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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Committee to Study MO Public Defenders

An interim committee of the Missouri Senate will study the Missouri Public Defender System and make recommendations to the full Senate. Last year, the Missouri Bar Association funded a study finding that the public defender system in Missouri was in crisis. The report said that Missouri ranked 47th in indigent defense spending and stagnant salaries had caused a 100% attrition rate over five years. The committee is tasked with how to reduce caseloads, reviewing the eligibility requirements, reviewing personnel issues and compensation, and evaluating the organizational structure. The committee will study the Missouri system over the legislative break.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

St. Louis City Court: Bail Bond Changes

According to the St. Louis Daily Record, 22nd Judicial Circuit began placing cash bonds in defendant's names, with the funds going to court costs, fines and crime victims before they are released to the defendant. The changes were effective May 30th. Circuit Clerk Mariano Favazza said that requiring cash bonds to be in the name of the defendant comes as the Office of State Courts Administrator is recommending the court use its new bond forms. OSCA has advised the switch to the new bond forms in anticipation of recommendations from a Missouri Supreme Court committee that is studying changes to the old forms, according to St. Louis Circuit Judge Edward Sweeney. What remains undetermined is whether the individuals posting a 10 percent bond for the defendant have to meet the various income requirements to qualify as surety under Supreme Court Rule 33.

In 2005, the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, ruled that a local court rule may be enforced to deduct court costs, fines, etc. when the depositor on a cash or ten-percent bond is so notified in language contained as a condition of the bond, or who executes a receipt that spells out why a full refund may not be had. See Perry and Rust v. Aversman.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Court Employees Suspended During Embezzlement Investigation

The Springfield News Leader reports that two Springfield municipal court employees are being investigated in the disappearance of an estimated half-million dollars in fines, forfeitures and court costs. The names of the two court employees have not been released. The city plans to hire a forensic auditor to investigate the municipal court's financial records. "When you talk about embezzlement, we'll want someone to audit books and financial reports," said Prosecutor Darrell Moore. Gathering enough evidence to file charges could take weeks, and it might take two to three months.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bail Bond List Lawsuit Brews

In the fiercely competitive bail bond world, nothing draws more controversy than the bail bond list provided to inmates by jail administrators. Unlike Missouri, Arkansas has statutes detailing how the “list” is compiled. The Southwest Times Record in Fort Smith, Arkansas reports that a lawsuit has been filed after a bail bond company’s name dropped from first to third on the county list. The Arkansas law requires bail bond companies to be listed at jails “in the order in which they register with the clerk” and specifies that the order “shall not change from year to year.” The clerk said she did some research and learned that the order of the list — which she inherited from her predecessor — did not exactly reflect the order in which companies filed their licenses with the clerk’s office, so she revised it. Bob Cole Bail Bonds, who had been first on the county list since 1989, filed an injunction, stating that he was being hurt financially because of the changes. A temporary injunction was granted and the court will hear the case in a few months.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Appellant Decision on Bail Bond Case

A bail bond case was recently decided by the Missouri Southern Court of Appeals. In Jim and Colleen Laas vs. John Wright, the court upheld the bondsman’s contract which stated that the premium was fully earned when the bond was executed. The bond was a $1,000,000 appeal bond for murder. Laas wrote the bond in May for $90,000 in premium, most of which was payable in monthly installments. The Missouri Attorney General moved that the defendant's bond should be revoked, saying that under Missouri law appeal cases for murder were not eligible for bond. In July, the court revoked the bond based on the attorney general’s motion. Following the trial, the court found in favor of Laas for the unpaid premium and ordered judgment against Wright for the full amount of premium. A lien was placed against Wrights’s property, and the judgment was satisfied when the property was sold. Wright appealed, claiming that the court improperly issued an appeal bond, and that he should be refunded the premium paid. The appellant court ruled that unlike the parallel cases presented, Laas was legally licensed, was liable for the bond for the time the defendant was released, and ruled that the premium was fully earned for the time that the defendant was on bond.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Bondswomen Honored With National Award

