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Consolidation of Effort Key to Survival of Bail Profession

Posted February 10, 2016 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Surety Bail Bonds  - 2 Comments

I heard the news over the weekend HCC Surety acquired Bail USA making them one of the largest commercial surety underwriters in the country.  Congratulations to all parties involved.  Consolidation is a rare occurrence in our industry and I hope it proves a successful acquisition for HCC.

Today I’ll be attending a meeting of the American Bail Coalition Board of Directors where work will continue on efforts to retain commercial bail as the vital component it is within the criminal justice system.  Rarely does a day go by where I and many others are working on issues related to ABC’s initiatives across the country.  The most recent concern is legislation proposed by Connecticut Governor Malloy to replace bail bonds with a 10 percent deposit scheme which I wrote about in my most recent blog.  The challenges are never ending.

Regrettably, I know when I take a seat at the table tomorrow with ASC President & CEO Bill Carmichael and other leaders of ABC surety company members there will be some vacant seats.  The empty chairs should be filled by the leaders of several surety companies who have elected to sit on the sidelines and watch while the commercial bail industry is under attack.  The aggregate writings nationwide of those surety companies outside ABC membership is now significantly greater than that of the ABC members.  If they think ABC is not effective, what is the alternative?

The individuals, groups and coalitions that seek to eradicate commercial bail have millions of dollars at their disposal while ABC’s budget is limited to those surety companies willing to invest in our industry’s future.

I have travelled the country for a few decades now attending state and national associations where the same people are doing all the work while those that benefit from their efforts contribute neither their time nor money to the cause.  Every industry and profession faces these challenges and ours is no different.

I want to personally invite those surety companies who are not currently members of the American Bail Coalition to join us in the fight to preserve and expand the use of commercial bail to the benefit not only of our bail agent partners but the criminal justice system and public safety in general.

Visit AmericanBail.org to view those companies contributing millions of dollars to protect bail agents and surety companies alike. By consolidating our efforts we can collectively defeat those who try to eliminate our industry and the good work bail agents do every single day.

Sandusky case highlights need for bail restrictions

Posted November 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Executive Vice President under Surety Bail Bonds  - 2 Comments

MSNBC.com reported November 14, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who has been charged with 40 counts of sexual abuse of young boys, was released on a $100,000 unsecured bond or more accurately described as being released on his own recognizance. Sandusky was not required to pledged collateral to the court, obtain a bail bond or call friends or family to stand up for him. The only call he had to make was to a taxi service to ask for a ride, “because they’re letting me go”.
 
Pennsylvania District Court Judge Leslie A. Dutchcot, the judge who ordered Sandusky released on a free bond, has come under fire for her decision.  Questions have been raised as to her impartiality and her ties to Sandusky through The Second Mile, a charitable organization to help kids.
 
The bail industry continues to press state legislators to restrict alleged offenders like Jerry Sandusky, who have been charged with aggravated offenses, from being eligible for free bail in the form of release own recognizance, 10% deposit bail or free release through a taxpayer funded pretrial service agency.  Unfortunately, only a few states like Georgia have seen the wisdom in passing bail restrictions legislation. Legislation that would require offenders charged with aggravated crimes like child molestation to post a secured bail bond.  In Georgia, a bail bond would be required in a criminal case similar to Sandusky’s.
 
New Jersey just passed legislation (A1491) that would require a bail bond in those cases where a defendant has been charged with domestic violence.   Criminal defendants must be granted reasonable bail based on their crime and risk of flight. Releasing offenders charged with aggravated crimes on anything less than a fully secured bail bond is simply irresponsible. Releasing an aggravated offender on an unsecured bond is an affront to the victim and the general public.
 
Every state legislature should consider passing bail restriction legislation that would prohibit offenders charged with aggravated offenses from being released from jail on anything but a fully secured bail bond. It’s right for victims and its right for public safety.

Court Should Have Allowed a Bail Bond in Lieu of Cash Higher Court Rules

Posted April 27, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Deposit Bail, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 1 Comment

In a published decision released Monday, the Court of Appeals of Indiana ruled in favor of the plaintiff, Melissa Kay Sneed in the case of Sneed v. State and against Decatur County on the issue of whether the court should have granted her request to post a bail bond in lieu of a cash bond.

For bail bond agents in Indiana this ruling is long overdue.  Too many judges in Indiana have refused a defendant’s option of posting a bail bond and instead have demanded a bond in the form of a full cash bond or a meager cash deposit of 10% (with the balance of the bond being unsecured).

