit agents sans a tie and jacket.  In their minds, they’re dressing equal to what the client would likely be wearing.  They may be right, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

Right or wrong this is the way society is going.  Even at the weekly lunch meeting of my men’s group, of fifty people present I may be one of three wearing a coat and tie.  The majority of business travelers I see are in casual attire.

Whether you wear a coat and tie or not, first impressions are very important, particularly in the case of transacting bail bonds.  The general public has a preconceived notion of the typical bail agent.  Their expectation of professionalism and appearance is low.

Clients are typically, family, friends or co-workers looking to post bond for someone.  They want very much to trust the person with whom they are giving money and signing a number of legal documents.   For good reason, it is important to present a professional appearance and convey trust and confidence. Surprise them.

Give this some thought the next time you’re scheduled to meet with a client.  Think about how your client is receiving you and what your appearance conveys.  Will it be trust and confidence or hesitation and skepticism?  Would you do business with you based on your appearance?  Up your game and dress professionally, it matters.

Now, I have to give a lecture on bail bonds today fully aware it is possible to look good and still suck.  Here’s to not sucking.

Flight Plan

Posted July 12, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 4 Comments

Indianapolis, IN - It was meant to be a quick trip.  Overnight in Philadelphia on Monday, attend a two hour meeting in Trenton, New Jersey on Tuesday and fly home that afternoon.

It started out fine.  With my TSA Pre-check “keep your shoes on” security status, I breezed through airport security and caught my on-time flight from Indy to Detroit, no problems.

My connecting flight to Philadelphia was running a little late.  Once on board, I took my seat in first class, I received a complimentary upgrade and immediately heard two passengers talking about the recent plane crash in San Francisco.  Like yelling fire in a crowded theater, it’s bad form to talk about plane crashes on an airplane.  Oh well.

I was on board a Canadair Regional Jet C700 that carries 65 passengers and has a top speed of 515 mph.  We taxied out towards the runway but pulled off to the side and parked.  A seasoned traveler knows this to be a bad sign.   The Captain announces over the intercom, bad weather in Philly, airport temporarily closed. 

It’s hot outside in Detroit and the plane starts to warm up.  I’m happy to be up front on this occasion where there’s a little more room. 

After two hours, the Captain asks those passengers who wanted to return to the terminal, to hit their flight attendant call button.   The buttons were lighting up in coach, no one pressed their button in first class; a matter of perspective.  The flight attendant determined the ayes had it and we returned to the terminal.

After an hour, we re-boarded the plane and left the gate.  After a short wait on the tarmac we take off for Philly.  It wasn’t thirty minutes into the flight when the flight attendant spilled a half filled can of Diet Coke onto my slacks and shoes.  Geez, I was travelling light and had only brought the one pair of slacks and a fresh shirt.  I managed to soak everything up and returned to reading the new Dan Brown novel, Inferno.  Not bad read if you want to learn all about Dante Alighieri.

I finally arrived in Philly at 8pm, six hours after my original arrival time.  The day was shot but my meeting wasn’t until 10am the following morning.  Hertz had upgraded me from a Toyota to a silver Chevy Camaro convertible.   There wasn’t much use for a rag top in Philly when it was 90 degrees outside.

My hotel was located in Chinatown in downtown Philly.  At check-in I showed my ID and the clerk smiled and pointed to the sign on the wall.  There was my name, Michael Whitlock in capital letters, I had been selected Guest of the Day.  That was nice; could I have my room key please?

It was 9pm by that point and I had yet to have dinner.  I dropped my bags off in my room and headed outside to Chinatown to find a place to eat.  I didn’t see anything I liked so I walked two blocks over to Maggiano’s Little Italy and ordered Veal Marsalis and a glass of red wine.

The next morning I got up early and headed for Trenton in the rag top to attend a meeting of New Jersey bail agents to discuss, what else, the ill-conceived expansion of public pretrial release in The Garden State.

After the two-hour meeting, I followed Nick Wachinski and Dave Hyatt, fellow road warriors, around Trenton to find a place for lunch.  We ended up at Café Antonio just across the Delaware River in Morristown, Pennsylvania.  We toasted the late James Gandolfini and I ate a plate of spaghetti.

