Dallas County unveils sweeping reforms of troubled bail bond system

A Dallas County task force has recommended sweeping changes to a flawed bail bond forfeiture system that could bring in millions in untapped revenue and prevent fugitives from going unpunished. Those changes, described in a 57-page report, are expected to resolve problems that have plagued the county for almost a century. The recommendations by the Dallas County Bail Bond Task Force include: Spending $382,696 to hire two bond forfeiture attorneys and two clerks. Standardizing multiple processes across all of the courts. Using a new database to produce regular bond activity reports. “It’s about creating a more uniform, manageable process for everyone. … It’s something that has never been done before in Dallas County, and it’s about time,” said Commissioner Elba Garcia, who as chairwoman of the county’s Criminal Justice Advisory Board has spearheaded the reforms. “This is the beginning. We’ll probably need some tweaking. It’s a great start.” The task force was formed in June, after The News had launched a series of articles that detailed loopholes, a lack of oversight and ineffective policies in how the county handled forfeitures. When bail bondsmen get criminal defendants released from custody with their bail bonds, the county in most cases is entitled to that money if the defendants skip out on court. But in Dallas County, that hasn’t always happened. Last year, county records initially indicated that $35 million has gone uncollected over the decades. Further study has found that only a small percentage of that is currently due or considered collectible, officials say. Task force officials said they want to focus efforts on cases from 2007 forward. “We are talking decade-old stuff,” said Ron Stretcher, the county’s criminal justice director. “And so we really took the approach, let’s fix things moving forward and not spend a lot of time on why did things happen the Continue Reading

After revelations in Oaks case, advocates urge lawmakers to avoid bail-bond industry lobbyists

After allegations surfaced last week in court filings that Sen. Nathaniel Oaks admitted taking a bribe from a representative of the bail-bond industry, criminal justice advocates urged Maryland lawmakers Wednesday to avoid contact with industry lobbyists. The advocates held a news conference hours before the start of the 90-day General Assembly session to brand the bail-bond industry as inherently corrupt. They called on lawmakers to return any contributions they have received from the industry and to refuse to sponsor the industry’s bills. “We went any legislation put forward and supported by the bail-bond industry to be recognized as tainted, illegitimate and should not be considered,’ said Larry Stafford, executive director of Progressive Maryland. A spokesman for the state’s bail-bond industry could not immediately be reached for comment. Stafford, part of the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland, pointed to news accounts of a filing in the federal case against Oaks, a Baltimore Democrat who faces trial in April on charges of corruption and obstruction of justice. Prosecutors alleged that Oaks received illegal payments from an unidentified “Person #1” to influence his vote and other efforts on behalf of bail-bond legislation. According to the filing, that person also made payments to at least one other elected official. Caryn York, executive director of the Job Opportunities Task Force, warned that lawmakers who align themselves with the bail-bond industry risk being seen as tainted as well. “It puts their own ethics and integrity in question,’ she said. The advocates are seeking to preserve and build on a rule adopted by the Court of Appeals instructing judges to de-emphasize cash bail as a way to assure that criminal defendants appear in court. Earlier, Attorney General Brian E. Frosh had issued an opinion that a system under which some defendants remain in jail because they can’t afford cash bail would Continue Reading

Our Bail-Bond System Is Broken

How much did you pay to be free today? Every day, innocent people are held for ransom in a system that’s become a profitable sector of the financial industry: bail. New research by the ACLU and Color of Change reveals just how damaging to communities this marketplace for hostages of the criminal-justice system has become. Two years ago, the social upheaval of Ferguson exposed how in many cities and towns, law enforcement uses predatory fines and fees to criminalize people to extract revenue. The bail-bond industry links the criminal process even more tightly to the financial industry, directly exploiting families by ensnaring them in an increasingly privatized criminal-justice apparatus. The commercial bond market—one of the world’s only for-profit bail systems—has grown over time into an industry that trades in $14 billion worth of desperation each year. “It’s extractive, it is harmful, and it is not helping in creating a more safe and just community,” says Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color of Change. Without structural reforms to restrict the use of bail by police and courts, he says, under current policies “you are better off being guilty and rich than innocent and poor in this country.” After an arrest, commercial bail-bond agencies track people into multiple layers of coercion—they’re first locked up while awaiting trial, then face a bail bondsman who essentially determines their pretrial incarceration terms. In contrast to a court hearing, with some guarantee of transparent due process, according to American Bar Association, bail agents are empowered to set fees and collateral requirements, determine the rules for bond, or even whether to offer bail at all, “in secret, without any record of the reasons for these decisions.” When justice is blind to everything but profit, actual guilt has no bearing on your sentence. Especially in black and brown communities where Continue Reading