In my view this decision will require judges in counties currently closed to bail bonds such as St. Joseph, Bartholomew, Vanderburg and Marshall to begin allowing pretrial detainees to opt to post a bail bond as opposed to full cash or a deposit bond.

This should be welcome news to residents and more importantly victims in these counties closed to bail bonds who have long endured their local disregard for the rights of victims and residents by not using the most effective release option for assuring a defendant returns for court, a bail bond.
 
As Sneed v. State clearly states, “…when the defendant is able to deposit the entire amount of the cash bail without the help of a bondsman, it is not very likely anyone will pursue the defendant if he or she decides to skip town prior to trial.”  Bail Agents, whose bonds are backed by insurance companies, have a financial interest in getting a defendant, who has absconded, back to court.

This is a good day for the bail industry in Indiana and I can’t help but quote that much maligned comedic actor Charlie Sheen, and scream, “Winning”!
 

CO Senate Appropriations Ignores Fiscal Impact of SB11-1186

Posted April 25, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Last week the Senate Appropriations Committee passed SB11-186 out of committee by a 5-3 vote. Committee Chair Senator Steadman moved the bill to the front of the line when three committee members opposing the bill were delayed (they were caught in traffic). Senator Steadman refused a request for another vote by the belated senators in opposition to passing SB11-186 out of committee, opting instead to take the bill to a floor vote.
One has to wonder how a bill that has been determined, if passed would have negative fiscal impact of $500,000 to Colorado’s general fund, could pass out of the Appropriations Committee. Politics replaced the public interest in this case.
SB11-186 is scheduled to be heard on the Senate floor today. Surety company members of the American Bail Coalition and the Colorado Bail Roundtable, whose members collectively write 90% of the bail in Colorado, have made their opposition to this bill clear, SB11-186 is bad for the bail industry and bad for Colorado.

We hold out hope the collective Senate will see the wisdom of voting no on SB11-186.

Austin Turns Blind Eye to Attorneys Charging for Jail Release

Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 5 Comments

Austin, TX – I attended the 2nd Quarterly Meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas at the Doubletree Hotel in Austin last week. The beautiful weather belied the continuing problem for the bail industry in Travis County; attorneys charging clients to obtain release on personal recognizance.
Local attorney Eve Schatelowitz Alcantar was a guest speaker and spoke about how attorneys flaunt the fact that neither the law nor the State Bar is taking notice of the practice of several local lawyers operating as defacto bail agents by arranging for defendants to be released on personal recognizance bonds and then charging them for “jail release”.
These attorneys are capitalizing on relationships formed with court clerks and judges receptive to requests to recommend or order a defendant’s release from jail on a PR bond. The fact the attorney has no financial liability or obligation to have the defendant in court or return the defendant to custody after a failure to appear seems to have no impact on court personnel willing to assist these attorneys.
The local bail bond industry has suffered significantly from this ongoing practice. Bail agents are forced to write bonds on defendants in the higher risk pool; i.e., out of county residents, convicted felons and defendants with prior failures to appear.  Higher risk means higher recovery costs and losses. Several bonding companies have closed their doors in the past three years due to overwhelming losses. They simply cannot compete with attorneys who can charge for getting a defendant released from jail with no obligation whatsoever.
Something has to be done about this self serving practice by some local attorneys. Neither the Texas Attorney General’s Office nor the FBI has been willing to step in and investigate. Until they do, Travis County residents will continue to live in an unsafe environment where felony violators are released from jail, unsupervised, pending trial while bail agents will have to continue enduring unfair trade practices.
Other Meeting News
The Texas Legislature is in session and the PBT Legislative Committee, Chaired by Scott Walstad, has been at the State Capital every day of open session. PBT does an excellent job advocating for pro-bail legislation and opposing any legislation that is bad for the bail industry and bad for Texas. Their efforts in 2008 quelled an attempt to introduce a deposit bond to Texas.
The 3rd Quarterly Meeting will be held in Fort Worth August 10-13 at the Hilton Fort Worth. This meeting begins Wednesday, August 10 with the 22nd Annual Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament benefiting Camp Esperanza. The charity golf outing will be held at Iron Horse Golf Course.  PBT SGW-Golf Chair, Marge Walstad collected $1500 in sponsorships during the meeting.
Upcoming Meetings

Colorado Public Bail Scheme Legislation Delayed

Posted April 15, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President, American Surety Company under Commercial Bail, Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 4 Comments