From there I headed to the Philadelphia airport to catch my 4:45 flight.  Unfamiliar with the city, I crossed the bridge over the Schuylkill River twice before I found a gas station.  The iPhone map failed me again.

My flight to Atlanta was delayed so they put me on the flight through Detroit.  It was a seat in coach this time around, another commuter jet.  We taxied and parked on the tarmac.  Here we go again.  The Captain announced Detroit Metropolitan was shut down due to thunderstorms.  We would be sitting for a minimum of one hour.

The temperature inside the plane was heating up.  To stave off an attack of claustrophobia I put my ear buds in and turned up “The Once and Future Carpenter” by The Avett Brothers.   The hour turned to an hour and half and this time I was pushing my flight attendant call button, voting to return to the terminal, a matter of perspective.  As we pulled up to the gate and I saw my original Atlanta flight backing out.  I picked the wrong horse.

The gate agent was giving me some options.  Stay another night in Philly and catch a flight in the morning or continue to Detroit and take my chances there.  Get me to Detroit; I’ll drive to Indy from there.   My Detroit bound flight finally took off at 8:00 PM.  I had already reserved a car from Hertz and was psyching myself up for the four-hour drive.

When I landed in Detroit at 9:45 I had a text waiting for me from my wife, my original connecting flight was delayed and would take off at 10:15pm.  I scurried down to gate A15 and secured a boarding pass.  Naturally, that flight was delayed, again.  While I waited, I got a burger from Wendy’s minutes before they closed and managed to lose, and find again, my cell phone.

I finally landed in Indianapolis at 11:30pm.  My beautiful wife Marcia, the trooper that she is, was there to pick me up.  I said to her, I’m going in late tomorrow.   It was not to be, I was at my desk by 8:15am.

It was supposed to be a quick overnight trip to attend a two hour meeting.  As the Good Book says, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan.

Ohio's High Court Doles Out Common Sense to Common Pleas

Posted July 11, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

 When I was much younger I would do something stupid in front of my Dad and he would say, “Son, common sense is a virtue.” I took those words to heart and I try to apply common sense at all times and, to my credit, my failure rate has been reduced considerably through the years.

The Ohio Supreme Court applied some common sense to a case involving a lower court, the Licking County Municipal Court, and the Court of Commons Pleas, when it released a Slip Opinion this week that upheld a part of that state’s constitution that reads “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient sureties”.

Woody Fox, owner of Woody’s Bail Bonds of Columbus, Ohio, is hailed as a hero today by me and every bail agent in The Buckeye State and beyond. It was Woody Fox who took issue with the Clerk of Licking County Municipal Court who refused to accept a surety bond whenever the court had set a 10% cash bond option. You heard me correctly: a judge would set bail with a 10% cash option and then the clerk would refuse to take a bail bond that would secure the full amount of bail, opting instead to take security equal to only 10% of the bail amount. There’s that common sense thing I was talking about.

The practice of refusing bail bonds in lieu of 10% cash has become quite popular among many court clerks throughout the State of Ohio. Slips Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-2926 will be unwelcome news to clerks like the ones involved in this case, who have decided the lure of cash is more important than security sufficient to guarantee a defendant appears in court. I’m told that some judges, after getting word of this Slip Opinion, were under the impression that the Slip Opinion actually abolished the ten percent option. Oh, if only that were the case.

The insatiable desire for cash by some court clerks and judges reminds me of the scene at the end of that Eastwood flick, Kelly’s Heroes, where the soldiers were mesmerized by the shiny bars of gold with no concern for the consequences of their actions; these clerks jeopardize the safety of Ohio’s citizens.

Slip Opinion No. 2014-Ohio-2926 is a wake-up call to those clerks and judges who have developed a cynical view of the criminal justice system and have given up on the notion criminals should be required to appear in court to answer to the charges against them.

Granting offenders a 90% discount on their bail - even when a 100% guaranteed bail bond is offered - has been deemed unconstitutional by the Ohio Supreme Court and stupid by me.

Not everyone was born with common sense, something else my Dad would always say. Thank you, Woody Fox, for being a warrior in defense of your profession and daring to fight for the cause of common sense.

The Upside to Bail Losses

Posted May 6, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

In the bail bond business paying a loss as a result of an inability to recovery a fugitive is a sign of failure.  Paying bond forfeiture losses can be attributed to underwriting, a lack of experience, initiative and simply bad luck.  A loss can be damaging financially and could even put a bail agent out of business.  Even with a loss there can be a silver lining.

