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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Newspaper Headline: Bondsmen Key Component of Criminal Justice System

The Culpepper Citizen, a Virginia newspaper, printed a very positive “day in the life” style report of a local bondsman. Featured is 10-year veteran bondsman, Ronnie Lee. The article also quotes a local judge who describes the criteria for setting bail and was quoted as saying, “If we didn't have a bonding system that worked in a reasonable capacity, everybody would be in jail." The county district attorney called bondsmen “the pressure relief valve that keeps our system together."

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Class Action Suit Against Use of Bail Schedules

A federal lawsuit filed against Wilson County, TN alleges that the bail-setting process in Wilson County is unfair and unconstitutional. The suit was granted class-action status last week by a federal judge. That could open the door for an untold number of former Wilson jail inmates to claim they were wronged and possibly seek monetary damages from the county. Stephanie Staley, who filed the suit, said she was treated unfairly because certain factors — such as her having a steady job, her ties to the community, that it was a minor offense — weren't considered when setting her bail. State law says those have to be taken into account as part of the constitutional prohibition against setting "excessive" bail. The Eighth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution also forbids "excessive bail." Tennessee law also says certain factors must be taken into account in setting bail, including the defendant's criminal history, the likelihood that he will flee, his standing in the community, the severity of the crime and the danger he poses to society if freed.

At issue is whether Wilson County uses some form of predetermined bail schedule without factoring the individual risks associated with the defendant. The report says several of county judicial commissioners have said in sworn depositions they automatically apply some version of an unofficial bail schedule where specific sums are assigned to specific offenses. "Bail schedules were deemed unlawful in Tennessee because they prohibit the consideration of the factors laid out by state law," said Tom Nelson, the presiding judicial commissioner in Davidson County. Source:

This could open the door to litigation in other states that use pre-set bail schedules. Click the link to view the Missouri statutes pertaining to the setting of conditions and amount of bail.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

3 Courts Scheduled to Join Casenet

The Springfield News Leader reports that several courts are scheduled to be converted to the Missouri’s judicial database, Casenet. The 25th Judicial Circuit (Phelps, Maries, Pulaski, and Texas counties) is scheduled to be converted by this winter. The 21st Circuit in St. Louis County and the 31st Circuit in Greene County will then follow.

Bail News Around the Nation

LA Bondsman Testifies in Child Porn Case
KATC TV-LAFAYETTE, La. -- A federal jury convicted Jeffrey Johnson of Deridder, LA of child pornography said U.S. Attorney Donald W. Washington. Johnson faces a maximum 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a life term of supervised release. His bondsman testified that Johnson gave him a computer as payment of a debt. The bondsman's wife later found hard-core child pornography on the computer and contacted the Beauregard Parish Sheriff's Office. Deputies searched Johnson's home and found another computer and compact discs which contained hundreds of images of child pornography and similar printed images inside a black binder that was discovered under his bed, authorities said.

CA-Bail Companies Victim of Credit Card Scam
Victorville Daily Press-An inmate at San Bernadino County, CA, with the help of those on the outside, has bilked thousands of dollars in bail premium from bail bond companies and families of defendants.

In a con game lasting over five months, Erik Reuhle would contact new arrivals and chat them up regarding their arresting charges and bail amount. "He would tell them he had a rich uncle who believes in giving people second chances," deputy John Walsh said. "He would tell them to contact their family and to send them to their local bail bonds company and to fill out the paperwork. After that, a relative would call the business and take care of the rest,” said Walsch.

The family would have to provide the "relative" with some collateral. Walsh said cars and cash were the most common forms of payment. Then the "relative" called the bail bond company with a credit card number, which came back declined. When the card did not go through, the "relative" pleaded that it was a mistake and that he would call back once it was straightened out. Rather than the "relative" calling back, however, the bail bond company would receive a call from an individual claiming to be from Visa/Mastercard Merchant Services, instructing the clerk how to manually override the decline and force the transaction.

What the family and the bail bondsmen didn't know was that the "relative" and credit card official were one and the same, another con artist. Ultimately, the accomplices walked away with the collateral and left the bail bond company without legitimate credit card payment. According to the district attorney, the monetary impact to the county in fraudulent bonds could be into the millions.

AR-Bondsmen Charged in Lonoke Police Corruption Case
KATV-Lonoke, AR-Revised charges were filed against those accused in the scandal surrounding the Lonoke, AR Police Department just two days before a pre-scheduled court date. Together the defendants now face 78 charges. Charges have been filed against the police chief, his wife, a jailer, the mayor and two bondsmen.