Senate Bill 11-186 was scheduled to be heard today in the Senate Appropriations Committee when Senator Morse, the bill’s sponsor, didn’t show. The bill was ordered held over by Senator Steadman and is expected to be heard next week.
It’s very likely Senator Morse has seen the writing on the wall and believes his bill is fated to fail. SB 11-186, should it pass, would run bail agents out of business once the courts began releasing criminal defendants from jail on unsecured bail. Such a move would not only place Colorado bail bond agents on the unemployment scrolls, it would cost the state millions of dollars in lost revenue generated annually from the payment of premium taxes, licensing fees, court costs and bond forfeitures.
The negative fiscal impact SB 11-186 would create for the state is what has given pause to those legislators considering this measure. Like every other state in the country Colorado is looking for ways to increase revenues, not do away with a steady flow of income as is provided by the commercial bail bonds industry.
Of course, there is also the issue of bail bond agents providing a critical role in the criminal justice system by getting defendants to court and recovering those who fail to appear at no expense to taxpayers, but these days it’s all about the Benjamins.

Bail Agents to Meet Next Week in Las Vegas

Posted February 18, 2011 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 1 Comment

PBUS is holding its 30th Anniversary Conference (Agenda) in Las Vegas next week.  The meeting will be held at the Flamingo Hotel February 20 - 24.  Fans of Dog Chapman will get another chance to hear from him and his posse.

 

A must attend is the Political Action Luncheon at 11:45 AM on Wednesday and the Council of Presidents Meeting that afternoon at 2:30 PM.  At this meeting you will hear from the various state presidents about pending legislation and other hot issues they are dealing with in their markets.

 

Surety companies will be holding dinners and cocktail parties for their agents.  American Surety Company will be holding its Bail Agent Appreciation Evening at the Voodoo Lounge located on

the 50th Floor of the Rio Hotel (Send me an email if you would like to be added the guest list).

 

The annual PBUS meeting affords bail bond agents from across the nation to gather and discuss issues relating to the commercial bail industry.  I hope to see there!

Commercial Bail Regrouping in Colorado

Posted December 6, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

 
The defeat of Proposition 102 in November was asetback to the advancement of commercial bail in Colorado. Prop.102 would have limited the use of free release to first time offenders and created a safer environment for Coloradans while increasing the use of secured bail bonds. Bail bond agents and sureties doing business in the Rocky Mountain state will now work to find a way forward.
 
I was travelling in Colorado last week, this time with a travel buddy, Gary Logue. Gary is Assistant Vice President for American Surety Company, in charge of Underwriting. He’s been with the company for 20 years and is a valuable asset.
 
Our objective for this trip was to meet with every ASC agent, review their client files and make sure they were in compliance with the statutes. Anything less will get you a fine in Colorado.
 
In speaking with each agent there was palpable concern with what the fallout will be with the defeat of Prop. 102. Add in the sunset provision of the bail regulations coming up in 2012 and it was enough to give one pause.
 
Many bail agents who were in favor of passing Prop. 102 were not necessarily in agreement with the strategy employed in that process. The bail industry nationwide has always taken an approach of education and cooperation, building relationships and working closely with state legislators to facilitate the passing of bail friendly legislation. The effort behind 102 seemed to have been a “no holds barred” approach where the means would justify the end result. The end result was the measure failed and many public officials were left wondering what to think of bail agents in Colorado.
 
As for the renewal of the bail regulations in 2012, this should not be taken lightly though it is unlikely commercial bail will not continue in Colorado. Commercial bail provides a vital service to every community ensuring criminal defendants appear in court. The state also generates revenue from unresolved forfeitures.
 
New Colorado Association
While Gary and I were in Colorado we learned of a meeting being held by a recently formed bail agent association, the Rocky Mountain Bail Agents. The meeting was held at the Ramada Inn in Thornton, just north of Denver, Thursday, December 2nd.
 
There was a somewhat surprising turnout of sixty agents and surety company representatives at this meeting. One bail bond agent could not recall seeing this many agents in one setting. Historically, Colorado has had a difficult time keeping a viable association active.
 
I was asked to say a few words in support of the effort to start the new agent association. Speaking from the heart, I asked those in attendance to support any effort that would improve the circumstances in their state. Putting aside competitive differences and working together in a professional manner was the key to ensuring a successful outcome.
 
Colorado agents are right to be concerned about the future of commercial bail in their state. Sitting on their hands could guarantee their fate; apathy can be corrosive. However, active participation and financial contributions to lobbying efforts is the best remedy for success. I’ll be on bail agents every time to get the job done.
 