How many of us working in the bail industry have been told by legislatures, law enforcement and adversaries that bail agents don’t have to pick up defendants who fail to appear because law enforcement does this for them?  This may be the single most misrepresentation perpetrated on our industry.

I have underwritten thousands of bonds over the years and several of those bonds have forfeited when the defendant failed to appear.  Most were resolved in short order and then there were those that seemed impossible to locate and proved impossible to resolve resulting in a loss.  Unfortunately, law enforcement did not come to our rescue in those situations.

A couple years ago, a bill was introduced in the Colorado legislature that would have expanded the use of taxpayer funded pretrial services and introduce a deposit bond option.  If this bill had passed it would have put a significant number of bail agents out of business.  In order to derail this legislation, the coalition of bail agents and sureties had to come up with a way of showing a significant negative fiscal impact on the State of Colorado should the bill pass into law.

We know, and it has been demonstrated time again, the commercial bail industry operates at no cost to the taxpayers.  What is not often mentioned is the revenue generated in favor of counties and states from the writing of bail.  Revenue comes in the form of licensing fees, losses and premium taxes.

All surety companies and bail agents operating in Colorado were asked to submit figures for losses, licensing fees and premium taxes paid in the previous two years.  These figures were submitted to a central source where they were compiled and presented to the legislative committee at the appropriate time.  It was determined millions of dollars are paid annually in the form of losses, fees and premium taxes.  To reduce or eliminate private sector bail agents would have a negative fiscal impact on the State of Colorado.  That bill did pass.

On many occasions since that time in Colorado, surety companies and bail agents have produced their loss numbers to demonstrate to a legislative body the positive fiscal impact commercial bail has on a state’s revenue.  Even though bail agents resolve 99% of their forfeitures, an obvious win for public safety and victims of crime, the state still wins by receiving revenue from losses paid in those rare occasions when a bail agent is unable to perform.  Even when a bail agent looses, the state wins, something taxpayer funded pretrial services cannot proclaim.

The next time you are asked by your surety or state association to provide your paid loss information, know that agonizing loss could have an upside and contribute to saving your profession.

ISBAA to Hold Debate on No-Credit

Posted April 28, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

In the wake of a recent failed effort to repeal Indiana's no-credit law, the ISBAA will hold a debate on the issue during its annual membership meeting.  ISBAA had taken a position in opposition to the repeal of no-credit.  The meeting will be held at the Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, Indiana, Saturday, May 18.

I have agreed to participate in the debate arguing in favor of repealing Indiana's no-credit law as a means of competing with the ten percent cash bond option favored by the majority of Indiana counties. Some of the reasoning behind this position can be found in my recent blog, Effort to Repeal No-Credit Fails.

All Indiana bail agents are urged to attend the meeting in Michigan City.  In addition to discussing whether or not to repeal the no-credit law, the Indiana Legislature's Study Committee on Bail convening this summer will also be discussed at length.  

The commercial bail market in Indiana is being adversely impacted by the expanded use of deposit bail. Because bail bonds are documented to be the most effective guarantee of appearance by criminal offenders, when the use of bail bonds decline, failures to appear and crime increase.

If you're a bail agent in Indiana interested in the survival of your profession then there is no excuse not to attend this important meeting.  I look forward to seeing you there.

GAPB Brings Home Another Legislative Winner

Posted April 19, 2013 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, Executive Vice President - 1 Comment

Young Harris, GA - In North Georgia, just a few miles south of the North Carolina line sits the Brasstown Valley Resort and Spa, site of the 2013 Spring Meeting of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen, Inc.  The spring meeting is typically held on St. Simon's Island or in Savannah.  New GAPB President Scott Echols wanted to mix it up a bit and opted for the mountains of North Georgia for the first meeting of 2013.

I had accepted an invitation to speak on legislative matters impacting other states around the country. Though I was able to cover a lot of ground, an hour was not enough time to get to every issue. Being aware of trends affecting bail in other states can help state associations plan their legislative strategies to protect or improve their state’s bail market.