The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO®) and Wells Fargo presented the fifth-annual NAWBO/Wells Fargo Trailblazer Awards to two women who own a bail bond business in Florida. Two of the honorees, Deborah and Sharon Jallad, were selected from a nationwide pool of applicants based on their companies' business performance, innovation, growth, and personal service to the community. They own Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, Inc., that has been the Jallad family business since 1975. After working for her father since she was 13 years old, Deborah Jallad was eventually named executive vice president and, in 1993, Deborah and her sister Sharon took over the business. Lobbying for higher bail agent standards, stricter rules governing the release of domestic violence offenders, and increased bail requirements, the company works to reduce the likelihood that criminal offenders will flee. Among a small group of women who own a privately held property and causality insurance company, Deborah and Sharon break industry stereotypes and are respected leaders in the marketplace. Since they took over the business, revenues have increased over 270 percent and the company is now licensed in all 50 states.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Joplin Globe Continues Bail Bond Investigation

The Joplin Globe has printed another report investigating Jerry Mitzner Jr., a Missouri licensed bail bond agent with a criminal record, including felony convictions. According to the Globe, Mitzner has seven convictions in Kansas ranging from aggravated robbery to indecent solicitation of a child. In Joplin, Mitzner also has been issued 41 misdemeanor and ordinance violations since 1995. He was found guilty on 24 of those charges, including harassment, obstruction, and driving while intoxicated.

Mitzner’s municipal rap sheet so alarmed Joplin Municipal Court Administrator Lawrence Myers that on Dec. 6, 2005, he wrote the insurance department to ask, “Does Mr. Mitzner meet the standards to be licensed by the State of Missouri Insurance Department as a bail bond agent?” Myers also said, “I do, however, have concerns regarding his extensive history in this court and giving sanction of such by putting him on our approved list of qualified bail bond agents.” On May 5, five months later, Stephen R. Gleason, an insurance department senior counsel, replied. “The (department) issued a bail bond agent license to Mr. Mitzner because it determined that there were no statutory grounds to deny the license,” Gleason told the Globe. Gleason referred questions to department spokesman Matt Barton. “The bottom line here is that the department as well does have some questions about whether he would be qualified, based upon those municipal infractions,” Barton said. But Mitzner’s attorney, Peter C. Edwards, said his client is well within his rights to have the license.

The Globe reports that Insurance Department spokesman Matt Barton also said that Mitzner’s felonies are too old to affect his license, but the municipal offenses may provide some statutory authority for the department to begin a review and determine if there is enough evidence to warrant a complaint to be filed with the Administrative Hearing Commission. A state law was changed in 2004, which now says that the bail bond licensees cannot have felony convictions in the last 15 years. The law was changed by Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association, who wrote and backed the legislation. Virgil “Lee” Jackson, who was an association director, wanted the law changed because of his felony convictions. The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Bob Behnen of Kirksville, who accepted campaign contributions from Jackson, Jack Allison, and the bail bond association.

The department has previously granted bail bond licenses to felons, but not general bail bond licenses to felons. The department changed that position last fall, and ordered a "crackdown" of all licensed felons, after the federal arrest of Lee Jackson. Since that time, the department has filed complaints with the AHC asking for discipline against license holders who are convicted felons. The Department of Insurance said it would be reviewing the licenses of all those currently licensed and of new applicants. The authority, the department said, comes from Missouri Supreme Court Rule 33.17, which states that felons cannot act as surety in bail bond cases. The Department of Insurance asserts that “no felons” rule applies to general licensees, and also bail bond and surety recovery agents. No ruling has been published by the Administrative Hearing Commission on the department’s recent complaints against felons with bail bond licenses. In the last Globe report, Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association president Jack Allison argued that the “no felony” rule applies only to general bail bondsmen. Allison is the general agent for Mitzner and was the general agent for Lee Jackson until his federal arrest.

The Globe obtained a copy of Mitzner’s application for licensure as a bail bond agent. The application asks, “Have you ever been convicted of or pled nolo contendere (no contest) to any misdemeanor or felony, or currently have pending misdemeanor or felony charges filed against you (misdemeanor does not mean minor traffic violations)?” Mitzner answered “no.”

See the original documents obtained by the Globe here, including Mitzner's bail bond application, letter from the local court, and Dept. of Insurance response.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Missouri Bondsmen Arraigned

Virgil "Lee" Jackson and Glen Dotson were arraigned today in US District Court in St. Louis. Both entered a plea of not guilty and were remanded to custody. Jackson is charged with using interstate commerce with the intent to commit murder and being a felon in possession of a firearm. Dotson is charged with delivery of a firearm to a felon. Jackson is represented by John "Chet" Pleban and Dotson is represented by John Lynch. No trial date has been set.