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!

What's not to like about Colorado's Proposition 102?

Posted October 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Bail Bond Insurance, Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 5 Comments

It seems like only yesterday I was in Denver attending a very brief, but required hearing to advance a ballot initiative in Colorado. As I reported to my readers at that time, an organization called Safe Streets Colorado was pushing an initiative to limit the use of Pretrial Services to first time criminal offenders and misdemeanants.
Getting an initiative on the November ballot, Safe Streets Colorado would require obtaining nearly 75,000 validated signatures on petitions in support of the initiative. A daunting task, but with the help of the Americans for the Preservation of Bail (APOB), Colorado bail agents’ and concerned citizens’; 172,000 signatures were submitted to the Secretary of State on August 2nd.  According to APOB this is the most signatures ever submitted in support of a ballot initiative in Colorado’s 132 year history; quite an achievement.
After overcoming a legal challenge over a filing deadline set by the Secretary of State, the Secretary of State certified the initiative as Proposition 102.
I’ve had a number of conversations with bail bond agents in Colorado and around the country about the choice of taking the issue of Pretrial Release and the release of criminal defendants from jail at taxpayer expense to the taxpaying citizens of Colorado. Some agents I spoke to believed this was absolutely the right path to take while others preferred the legislative process.    
The bail bond industry in Colorado has suffered for years from an apathetic and incongruous bonding community. Colorado has been unsuccessful in their efforts to form a cohesive bail agent association similar to what we see in California, Oklahoma and Texas, etc.
As a bystander, I’ve not seen anything like this in my 28 years in bail. I find the effort which has taken place in Colorado to be very intriguing and I’m anxious to see the result. 
To APOB’s credit, they saw an opportunity to bring Colorado bail agents together under a common cause and in doing so have done the near impossible, placing an initiative on the November ballot that would severely limit the use of Pretrial Release. Should Proposition 102 pass, and I believe it will, it will be seen as a huge victory not only for Colorado Bail Agents but the citizens of Colorado who are tired of seeing their tax dollars used to provide free bail to criminal defendants.
If I was a citizen of Colorado, I would vote yes to Proposition 102.

I would be interested to hear your comments on Proposition 102 and the course taken to limit the use of taxpayer funded Pretrial Services in Colorado. Click here to send me your thoughts.

Bail Agents Endure Heat to Raise Cash for Kids

Posted August 9, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under SGW Golf, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Even the suffocating heat of Texas in August could not wilt the enthusiasm and giving spirit of the golfers and volunteers participating in the 21st Annual Steven G. Whitlock Memorial Golf Tournament. Bondsmen from throughout Texas and across the country converged on Woodhaven Country Club in Fort Worth August 4th to help raise money for Camp Esperanza, a summer camp that hosts 140 kids battling cancer.
The cost of sending a kid to Camp Esperanza is approximately $500 and it is the sole focus of SGW to underwrite the cost of sending as many kids as possible to summer camp. These kids, who deal with the difficulties of their struggle with cancer throughout the year, look forward to a week of stress free fun with their fellow soldiers. We are here to help these kids.
This year’s SGW event raised $31,000, which will fund the cost of sending more than sixty kids to Camp Esperanza in 2011. The involvement of The Professional Bondsmen of Texas, as the presenter of SGW, has breathed new life into this annual event which has entered its third decade, resulting in a significant increase in proceeds donated to Camp Esperanza.
 
The involvement of bondsmen and surety companies underscores the generous nature of those working in the bail profession who, on a daily basis, must deal with people who find themselves in trouble with the law. It was a sight to see.
Thank you to everyone involved who contributed their time, money and energy to raise a bunch of money for kids who truly deserve our help. We hope to see you again next year.
PBT 3rd Quarter Meeting
The SGW golf outing was scheduled to coincide with the 3rd Quarter Meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas. This meeting was held at the Hilton in Arlington Texas directly across from Six Flags over Texas, Texas Rangers Stadium and the brand new Dallas Cowboys stadium.
 