Those in attendance really wanted to learn more about favorable legislation that recently passed in their own state of Georgia.  Senate Bill 225, which provides latitude to the surety to obtain exoneration of the bond when a defendant was found to be in custody in another jurisdiction, was sent to the governor April 6 for signature.  The measure also provides for a remission period of 120 days after payment of the bond forfeiture judgment, to return the defendant to custody and receive a refund equal to 95 percent of the bond, less cost for extradition, if necessary.  Click here to view SB 225.

Prior GAPB administrations had set the bar high with a rich history of GAPB achieving its legislative goals.  In recent years the Georgia association was successful in increasing the gross bond premium to 12-15 percent, requiring a bail bond whenever an ankle monitor is set as a condition of release, requiring a defendant  charged with certain felony offenses  to post a bail bond and establishing a time certain to send notice of forfeiture to the surety.

GAPB President Scott Echols and his newly elected Board of Directors had their work cut out for them coming into their first legislative session.  The GAPB legislative team worked tirelessly at the statehouse and brought in additional resources to help press their agenda.  The end result was an impressive piece of legislation which, upon signing by Governor Nathan Deal, will create the incentive for bail agents to continue looking for fugitives even after a judgment has been paid and, in return, create the potential for Georgia bail agents to save thousands of dollars in losses every year.

I continue to be impressed with this association. Other state associations could learn from GAPB and their record of success.

I Love Texas :)

Posted November 1, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

I must admit, I had never heard of League City, Texas before seeing it on the PBT meeting schedule.  League City sits astride the Gulf of Mexico about 30 miles south of Houston.

Anyone who attends PBT meetings know it's going to be meticulously organized and well attended.  The 2012 annual meeting was moved to League City after a string of Fall meetings in San Antonio.  One of the basic planning challenges for any association is selecting a meeting site that will inspire attendance.  Texas is one of those states where flying is a must for some of the meeting locations.  For instance, it's an eleven hour drive from El Paso to League City.

PBT rolls allot into their annual meeting including The PBT Golf Classic and Auction benefiting The Texas Bail PAC, legislative meeting, board of directors meeting, continuing education and general meeting.  The legislative committee meeting was particularly active as we approach the legislative session; the Texas Legislature only meets every two years.

John McCluskey, Melinda Webb, Glenn Meeker and Camille Hodnett were all  recipients of annual awards.  One of the unique items sold at auction was Glen Strickland's Panama hat signed by Blue Angel pilots and crew members who were also staying at the South Shore Harbour Resort.

It was an informative and pleasurable meeting.  Click here to view event pictures.  Click here if you would like to read Texas Bondsman, PBT's latest news letter.

Specialty Release Options Not Ready for Primetime

Posted August 27, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA, Executive Vice President, American Surety Company - 0 Comments

Can you imagine the ball boy for the Indianapolis Colts saying to the head coach, put me in for Luck, I want to play quarterback? Or the grip on the movie set telling the director to sit Clint Eastwood down because he’s ready to play Josey Wells?   It’s hard to imagine, right? So why do specialty release options like deposit bail and pretrial services or tools like GPS ankle monitors believe they’re ready to replace surety backed bail bonds as a means to assure a defendant  appears for his/her court dates?
 
Public-funded government pretrial release programs were created to help the indigent gain release from jail pending trial.  As with any government agency, expansion is equal to survival so these programs had to expand their criteria from just helping the indigent to including first time offenders then repeat offenders and before you knew it all offenders were being considered. Pretrial Services quickly became another bureaucracy that told you all the good things they were doing for society while hiding the statistics that underscore the program’s ineffectiveness and failed mission.
 
The use of deposit (10% cash/90% unsecured) bail by the courts is such a blatant cash grab by the courts and criminal attorneys who assign the funds to cover their fee.  I don’t see how judges can keep a straight face when they utter the words deposit bond. Deposit bail provides no third party guarantee of appearance and no assurance a defendant, who has absconded, will be returned to the custody of the court. If the court grants a criminal offender a 90% discount on the bond, why not just release the defendant on his/her own recognizance and save all the paperwork?
 
GPS ankle monitors are a different animal. Many bail agents have found them to be very useful tools when writing higher risk bonds. I say tool because ankle monitor providers provide no guarantee of appearance. If a defendant wearing an ankle monitor strays outside his/her preset zone, then it’s the monitoring company or bondsmen who must address this with the defendant. The same holds true if the battery needs recharging, it takes human intervention to get the defendant to act. Finally, a monitor strap can be cut and once the defendant has separated them self from the monitor it becomes ineffective.
 