One of the bondsmen, Bobby Cox Jr., is charged with four felonies including manufacturing meth and intimidation of a witness/juror. The other, Larry Norward, is charged with two counts of conspiracy to manufacture meth.

The former Chief, Jay Campbell, is charged with thirty-four felonies including multiple drug charges and theft of property charges, hindering prosecution, theft of services, and 8 counts of residential burglary. His wife Kelly Campbell also faces thirty-four felonies. She too, faces multiple drug charges, twelve counts of residential burglary and assisting with an inmate's escape.

Former Lonoke City Jail Dispatcher Amy Staley faces two felonies one of those charges is 3rd degree sexual assault of an inmate. Mayor Thomas Privett is the only defendant who is not charged with any felonies. He is, however, facing a misdemeanor charge of theft of services.

CA-Two Arrested for Writing Bail Without a License
The Insurance Journal reports that following a 10-month investigation by the California Department of Insurance's (CDI) Investigation Division, two Riverside, CA residents have been arrested. Kent Morgan of Murrieta, and owner of Rancho Bail Bonds, surrendered to authorities on August 14 after being charged with 40 felony counts by the Riverside County District Attorney's office. The charges include grand theft and permitting an unlicensed person to transact bail. Morgan was released on $100,000 bond. If convicted, he could face probation or up to 29 years in prison. Kenneth Kaesser of Chula Vista, surrendered on August 16 and was also released on $100,000 bond. He was charged with 20 felony counts including transacting bail without a license and perjury. He will be arraigned on August 22 in the Southwest Justice Center in Murrieta. If convicted, he could face probation or up to 15 years in prison.

In 2005, the CDI Investigation Division received an anonymous tip that alleged an unlicensed individual was soliciting and transacting bail at the Rancho Bail Bonds office in Lake Elsinore. The investigation revealed that between 2003 and 2005, while employed by Rancho Bail Bonds and under instruction by Morgan, Kaesser wrote hundreds of bonds worth at least $2,165,242 in bail contracts.

CA-Guest Editorial on Bail Financing
Examiner-San Francisco, CA –This is an editorial about the death of a police officer in San Francisco, who was killed following a police chase with defendant Steven Petrilli. It was previously covered here. The editorialist questions why Petrilli was released after being charged with 18 felonies and 11 misdemeanors over a 6 month period. The writer faults the judge for allowing him to post over $175,000 dollars in bonds and the bonding company who allegedly financed 100% of his bonds. The writer, Gary Delagnes, president of the Police Officers Association of San Francisco, states, “To add insult to injury, Petrilli was financing 100 percent of four different bails because of a new practice by some bail bondsman who no longer require an arrestee to post 10 percent of the bail up front.”

Monday, August 21, 2006

Court Announces Dress Code

Circuit Judge Benjamin Lewis recently informed lawyers in the 32nd Judicial Circuit which includes Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties, that a new rule on courtroom decorum and dress will be strictly enforced. The rule, passed by the six judges in the circuit, states that attorneys should wear "appropriate professional attire" when in court, including a coat and tie for men. Professional attire is necessary from both lawyers and judges to help keep order in and respectability of the court, Lewis said. The rule also said lawyers should advise their clients of court formalities and proper attire. Defendants are not required to wear a suit and tie, but should be covered up and should not wear shorts or shirts with vulgar language.

Since the attorneys needed a reminder of proper courtroom attire, it follows that bail bond companies and their agents should also be aware of proper dress and conduct in our local courts.

Link Southeast Missourian

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Appellant Court Rules Against Bonding Company

An appellant ruling regarding when a surety is released from a bond was handed down this week by the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District. The case, State of Missouri v. Mark Anthony Wilson, L&C Investment Group d/b/a Bada Bing Bail Bonds, determined that a surety is not released from a bond when a stay of execution is granted. The defendant, Wilson, pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and was sentenced to nine years in the MO Department of Corrections. As part of the plea agreement, Wilson was granted a one-month stay of execution on the sentence. L&C was not present at the plea hearing. Wilson failed to appear to begin serving his sentence. A bond forfeiture hearing was later held and the defendant was not produced. Five months after failing to submit to the sentencing order, the court ordered judgment against the bonding company. L&C appealed a $100,000 judgment in Buchanan County, citing that their obligation under the terms of the bond agreement ended when Wilson was present for sentencing on September 13, 2004, and that it had no further obligation to secure his appearance at the law enforcement center after execution of sentence was delayed. The appellant court ruled against the bonding company stating, “The terms of the original bond agreement required Wilson to ‘submit to any orders, judgments and sentence of this court or any court hearing this case.’ We find that L&C had a continuing obligation to keep track of the defendant and assure the defendant's appearance and compliance with court orders to appear to begin serving his sentence. Had L&C kept itself informed of Wilson's case, and did not want to be obligated for Wilson's release upon the stay of execution of his sentence, L&C could have surrendered Wilson to the custody of law enforcement.”