Attendance is never a problem at PBT meetings. Texas bondsmen are genuinely concerned about the future of bail in their state and actively participate in efforts to protect and preserve their industry.
First Assistant District Attorney Terri Moore from the Dallas County DA’s office was the guest speaker. Terri Moore, who was invited by Camille Hodnett, owner of Bail Bonds by Camille in Ft. Worth, was the brains behind the idea of the Conviction Integrity Unit of the Dallas County District Attorney’s office. This elite unit is charged with reviewing select cases of convicted felons to determine if they were legitimately convicted. Their efforts have resulted in exonerating 21 convicted felons who were subsequently released from prison.
The PBT legislative committee discussed their legislative agenda for 2011 recognizing that redistricting, budget and immigration will be the primary focus of the state legislature next year.
There was also a lot of talk of the recent Ethics Opinion number 599 issued by the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. It concluded, “it is not permissible for a lawyer who serves as bail bondsman for his client in a criminal prosecution to add to the court’s form of bond a provision in which the client agrees that, if the client fails to appear in court, the attorney is authorized to enter a “no contest” plea.” It was determined that to enter a “no contest” plea is in the best interest of the lawyer (who avoids a bond forfeiture) and not the client.
Tremendous thanks goes to Houston bondsmen Mike and Randy Kubosh who funded the effort to obtain an opinion from the Texas Center for Legal Ethics. This effort took six months and more than twenty thousand dollars in legal fees.

PBT will be holding its Annual Meeting October 20 – 23 at the Menger Hotel in San Antonio. This annual meeting is always well attended and a lot of fun. I highly recommend attending even if you operate outside Texas.

Mississippi is Rolling

Posted July 20, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA under Bail Bond Insurance, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Governor Barbour was on TV recently touting how clean the beaches are on the Mississippi coast, that the BP Oil Spill had not harmed their shores, so “come on down”.  Well I came on down, not because the Governor asked, but because I was already scheduled to attend the MBAA’s Summer Conference in Biloxi.

Unfortunately, while the clean white sandy beaches of Biloxi were spotless, they were also empty.  Everyone must have been at the Treasure Bay Casino because it was packed with gamblers and MBAA members in town for the conference.

The conference started with a fete at Thunders in Pascagoula where it was hot and sticky with cold beverages and karaoke.  Everyone seemed to have a good time enjoying some down time.

Click to view MBAA 2010 Summer Meeting Slideshow

Patty Hodges is the current president of the MBAA and was re-elected to another term at this meeting.  The MBAA is a well run organization and each meeting I’ve attended has well over 75 agents in attendance.  They always make it fun by providing T-shirts to each attendee along with their conference packet.  This year the T-shirt had a caricature of someone getting arrested over a slogan of “Support your local bondsmen, get arrested”.

House Bill 900 was passed earlier this year and soon becomes effective.  Robert L. Perkins, Director of Licensing at the Mississippi Insurance Department, was on hand to discuss that portion of HB 900 that prohibits a bondsman from writing bail in a county where they are related to someone who comes in contact with bailable inmates.  To demonstrate the breadth of the definition of relation, you would be in violation of this section of law if you are writing bail in a county where you are related to the coroner or someone who held a seat on the County Board of Supervisors. Furthermore, if you are related to a circuit court judge you are prohibited from writing bail bonds in any county located within that circuit.

The meeting also had a pleasant diversion with non-bail speaker Marshall Ramsey, a political cartoonist with The Clarion-Ledger who narrated a slide show presentation of his cartoons from the last ten years which included Hurricane Katrina.  I was fortunate to win a signed copy of his collection of cartoons, 10! Marshall Ramsey’s Ten-Year Celebration.

MBAA Scholarships were awarded to three college students who met the character and academic requirements.

American Surety Company contributed to the MBAA’s already healthy bank account as one of the sponsors of 2010 Summer Conference.  MBAA doesn’t get as much notice for their strong organization, as do some of the larger states, but they’re no less effective.  Nice job MBAA, I can’t wait to return for your next big meeting.

 


 

On the schedule for this week is the PBUS Mid-Year Meeting in Chicago.  The meeting is being held at the Fairmont Chicago, Millennium Park and runs July 21-24.

It's Simple Math - Deposit Bonds Don't Add Up

Posted February 24, 2010 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA Vice President American Surety Company under Deposit Bail, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Indianapolis, IN - An article appeared recently on NewsandTribune.com entitled Released on Bond: A flawed system?  The article was written by Matt Thacker.  The article takes aim at the deposit bond program employed by the Clark County courts in Jeffersonville, IN.  Jeffersonville is located just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky.  Bail is outlawed in Kentucky but that’s a story for another day.