Bail bond industry mounts another attack on N.J. reforms

Reality TV star Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman traveled to Trenton with his wife Beth last week to announce that the couple were joining a federal lawsuit against Gov. Chris Christie aimed at derailing the major changes New Jersey recently made to its criminal justice system.Standing outside the U.S. District Court building there, Beth Chapman, who serves as president of the Professional Bail Agents of the United States, declared that Christie’s legacy “will forever be stained by the blood” of Christian Rodgers, a 26-year-old man who was gunned down in Vineland earlier this year by a man who just days earlier had been arrested and released under the state’s new bail reform law that Christie supports.“You created and advanced a program that puts dangerous criminals on the streets to pick off all of your children,” she said of Christie as Rodgers’ tearful parents stood nearby. BAIL REFORM: Bar fight over football morphs into bail reform challenge EDITORIAL: Bail reform should not put the public at risk NEW JERSEY: Christie expands housing program for struggling families The Chapmans’ lawsuit is at least the second legal challenge to New Jersey’s bail reform initiative funded by entities with a stake in America's multibillion-dollar bail bond industry, which has been crippled in New Jersey as a result of the changes pushed by Christie. As states from Texas to California look to New Jersey for ideas on how to reduce the number of as-yet-innocent people sitting in jail awaiting trial, the fate of New Jersey’s experiment will have implications far beyond its borders.“The bail industry doesn’t want other states to see successful models that deemphasize money,” said Alexander Shalom, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey. “To the extent we’re successful thus far, it scares the Continue Reading

Bond companies ‘extremely worried’ as Arizona moves away from cash bail bonds

Every three hours, family members and friends of alleged lawbreakers sit in a tiny, windowless waiting room in downtown Phoenix, straining to hear the fate of their loved ones. Through a monitor, they can watch as the defendants approach a judge and listen to the allegations of crimes committed. The big moment comes at the end, when the judge reveals the bond amount. "You have a $5,000 secured appearance bond in this court case, sir," she tells one man accused of possessing dangerous drugs. A floppy-haired young man accused of resisting arrest is released on his own recognizance.In the lobby, there are small celebrations and sighs of relief for the good news. For the high bonds, family members curse or shake their heads. Celebrations may be even more likely as the months pass.A metamorphosis is underway in the state's pretrial release system. Through judges' directives, Arizona courts appear to be paving the way to wipe out the financial-bail model.Judges have been urged to rely on individuals' personal risk factors to determine their release conditions rather than a standardized dollar amount based on allegations.Proponents for bail reform say changes could ensure that low-risk defendants aren’t sitting in jail just because they are poor, and high-risk defendants aren’t released because they can foot the bill.An April 3 rule change set in motion by the Arizona Supreme Court urges judges to embrace the risk-assessment system, spelling out the release options that should be favored over the ones that require a bail-bond company. “This is a major undertaking,” said Jerry Landau, government-affairs director for the Arizona Supreme Court. “It’s a major step in criminal-justice reform that affects the community and affects many people who come in contact with the criminal-justice system.”The move is energizing criminal-justice reform advocates but stoking fear among the state’s bail-bonds Continue Reading

Will Delaware end cash bail?