The criminal justice system can work efficiently with pretrial service agencies if they stick to their original mandate, working with indigent defendants and leave those that can afford bail to the bail agents.
 
Deposit bail has no place in the pretrial release segment of the criminal justice system.   If a criminal defendant can afford to deposit ten percent of the bond in cash with the court, then they can afford to obtain a surety backed bail bond from a bail agent who will supervise that individual and guarantee his/her appearance in court when required.
 
GPS ankle monitors are to the bail agent what the hammer is to the carpenter, a tool and the tool can’t replace the carpenter. There is a great push in California, during this period of prison realignment, to use ankle monitors as the sole means of releasing defendants from custody pretrial. The GPS monitor companies have done a great job convincing legislators ankle monitors are the way of the future. If the GPS advocates were lucky, no one asked them about guarantees of performance.
 
Bail agents are the only release option to guarantee performance. This is why the commercial bail industry will continue to take center stage in the world of criminal pretrial release. It is the duty of every bail agent is to keep reminding their elected representatives of this actuality.

PBUS Winter Conference Around the Corner

Posted February 12, 2012 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President - 0 Comments

The Professional Bail Agents of the United States will hold its Winter Conference at The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas February 20 - 23.  This year's conference will include its staples Certified Bail Agents classes, Surety Council Meeting, Council of Bail Association Presidents, Welcome Reception and the Awards & Recognition Dinner.  Guest speakers will include American Bail Coalition Executive Director Dennis Bartlett and Chief Circuit Judge John G. McBain of Jackson County, Michigan.

There will also be an election of select officers and board members including president, whose terms are expiring.  It is very important all PBUS voting members attending the conference participate and cast their vote for candidates who they feel will best represent the interest of all bail agents.

I'm looking forward to attending this year's meeting and spending time with all the good people who take an interest in their profession.  I hope to see some new faces this year.  I hope to see you there.

Texas Sen. Whitmire Coddles Criminals with Offer of Free Jail Release

Posted April 1, 2007 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock - 0 Comments

I've been traveling in Texas this week with my youngest daughter Samantha.  The primary purpose of our trip was to tour the campus of Texas State University in San Marcos.  Sam wants to be a forensic anthropologist and TSU is one of the few universities in the country that operates a "body farm".

 
San Marcos is situated  between and San Antonio and Austin which is where I am staying on this Saturday morning.  Yesterday afternoon Sam and I, together with my sister Cheryl, who lives in Austin, took a drive over to Fredericksburg, Texas to check out the Chuck Wagon cook off where bondsmen Mike Byrd and his wife Debbie where participating.  The food was excellent the old chuck wagons were really amazing. Think Lonesome Dove or John Wayne's, The Cowboys.
 
Texas is a great state and it's where I first started my career in bail 35 years ago.  When most people think of Texas they think of law and order and tough on crime, "they have the death penalty". If career politician Sen. John Whitmire of Houston gets his way, Texas' tough image will soon get a makeover, for the worse.
 
Sen. Whitmire has authored SB 1338 which, if passed into law, would extend free release to criminal offenders all across the state of Texas with little regard to victims of crime and holding criminal offenders accountable.
 
While Sam and I return to Indianapolis tomorrow, I'll be back in Austin in Tuesday to testify on behalf of ABC, in opposition to SB 1338, where it will be heard in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.
 
Texas bondsmen and women should have received an email alert asking for their attendance at the State Capitol on Tuesday to show solidarity for the use of bail bonds as a means of guaranteeing criminal defendants appearance in court.
 
Our industry has a duty to represent law abiding citizens unfamiliar with the inner workings of the criminal justice system and just how the efforts of Sen. Whitmire's would undermined public safety and accountability for criminal offenders in Texas. That effort must be derailed.
 
Links
 
PBT Call to Action!
All Texas Bondsmen Needed
Tuesday, April 4th, 2017 at 10:00 A.M.
Texas State Capitol - North Side
1100 Congress Ave.
(Prepare to be in Austin for the day.)
For more info call (903) 780-7731