The Released article cites two studies, an unnamed study from 2008 where 31 percent (30) of Indiana counties responded to a survey.  The study concluded that 47% of $5.3 million collected by the courts on cash bond deposits in 2008 went to the county.  The article also cites the 2007 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) study that said 30% of those defendants released on an unsecured bond (a deposit bond is 90% unsecured) failed to appear while only 18% of defendants released on a bail bond failed to appear.

Let’s use these numbers to paint a picture.  The $5.3 million collected by 30 Indiana counties in 2008 represents a 10% cash deposit against $53 million in actual bonds set by the courts.  This translates to 90% or $47,700,000 of the bonds being unsecured sans the criminal defendant’s personal guarantee.   

According to the BJS Study, 30% of defendants released on unsecured bonds fail to appear for court. This would mean 30% of the $5.3 million, or $1,590,000 of the cash bond deposits collected by 30 Indiana counties should have been forfeited and sent to the State for deposit to the Common School Fund.  This also means the defendants, who deposited the 10% cash with the court to obtain release, owe the State of Indiana the remaining 90% on the forfeited bonds or $14,310,000.  This is what Hoosiers have come to know as toxic debt.

While Clark County and the other 29 counties in Indiana, who accept deposit bonds can rejoice at collecting 47% or $2,491,000 of $5.3 million in cash bond deposits (average of $83,000 per county), Indiana taxpayers can be disgusted at the idea that due to the negligence of these 30 counties the State failed to collect $15,900,000 in forfeited bail and that’s just for one year.   I say negligence because these courts, in their wisdom, elected to allow defendants to be released from jail by depositing just 10% of the bond in cash and sign as a guarantor for the remaining 90% of the bond.  What bank in Indiana, or the country for that matter, would loan someone any amount of money without first running a credit report and in most cases asking for collateral or a third party guarantor?  None that I’m aware of.

Clark County seems to make these underwriting decisions on a daily basis.  The Released article refers to Fadayeen Guy who bonded out of jail in 2006 by posting $7500 cash with the court.  This was 10% of $75,000, the actual bond amount. Mr. Guy was arrested for, among other charges, dealing cocaine.  He was from Tennessee.  According to the Released article, Mr. Guy never made his first appearance and didn’t reappear in court until March 2009.  To Mr. Guy’s good fortune, the court returned his original $7500 cash deposit less $719 to cover probation and court costs.  How great is that!  Had the court required a bail bond, which guarantees a defendant will appear in court every time until the case is adjudicated, the State of Indiana would have received $75,000 as opposed to the county receiving $719 had the bail agent been unable to locate, apprehend and surrender the defendant to jail.

Deborah Neal, staff counsel for the Indiana Public Defender Commission, is quoted in the Released article, saying "As with a car loan or anything else, collecting a judgment can be like squeezing blood out of a turnip".  That is certainly the case; when, in this scenario, you secure the car loan with an unqualified buyer, no collateral or third party guarantor.  I can assure Ms. Neal, the surety companies approved to guarantee bail bonds in Indiana are not turnips.  Surety Bail Bonds companies must pass a rigorous qualification process before being approved to operate in Indiana. Failing to pay verified bond forfeiture judgments will result in the seizure of cash on deposit with the State and a revocation of authority to transact further business in Indiana. 

One can only hope that one day the good citizens of Indiana, their legislative representatives and the Governor will wake up to the fact that the deposit bail scheme in place in several counties is nothing more than a way to generate a few bucks for the county.  They only need to do the math.

Missouri Holds 4th Meeting on Bail Reform

Posted November 13, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Legislation, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

  

   Jefferson City - The Missouri State Legislature passed legislation earlier this year, a 62 page bill (H.B. 577) which, in part required the Missouri Department of Insurance to "conduct a study regarding its licensing rules and other policies and procedures governing the bail bond industry".
   H.B. 577 suggested the Department of Insurance hold hearings and permit testimony from representatives of law enforcement, judiciary, bail agents and surety bail bond companies.  Four hearings were held with the last hearing held at the state capital on Tuesday, November 10.  I attended that hearing.
   Approximately 15 people sat on the panel hearing testimony, of which several were bail agents.  Testimony was largely given by bail agents writing on personal assets identified in 
Section 374.700 of the Missouri Revised Statutes as a Property Bail Bondsmen.
   The testimony from some of the property agents keyed on the low barrier of entry to becoming a General Bail Bond Agent in Missouri. Current statute allows licensed agents of two years or more to qualify as a General Bail Bond Agent upon deposit of $10,000 with the state.  Bail agents can only write through a licensed General Bail Bond Agent, whether on corporate surety or personal surety.
   Another issue raised was the qualification process for property writes.  There was testimony some courts were not properly vetting property bondsmen and were not sufficiently securing the assets (cash, real estate or personal property) by way of deed of trust or assignment and that assets listed on financial statements were not being verified.  Some courts have discontinued the qualification process all together due to a lack of resources.
   I was the only surety company representative to provide testimony at this hearing.  I recommended to the panel, if they intended to continue to allow for the writing of bail against personal assets, they should look to Texas and South Carolina which have refined their procedure and controls for writing bail using personal assets as collateral to a point where they are suffiicently indemnified.  Both states have corporate surety bail agents as well, providing comparable circumstances to those of Missouri.
   H.B. 577 requires the Department of Insurance to submit their recommendations to the house and senate insurance committees no later than January 6, 2010.

