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Memphis Bail Bond Blues

Posted November 15, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Pretrial Release  - 0 Comments

During my recent stop in Memphis I found the bail bond market there to be but a shadow of its former self. No more bail bond agents hustling bonds in the basement of the courthouse or visiting inmates. Pretrial Release is accepting more and more defendants into their program which grants release at the taxpayer’s expense. Bonding companies have either shut their doors or let go a number of their agents adding to the seeming lack of activity in and around the courthouse.

I have roots in Memphis; our family lived there in the early to mid-seventies. My father, Jack Whitlock, owned Allied Bonding Company and did a bustling business. On occasion I would make a Saturday morning trip down Poplar Avenue with my Dad to spend the morning at this office. Those Saturday morning visits at the age of nine or ten were my earliest memories of being around the bail bond business. Many of his employees and associates from that time are still writing bail there today.

Mildred Battle, owner of Battle Bonding and a longtime American Surety agent, says “business is as tough as it’s ever been”. A year ago, Mildred had several agents working for her and was able to work a regular schedule. 

Within the last year, Mildred has had to release five agents reducing her staff to one agent in the daytime.   She must now carry the load herself, working 12 hour shifts, seven days a week and still taking bond calls after eleven until the office opens at seven in the morning. “I think I can keep this up another six months before I start to break down”, Mildred says, “Just doing what needs to be done to survive”. 

With the down economy and aggressive premium financing tactics of her competitors, it has been tough to keep her doors open. She has been able to prevail by writing smart bail and keeping her forfeitures to a minimum. “I’ve never had a problem with forfeitures” Mildred declares. “That’s what’s saving me now”.

It is projected the Shelby County Justice Center will be relocated from its current downtown location to East Memphis near the Shelby County Penal Farm. The property surrounding the Penal Farm is all government owned.  As a result there will be no bonding companies situated in close proximity to the jail or courthouse. This will present a significant change for bond companies like Battle Bonding who is currently located about 300 feet from the front door of the courthouse. As for Mildred Battle’s outlook, “we will just have to tough it out”.

Tennessee Association Meeting

Call it timing, call it scheduling conflicts, but for whatever reason I’ve not made it to a Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents meeting in a few years which ASC agent J.R. Henderson was good enough to remind me.

TAPBA held a continuing education class at Sam’s Town Hotel & Casino in Tunica, Mississippi, on Friday, November 13 with a turnout of near 300 bail agents. At the meeting we heard from longtime TAPBA lobbyist William Pope, regarding SB 2654 and SB 2916, favorable bail bond bills that passed earlier in the year.

TAPBA President Charles White spoke of the financial support ($5,000 to date) the Tennessee association was contributing to the Santa Clara County (San Jose, CA) Bail Agents Association fight against their local pretrial release agency. Tennessee has limited pretrial release programs with agencies operating in Memphis and Nashville. TAPBA recognizes the potential threat pretrial services present to the public safety and the bonding community and their contribution to the California fight is a clear recognition of this fact.

It always gets my blood pumping when I see several hundred bail agents in one setting as was the case in Tunica. Bail agents can be a mighty force for good when joined in a common cause. TAPBA holds five classes a year and this one event had 20% of the state’s 1500 licensed bail agents present, very impressive.

Next Up

I’ll be travelling to Savannah, Georgia for the year-end meeting of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen. American Surety Company is sponsoring GAPB’s Sheriff’s Appreciation Night. It is always a great event and well attended. I hope to see you there.

A Hop, Skip and a Jump to Year End Bail Meetings

Posted October 26, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock,MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, Pretrial Release, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