Douglas Cheatham of Blue Springs, MO is the president of L&C Investment Group, Inc.

Mo. Supreme Court Rule Changes

In an order dated May 30, 2006, the Missouri Supreme Court amended the individual qualifications for bondsmen in Missouri to be consistent with the “Lee Clause” passed by the Missouri Legislature in 2004. Effective January 1, 2007, Supreme Court Rule 33.17(c) will read:

"A person shall not be accepted as a surety on any bail bond unless the person:

(c) Has not, within the past 15 years, been found guilty of or pleaded guilty or nolo contendere to:
(1) Any felony of this state, any other state, or the United States; or
(2) Any other crime of this state, any other state, or the United States involving moral turpitude,
whether or not a sentence was imposed;"

The current rule reads:

"(c) Has not been convicted of any felony under the laws of any state or of the United States;"

The bail bond statutes were amended in 2004 (SB1122, sponsored by Rep. Bob Behnen) to allow bondsmen with felony convictions to possess a bail bond license. The previous language stated that a license could be suspended, revoked, or denied for having entered a plea of guilty or been found guilty of a felony. Additionally, the Administrative Hearing Commission had ruled in the Joyce decisions that convicted felons could not possess a general bail bond license. Virgil Lee Jackson, a convicted felon, wanted the law changed so that he would be eligible for a general license. The MPBBA (under the leadership of association president Jack Allison, board member Jackson, and others) backed legislation that changed the language to: "Final adjudication or a plea of guilty or nolo contendere within the past fifteen years in a criminal prosecution under any state or federal law for a felony or a crime involving moral turpitude whether or not a sentence is imposed, prior to issuance of license date..." Jackson, Allison, the bail association, and some of its members made campaign contributions to Rep. Behnen who had sponsored the legislation changing the felony provision.

Shortly after the law went into effect, Virgil Lee Jackson applied for a general bail bond license. Although Jackson is a convicted felon, his felony convictions were outside the 15-year window created by the new law which he and the bail bond association passed. The MO Department of Insurance (MDI) denied his application in September 2005, citing in a news release: "The department refused to issue Jackson a general bail bond agent license after he submitted documents to courts for the purpose of acting as a surety under the name of a surety company that did not hold a certificate of authority to do business in the state." One month later, Jackson was arrested by federal authorities for being a felon in possession of a firearm and was later charged with using interstate commerce with the intent to murder for pecuniary gain. Court documents allege that Jackson wanted to murder competitor Jerry Cox because he thought Cox had alerted authorities that his surety was fraudulent, presumably causing his general agent license to be denied.

Jackson is awaiting trial on the federal charges. The MDI filed a complaint against his bail bond license; it is scheduled to be heard in October.

Link to post at Columbia Daily Tribune Politics Blog

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

MO Bail Bond Association Reinstated

The Missouri Professional Bail Bond Association, Inc., (MPBBA) has had their corporate registration reinstated by Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan. MPBBA was administratively dissolved on May 31st by the secretary of state’s office for failing to maintain a corporate office/agent and for failing to fail the required annual report. The charter was reinstated last week after MPBBA re-established a corporate agent/address and filed the appropriate paperwork. MPBBA’s corporate offices were formerly located at Virgil Lee Jackson’s business office. Jackson has been in federal custody since last October after being arrested for conspiracy to commit murder. At the time of his arrest Jackson worked for MPBBA president, Jack Allison of Mexico, MO. Jackson now maintains his bail bond license under James Darby of Troy, MO. MPBBA’s new corporate offices are located in the bail bond office of Gary Darby of Warrenton, MO. Gary Darby works for both his son, James Darby, and Allison.

Bail Source Hearings Tested-Update

Two state courts have scheduled bail source hearings, also called Nebbia hearings, to determine if the cash used to make bond is legitimate. In both cases, the courts will rule on this provision for the first time.