UPDATE: In an order dated 6/14/2006, Dotson has been ordered to be held without bail. The judge signed a detention order supporting his decision which states: "that there is no condition or combination of conditions that will adequately assure Defendant's appearance and the safety of the community. The government presented strong evidence in support of the charge that Defendant knowingly delivered a firearm to a known felon. Dotson, on several occasions beginning in July 2000, assisted co-Defendant Virgil Jackson in committing violent acts, including beatings, of individuals who had not complied with bail bonds issued by co-Defendant Jackson, and that Defendant fired shots at an individual who had not complied with his bail bond when that individual attempted to flee from Defendant. The government also presented uncontroverted evidence that Dotson attempted to obstruct justice in connection with the current investigation and that he approached several witnesses in a manner that caused them to be fearful."

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bail Bond Ethics

The bail system in this country has flourished since this country’s founding. In the 8th Amendment, the right to make bail is a constitutional guarantee. The courts have said, ''This traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, and serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction. . . . Unless this right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning.'' Wow! Powerful stuff!

However, on a more contemporary note, the bail system has come under scrutiny. For the last several years, the actions of few bondsmen have tarnished the reputations of us all. These bondsmen, for the most part, had pasts that indicated there may be a problem. Yet, they found jobs around the state with companies who either knew of a problem, or should have known. The bail industry can recover from this impression only if we commit ourselves to improving the character of the industry.

In my opinion, conscientious self-regulation and common sense are the keys to a successful bail industry. There are many ways we can self-regulate the business. There are inexpensive and even free sources to check the backgrounds of our clients. Why not check the backgrounds of prospective agents before hiring them? If a prospective agent has convictions of a violent nature, consider that he/she may also become violent in the business. If an agent has a history of drug problems, consider the temptation of doing business with known drug offenders. If an agent owes outstanding premium to another bail company, consider that you may also have trouble collecting premium from this person. If an agent has a history of outstanding civil judgments, bear in mind that this person may have trouble handling your money.

Part of the dishonesty and acrimony that I find troubling in the current market seems driven by greed. The industry has always been intensely competitive, but we have traded our moral standards for cash. I have heard a lot of testimony before the Missouri General Assembly asserting that bail bond agents are quasi-judicial, meaning “semi-officers of the court.” If bail bond agents believe themselves to be officers of the court, they must accept a greater obligation to pursue professional conduct. The industry generally resists efforts to address its problems or to acknowledge public accountability and professional ethics. A true commitment to professionalism will require self-imposed, demanding standards.

I’m not an idealist who thinks we can create the perfect bail bond utopia. There will always be bad bondsmen, just like there will always be bad preachers, dirty police and bad teachers. But we doom ourselves to failure, when we do not hold ourselves to a higher standard. If we continue on this path we will no doubt see more 10% bonds, more O.R. bonds, more summonses and less surety. The choice is ours.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Globe Investigates Bondsman With Criminal History

Another Missouri bondsman has come under scrutiny by the press. The Joplin Globe reports that Jerry Mitzner Jr., a Missouri licensed agent, had an outstanding Missouri warrant and is a convicted felon from Kansas. Mitzner served time in Kansas for two counts of aggravated robbery, aggravated burglary, felony theft, and absconding and violating parole. He was wanted in Jasper County for filing a false police report. Mitzner is licensed under Jack Allison, president of Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association and also licensed under Linda Parker, who serves as the association’s district director. Parker also works for Allison.

The Globe reports that the Missouri Department of Insurance, which licenses bail bondsmen, acknowledged that there’s been a problem with screening applicants. Not only is licensing felons illegal, according to Matt Barton-department spokesman, but it gives ex-cons powers that even the police don’t have. Barton also said if there were sufficient questions about Mitzner’s background, a complaint could be filed and he would be given an administrative hearing to determine whether his license should be pulled. Barton also said that the department simply cannot revoke a license, but must file a complaint that is eventually heard by an administrative judge.