 


Next Up
   
I will attend the Fall Conference of the Georgia Association of Professional Bondsmen in Savannah on November 16 and 17.  Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

2009 Conference Much Ado About Something

Posted October 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Mike Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Commercial Bail, Meeting Recaps, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

Where does one begin in a year that brings so many issues to the table?  CBAA celebrated its 30th annual convention at Harrah's Casino Resort in South Lake Tahoe October 11 - 13.  The turnout was good and everyone seemed to have something on their mind with respect to one issue or another impacting California bail bond agents.  
   Depending on where you operate in California, you could be dealing with any number of problems.  In northern California they're dealing with pretrial release, credit card kiosks and cities limiting the number of bonding companies around the jail.  In the southern part of the state they're dealing with excessive OR releases, large bond schedules and uncontrolled marketeers on the steps of the courthouse and jails.
CBAA and Golden State Combine Forces to Protect Industry
   
Perhaps it's the size of California, they have multiple baseball and football teams and the bail industry has two associations representing their interests.   The California Bail Agents Association and the Golden State Bail Agents Association held a joint meeting during this year's conference to discuss a variety of issues facing the bail industry.  This meeting was a continuation of the commitment they had made in Las Vegas in February to begin working together in the common interests of their respective members.
Credit Cards Charging Forward
   California is seeing the beginnings of a movement to introduce credit card kiosks to county jails.  At least one company, Government Payment Express (GovPay), has entered into agreements with sheriffs to place a kiosk in their jail which will provide several services, one of which is posting cash bail on a credit card.  According to an advertisement placed in the California Sheriffs Association newsletter, GovPay promises to pay the sheriff 15% of each processing.  Can anyone say payoff?  Rest assured this financial relationship is being looked into to determine if it's legal or ethical. 
Post Conviction Bond Still a Possibility
   California is about to release tens of thousands of prisoners upon the public.  With over 174,000 offenders in California state prisons (200% of capacity) and with a daily housing cost of $11 million, something has to be done.  A post conviction bond is just one option being considered to manage those offenders which must be released early due to prison crowding.  Mississippi has a post conviction bond in place while Michigan just passed its own version of this bond.  Assemblyman Curt Hagman continues to work with CBAA, GSBAA and surety companies to get a post conviction bond passed in California.
House Cleaning?
  Los Angeles City Attorney Carmen Trutanich spoke to CBAA members and made assurances something would be done about the excessive marketing around jails deemed to be problems.  He reported that some arrests have been made for negotiating bail without a license.
What's next?
   Georgia, Michigan,Texas and South Carolina all have meetings scheduled over the next several weeks.  I will be attending the annual meeting of the Professional Bondsmen of Texas later this week in San Antonio.  I hope to see you there!

To Fax or Not to Fax (Bail Bonds)

Posted June 15, 2009 at 12:00 AM by Michael J. Whitlock under Bail Bond Insurance, Faxing Bonds, and Surety Bail Bonds  - 0 Comments

We text, we Tweet, we email, we bank online, so why not fax bonds to the jail?  The ability to fax a bail bond to a jail can be convenient for both the bail agent and the jail staff.  Doing so could save hundreds of hours avoiding long lines and a lot of money on gas and parking fees from making fewer trips to the jail.  There is also the added benefit of expediting offenders through the system, which has had some impact on jail crowding.  However, faxing bonds without proper controls in place against fraud can be a nightmare for consumers, courts and surety companies.