I knew when I originally planned this recent trip it would be very taxing on me personally and to my fellow road warriors in the bail bond industry. State bail agent associations typically do not plan their events around events held in other states. So, when I took a look at the week of October 15, I saw trouble ahead, California, South Carolina and Texas would all be holding year end meetings this same week. The challenge was on.
The California Bail Agents Association held their 31st Annual Convention at Bally’s Las Vegas, October 17-19. The South Carolina Bail Agents Association held their 2010 Annual Conference in Columbia, October 20, while the Professional Bondsmen of Texas held their Annual Convention at The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, October 20-23.
My week began Sunday in Las Vegas where I participated in an American Bail Coalition (ABC) board meeting to review the positive efforts made in 2010 and to help plan a strategy for 2011. ABC remains a cohesive group of bail insurance companies and will continue to act in the best interest of commercial surety bail agents.
The CBAA meeting started with the Welcome Reception Sunday night. A CE class was held Monday morning with the big dinner and bocce ball tournament that night. 
During the Monday morning session, San Jose area attorney Ash Pirayou gave an update of his efforts on behalf of the Santa Clara Bail Association to curtail the use of pretrial services operating in that county. Santa Clara County has one of the country’s largest pretrial service agencies operating for more than 40 years. Their current strategy is to propose a new policy which is to base a defendant’s qualification for release through pretrial released on their stated income. An income verification policy would significantly reduce the number of financially able offenders from getting free bail.
Mr. Pirayou and the bail agents of Santa Clara County are seeking donations from bail agents and surety companies alike to support their fight against pretrial release. They believe a victory in Santa Clara County will have a profound impact on pretrial services operating not only in California, but throughout the Untied States. Email Ash Pirayou at apirayou@rutan.com to see how you can help.
Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich was also a guest speaker. He spoke of his support of bail agents and his efforts to curtail the use of soliciting around courthouses and jails. Several “sidewalk marketers” have been arrested for soliciting and there are more to come according to Mr. Trutanich. This was welcome news to CBAA members who responded with huge applause.
CBAA lobbyist Kathy Lynch provided an update on pending legislation that would impact the bail bond industry in California. Notably, AB 1369, was recently passed by the General Assembly only to be  vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. This bill would have granted authority to correctional administrators to release inmates who remained in jail 20 days after arraignment, on electronic monitoring. AB 1369 was not introduced by CBAA, though CBAA worked closely with legislators to make sure AB 1369 would not adversely impact commercial bail. AB 1369 is expected to be refiled after a new governor takes office in 2012.
South Carolina
Tuesday morning I flew cross country to Columbia, South Carolina to attend the SCBAA meeting Wednesday morning. Approximately 125 were in attendance, each of whom received an nice computer bag with the SCBAA and ASC logos.
The meeting consisted of visits from Past Deputy Attorney General Alan Wilson who is running for Attorney General of South Carolina and U.S. Senator Vincent Sheheen who is making a bid to become the state’s next governor. Both are avid supporters of commercial bail. Melanie Ledgerwood of Accredited Surety and Casualty presented a power point presentation on Pretrial Release Services which was very informative and alarming. South Carolina Court Administrator Walter Leverette reviewed bond hearing procedures.
SCBAA President Mike Curlee disseminated information prior to the meeting about how several counties have begun charging a fee of $10.00 on each bond written in General Sessions Court citing South Carolina Code of Laws Section 8-21-310(13).
During the upcoming legislative session SCBAA will continue to focus on curtailing the use of deposit bail and pretrial services. Both programs are ill-suited to guarantee a defendant’s appearance in court.
Texas
The annual meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas was once again held at The Menger Hotel in San Antonio, the 2011 conference will be held at the Westin La Cantera Resort in San Antonio. The 4th PBT Golf Classic, which was well attended, raised a princely sum for the PBT PAC. American Surety Company sponsored the Welcome Reception at Pat O’Brien’s Pub. This event is always fun and draws a great crowd. During the reception, Jerry Watson with AIA Surety was presented the Award of Distinction (formerly the Friends of PBT Award) for his longtime association with PBT and for his many contributions to bail in Texas.
The Opening Ceremony on Friday got off to a great start with entertainment from Bill Riggs, a positive attitude speaker and magician. He had everyone in the room slapping a knee.
A Town Hall Meeting was held in the afternoon. Scott Walstad, Chair of the PBT Legislative Committee brought everyone up to speed on the 2011 legislative agenda and addressed all questions.
Dinner and reception that Friday evening included an auction with items such as a Texas shaped guitar, rattlesnake wine bottle holder and iPad with proceeds going to Texas Bail PAC. The following day at the Award Luncheon, Michael Kubosh of Houston was issued the President’s Award while Marjorie Walstad of Dallas received the Professional Bondsmen of the Year.
Six nights on the road was a long time even for me. After a week of rest I’ll be back on the road for more. Just ahead are meetings in Georgia, Indiana and Tennessee which, of course, I will file a report. 

Elections Day is next Tuesday. Don’t forget to vote!