Allison told Joplin Globe the state is wrong about felons being bond agents. He said he knows several who had felony convictions in their backgrounds, that they had paid for their mistakes, and that it was all perfectly legal. “Right now, you can have a felony conviction if you’re a bond agent,” he said. Allison did not seem to advocate felons in the business last fall when he was interviewed by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "We don't need that type of people in this business," he said when interviewed after his former agent (convicted felon Virgil Lee Jackson) was arrested for the murder plot against bail bond competitor Jerry Cox. Allison told the Globe that he did not know about Mitzner’s past. When interviewed by the STL-PD, Allison also denied knowing about Jackson’s lengthy criminal history. “"He told me it was a burglary. I was assuming it was way back, like when he was 17 or 18 years old. A lot of things happen to kids, and people grow up,” Allison said.

Parker seemed to be in disbelief about her agent’s criminal past. “He could never have gotten his license from the state if he has a criminal background,” Parker told the Globe.

Legislation failed this session that would given the Department of Insurance more authority to act on licenses. The MPBBA opposed language removing all felons from the bail bond business. Discussion posted in my archives.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Jackson Trial Postponed

Virgil "Lee" Jackson's trial has been postponed. The trial was scheduled to begin next Monday. The US Attorney's office originally charged Jackson with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Last week, the US additionally charged Jackson with using interstate commerce with the intent to commit murder for pecuniary gain. No new date has been set.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Hearing Scheduled for Convicted Bondsman

The Administrative Hearing Commission will hear a complaint against bondsman James Cox on June 19th at 1:00 pm. Cox, formerly a police officer, pled guilty in 2004 on federal charges for conspiracy to violate civil rights. According to the US Attorney’s press release, Cox accepted cash to arrange an arrest on a false charge and planted drug evidence. Cox writes bonds for his father, Gerald Cox of St. Charles. The Missouri Department of Insurance filed a complaint with the AHC asking to discipline Cox’s bail bond license because of the felony convictions. An interesting account and details of Cox's arrest and conviction can be found at the Crime Scene KC blog.

Two other hearings were held in May for bondsmen convicted of felonies. The AHC has not ruled on those cases.

Next month the AHC will hear the complaint against Virgil Lee Jackson. Jackson, also a convicted felon, stands accused of conspiring to murder Gerald Cox.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Missouri Bail Bond Association Dissolved

According to the Missouri Secretary of State, the Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association, Inc., has been dissolved. Notification was sent to MPBBA in March notifying them of failing to file the required annual reports. As of May 31 the Secretary of State's office notified MPBBA that they "may not carry on any business except that necessary to wind up and liquidate its business and affairs."

According to the last reports filed by MPBBA, the primary address for the association is Virgil Lee Jackson's office. Jackson has been in federal custody since last fall, after he was arrested in the plot to murder competitor Gerald Cox. The filings show Jackson as the only listed board member, while his brother, Bill Jackson, serves as treasurer.

MPBBA has been very active in recent years in state legislative process. Jackson and the association passed legislation in 2004 which inserted a clause allowing convicted felons to be licensed if the felonies had not been committed within the past 15 years.

After Jackson's arrest, MPBBA removed his membership data from their website, but did not amend their corporate filings with the Secretary of State.

Glen Dotson, who was arrested in the murder plot last week, is also an association member.

Friday, June 2, 2006

Another Bondsman Arrested in Murder Plot

Glen Dotson, a Missouri licensed bail bond agent, was arrested yesterday on federal charges for participating in the plot to murder rival bondsman, Jerry Cox. A grand jury was convened in May and indictments followed. The federal indictment charges Dotson with acquiring and delivering a revolver to Virgil “Lee” Jackson (also a licensed bail bond agent) to be used in the assassination of Cox. Jackson was arrested last fall and has been in federal custody after being charged with possession of a firearm by a felon. The new indictment additionally charges Jackson with using interstate commerce with the intent to murder Cox for pecuniary gain. The indictment alleges Jackson would gain “additional bail bond business in Missouri.” The US attorney moved that both Dotson and Jackson be held without bond.

Glen Dotson is licensed under George Dodge of Columbia, MO. Virgil Lee Jackson, until his arrest, was licensed under Jack Allison of Mexico, MO. Although Jackson has been in custody since October of 2005, he retains a bail bond license now under James Darby of Troy, MO. All are members of the Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association. Allison is currently president and Dodge is an area director of the association. Virgil Jackson was a board member until his arrest.

A hearing is scheduled next month with the Missouri Administrative Hearing Commission. The Missouri Department of Insurance has filed a complaint against Jackson seeking discipline against his license.

See archives for more information on the murder for hire plot and AHC decisions.