Who’s Faxing Who?
The bail industry has seen little progress with the acceptance of faxed bonds by the jails.  I’m sure it does occur in remote areas like Wyoming, Montana and the odd jail.  In those cases a bond is faxed in advance to obtain the release of a defendant from jail followed by mailing the original bond (and power) to the court the next business day.  For the past several years at least three markets have allowed for the faxing of bonds. Dallas County, Texas has a sound procedure in placed followed by Tarrant County which is less so.  Then there is Utah which allows faxing but with almost no security controls.
 
In the case of Dallas County, the current procedure allows a licensed bail agent to post a bond via fax for a $10, per bond, cost reimbursement fee to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office.  To qualify, the bail bond agent must first obtain written consent from their corporate surety to the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office before bonds can be faxed.  An escrow account is created to cover the $10 fee and the posting fee ($15 for the first bond with a maximum of $30 per defendant).  As a means of control, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Office, on a monthly basis, will provide each surety company with a copy of each faxed bond posted by their agent(s) during the preceding month.  By receiving copies of all bonds posted, each surety company can then reconcile the documentation received from the sheriff’s office with the bonds reported by their agents to ensure bond amounts match and powers are not being used more than once and executed powers are not being submitted as void.
Tarrant County, Texas allows for the faxing of bonds though there are no controls in place other than sending from a specific fax number on file with the Tarrant County Sheriff’s Office for each bonding company.  Texas bail bonds statute requires each court notify the surety companies designated agent for service of process of all bond forfeitures. This requirement provides at least some means of catching an agent who may be duplicating powers.
 
Both Dallas and Tarrant Counties require bonds to be faxed directly to the county sheriff’s office for processing. In the case of Utah, our third market, bonds are faxed to several jails across several counties. The only control in place for faxing bonds in Utah is that the bond is faxed from an approved fax number. State law allows for the court to send notice directly to the bail agent eliminating the one life preserver offered in Tarrant County. The Utah system clearly has insufficient controls in place to prevent fraud.
 
Legitimate Concerns
The primary concern with faxing a bond is the potential for a numbered power of attorney to be used more than once with the intent to cheat the surety company out of premium on the duplicated bonds.
 
Last Fall American Surety Company discovered, almost by accident, one of its agents in Utah had been duplicating powers over a period of 18 months using the existing faxed bond procedure. The result was this agent was able to systematically and fraudulently avoid paying premium to American Surety to the tune of several thousand dollars.  How he did it was fairly simple.  One or more copies would be made of the original power of attorney before the agent would post multiple bonds at different jails obtaining the release of several defendants with the same power of attorney.  Utah has no meaningful procedure in place to prevent this type of fraud.  It was for this reason American Surety Company requested and was granted time by the Utah Bail Bond Surety Oversight Board to address the lack of controls in the existing faxed bond process at their May meeting.
 
The Bail Bond Surety Oversight Board was created by Utah Statute 31A-35-201 and operates within the Utah Department of Insurance.  The Board is comprised of representatives from four licensed bail bond surety companies (Utah statute provides that a personal surety bail agent is also defined as a surety company), two members of the general public, an attorney and a nonvoting member from the insurance department staff.   Board members serve four year terms and are limited to two terms.
  
Our goal, at this meeting, was to bring awareness to the BBSOB on the failings of the existing procedure for faxing bonds and request changes be made to prevent fraud from occurring, not only upon the surety but the State of Utah and the consumer.  At present the only procedure in place is one that requires the bail agent to fax their bond from an approved fax number. That’s it.  The bail agent is not required to mail the original bond to the jail or court and the jail does not provide a copy of the power to the surety company for reconciliation purposes.  Nor does the jail require written authorization from the bail agent’s surety company to fax bonds.  The jail simply does not have the ability to determine whether or not a power has been duplicated. 
 
The Board members listened politely and asked questions, though it was quickly clear they were not willing to recommend implementing new controls for fear the jail may resist and possibly decide to abandon the faxed bond process. It appears convenience, not caution, will continue to carry the day in Utah.
 
The Verdict
I’m in favor of convenience as much as the next guy. You know how you now have to enter your zip code when you use your credit card at the gas pump? Well, someone along the way decided that this control was needed to prevent the fraudulent use of someone’s credit card. Faxing bonds is no less subject to fraud. This process can work if the proper controls are put in place to ensure the parties involved in the process, consumers, courts, surety companies, etc., are not being defrauded by an unscrupulous bail agent. I’m hopeful markets like Tarrant County, Texas and Utah will give further consideration to implementing basic controls to ensure a more secured process that is also convenient to the parties involved. Let us continue to make improvements within the bail industry that are both thoughtful and productive.