About 60 men and women, wearing the clothes they were arrested in hours earlier and shackled at their ankles and wrists, shuffled one at a time up to the judge who would decide whether they should be released from the Washington, D.C., jail.A new case was heard every three minutes. And cash bail had nothing to do with defendants' ticket to freedom.Those charged with nonviolent crimes were set free on the promise they would appear at the next court hearing – including an accused drug dealer, a cocaine user, a thief and a string of others.Those considered the most dangerous – such as a man arrested for not having a license for the .42-caliber pistol in his car – were sent back to jail to await trial.This is the changing face of American jurisprudence, where releasing a defendant from jail is not based on how much money he or she can pay. The movement stands on the notion that cash bail punishes the poor, who end up spending more time behind bars than those with the means to pay for their release.Washington, D.C., eliminated bail two decades ago, and other jurisdictions may soon follow – either by choice or as a result of federal lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of incarcerating poor defendants who cannot afford bail.The bail system in Delaware is now under scrutiny as Delaware's Supreme Court Chief Justice Leo E. Strine Jr. shines a light on the disproportionate number of African-Americans incarcerated and Gov. Jack Markell calls for criminal justice reform while examining ways to reduce prison overcrowding."It's not working when a single mom gets stuck in detention because she can't come up with a hundred bucks and has little to no family support, but a dangerous drug dealer can get his minions to bail him out," Markell said during a speech on criminal justice reform Thursday in New Orleans. "Our bail process needs to change, and it can be done, but only if we're cognizant of the full extent to which everyone involved in our criminal Continue Reading

Immig bond fund kicks off fundraising campaign

SILVER SPRING, Md. — As soon as Luis Eduardo Delgado was handcuffed, a federal agent made the situation clear to him. Delgado, 35, speaking through a translator, said a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officer told him he had no rights. It was June 30, and agents had just arrested Delgado and 45 others who worked for an Annapolis painting company on administrative immigration violations. While the Mexican national was in jail, he wondered how he was going to pay his $2,500 bond. Then the unexpected happened: Someone offered to bail Delgado out — if he could also contribute to the cost. "It seemed like a dream, not possible," Delgado said. But with the help of friends and his church, he scraped together his share of the bond. The man behind the bond offer was Robert Hildreth, a 57-year-old Boston financier who on Monday officially debuted his National Immigrant Bond Fund and launched a fundraising campaign during a news conference at Casa de Maryland, a statewide immigrant advocacy group in Silver Spring. Casa helped Delgado and others use the bond fund, which was formally established about three months ago. Illegal immigrants who are arrested in raids and do not have any outstanding criminal violations can apply to the bond fund for help. Churches, legal organizations or groups such as Casa help connect detainees with the fund. The fund provides half the bail money and the arrested immigrants must pony up the rest. The fund aims to ensure that immigrants have access to the court system. Advocates say immigrants are too often sent directly into deportation proceedings without an opportunity to argue their case. They say the fund is also a way to build public opposition to raids, keep families together and bring another voice into the debate for immigration reform. A New York-based nonprofit, Public Interest Projects, oversees the fund, which is supported by several national advocacy groups and religious leaders, Continue Reading

Government did not want to bail out Lehman Brothers

Lehman Brothers has been a leader in the financial community since 1850, but it is now collateral damage. The government did not want to bail out Lehman, because it had to draw the line somewhere, and other financial institutions could not get comfortable with Lehman's assets in an instant. The management of Lehman, who had been generally well respected, waited too long to fashion a bailout. Execs kept hoping the financial markets would stabilize and they could sell enough assets to keep the firm afloat. What makes Lehman's bankruptcy especially serious for Wall Street, the city's economy and all investors is that the firm was a core member of the financial club. Drexel Burnham Lambert, which went bankrupt in 1990, was a rogue junk bond company. Bear Stearns was extremely leveraged and refused a decade ago to help bail out Long Term Capital Management. Every firm on Wall Street will be hurt in one way or another. Fortunately for Wall Street, the city's economy and all investors is that Bank of America agreed to buy Merrill Lynch at a much higher price than Friday's close, although far, far below the heights of earlier this year. This will stabilize one of Lehman's key competitors. Yet Lehman's bankruptcy will set off a sharp decline in the stock market. The market has been highly volatile looking for direction. Now, we know the direction will be down. This financial crisis has become the worst since the Depression. Banks, hedge funds, consumers and the federal government have all gorged, spending far more than they should have in the past decade. Now, there is little that can be done except to face the consequences. For consumers, credit will become even tighter. For financial service companies, there will be more bankruptcies. The Fed has already nationalized the massive mortgage market. It can lower interest rates, but not do much more. And if it lowers interest rates, the dollar will drop again, and oil and other commodities will shoot back up. I think we are in Continue Reading


P HOENIX - If Barry Bonds is smart - and there's no proof he's ever been Mensa material - he wouldn't put away his blond wig and falsies just yet. If ever Bonds needed a disguise, it is now. If he cared about repairing the great damage he has done to a great game, he wouldn't dare show his freakishly massive head in any ballpark ever again. If he had any decency left in his needle-pricked behind, he would slip quietly into the shadows with all the other selfish cheats and greedy liars and never be heard from again. At least Jason Giambi had the courage to sort-of apologize for whatever illegal measures he took that made his muscles go boom. Bonds' ego always has been his weakest link. Had he 'fessed up years ago, when the BALCO scandal was just beginning to howl, the public would have understood. Americans like their idols slightly flawed. But no, Bonds had to get up in the world's face and dare it to find proof. And when it did, when excerpts from a meticulously researched book by a pair of San Francisco Chronicle reporters began to appear yesterday, Bonds scurried away like the weakest of wimps. Bonds wasn't shy about playing the clown in front of the documentary crew that is handsomely paying him to star in his own reality show. During batting practice at Scottsdale Stadium, Bonds kissed his bat, and when the crew went off to interview Willie Mays, you half expected Paula Abdul to jump out of the bushes and start weeping. No doubt the documentary folks asked Willie all sorts of probing questions about his adorable godson. Say, Willie, is it true Barry was swinging a bat when he was in diapers? Like everyone else wired to the MLB pipeline, Bonds knew of the impending book, "Game of Shadows," in which investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams detail Bonds' prolific consumption of steroids and human growth hormone. Bonds had two years to think of some sort of reply - sorry would have sufficed - but all he could manage was a snicker Continue Reading

Bollywood star Salman Khan granted bail pending appeal for hit-and-run case

MUMBAI, India — A court on Friday granted bail to one of India's biggest movie stars until it hears his appeal challenging his conviction in a drunk-driving hit-and-run case more than a decade ago. Salman Khan was sentenced to five years in prison on Wednesday on charges of driving over five men sleeping on the sidewalk and killing one of them in Mumbai in 2002. Justice Abhay Thipsay said the Mumbai High Court would start hearing Khan's appeal in July, according to prosecutor Abha Singh. He asked Khan to pay a bail bond of 30,000 rupees ($500). Khan, 49, is one of Bollywood's most popular stars, appearing in more than 90 Hindi-language films in his 27-year career. A large crowd of Khan's supporters danced with joy outside his house in Mumbai, India's financial and entertainment capital. However, one of his fans tried to commit suicide by consuming poison just before the start of the court proceeding on Friday, the Press Trust of India news agency said. Police rushed him to a hospital in an unconscious state. The fan, an aspiring script writer named Gourango Kundu, said in a pamphlet that he was hoping Khan would give him a break in Bollywood movies. If the actor was sent to the prison, he would not be able to help him, the pamphlet read. In convicting Khan on Wednesday, the trial court accepted the prosecution's plea that Khan was drunk when he rammed his SUV into a group of homeless people and found him guilty of culpable homicide. The trial had dragged for more than 12 years. Khan began his career in 1988, playing a romantic action hero with many of his movies becoming box office hits. In recent years he turned to philanthropy, establishing a charitable trust called "Being Human" which works in education and health care for the poor. Bollywood filmmakers were worried about the court case because Khan has several films in the pipeline. Film industry analysts Continue Reading