In New Jersey, the Trentonian reports that a Superior Court judge in Mercer County has scheduled a hearing on August 14th that will require Bernard Green, also known as "Petey Black," to divulge the source of the money posted toward his $750,000 bail. Prosecutors say Green is a high-ranking gang leader who stalked a rival gang member’s silver Dodge Durango. Green shot into the SUV, injuring an occupant, and a stray bullet killed a by-stander two blocks away. “Hypothetically, how does a person without a job, who doesn’t own a house or a car, put up $50,000 cash?" said Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer. "It certainly is the responsible thing, and the reasonable thing, to look at the source of that money."

The New Jersey Legislature passed a law three years ago opening the door for bail source hearings. Green’s lawyer, Robin Lord, argues that while the Legislature may have opened the door for such hearings, they are unconstitutional under New Jersey law. She maintains it switches the burden of proof from the state to the defendant, and could open the door to self-incrimination. "The sole purpose of bail is to assure that a person appears in court," Lord said. "Preventative detention, meaning to prevent that person from going out and committing another crime, is an illegal consideration."

UPDATE: The Trenton, New Jersey bail source hearing has been cancelled. The Trentonian reports today that the hearing was cancelled after one of the financial backers of the bail bond for Green withdrew his/her support. The hearing, scheduled for yesterday, would have allowed prosecutors to question all of those contributing money for Green's bond.

In Arizona, reports that a Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled this week that one million dollars delivered to a bondsman to make bond for Armando Gamboa Molina was probably obtained through illegal means, and he refused to release the defendant. A second judge then allowed the money to be seized by the Arizona Attorney General's Office. Molina is charged with two counts of possession of narcotics for sale, conspiracy, racketeering, money laundering and misconduct with weapons. According to Molina's defense attorney, Herman Alcantar, the defendant's father claimed he sold valuable property he owned in Mexico and then converted the currency at a currency exchange, in Mexico. Molina’s family did not claim the money as they crossed the border and there is no record of how the money got from Mexico to Arizona. It was the first time state prosecutors have used the Nebbia hearing in Arizona.

Sunday, August 6, 2006

Bail Financing Back in the News

The practice of credit bonding is back in the news. Channel 7 in San Francisco has covered the story several times this year. (See links to previous stories on their site.) The most recent story involves a defendant free on $175,000 in bonds. According to ABC7 News, the defendant’s bonds were financed on payments through his bonding company. A police officer was killed when the defendant, Steven Petrilli, allegedly lost control of his vehicle in a chase after fleeing from a robbery scene. ABC7 previously covered a death resulting when a person free on financed bail collided with another motorist. Clearly from the ABC7 coverage, the reporter opposes bail financing.

After earlier press coverage, the California legislature considered a bill, AB-2368, which would prohibit the practice of credit bonding in California. The bill was defeated in committee. Link here for committee analysis of the bill as well as proponent and opponent testimony. See my previous posts concerning press coverage on bail financing in California and Arkansas.

Friday, August 4, 2006

Federal Lawsuit Against Bondsman Dismissed

The Mobile Register reports that a federal judge in Mobile, AL has dismissed a lawsuit against a bail bondsman accused of causing the death of a jail inmate in 2003, ruling that the dead man's father did not meet the legal standard for bringing the suit. U.S. District Judge William Steele's order comes about three weeks after he ruled in favor of former Mobile County Sheriff Jack Tillman and the county in the death of James Ellis "Jamie" Weaver. The judge's ruling allows Weaver's father, Louis Weaver, to pursue claims of assault and wrongful death against James Bonding Co. in state court. Steele noted in his order, however, that the statute of limitations has expired. Any unfairness is mitigated by the fact that Weaver waited until two days before the time limit on lawsuits to file his action in the federal court, and by the weakness of his case against the bonding company, Steele wrote.

Louis Weaver sued last year, claiming Mobile County Metro Jail staffers and the bonding company violated the inmate's constitutional rights. Jamie Weaver, 31, died following surgery in August 2003, a week after staffers took him to the hospital. His trip to the hospital came five days after bounty hunters from James Bonding Co. delivered him to the jail on a bail-jumping charge.

Steele ruled that James Bonding Co. could not be sued in federal court for violating Weaver's constitutional rights unless it could be shown that it was acting on the "color of law," or that its activities were intertwined with the government in a "symbiotic relationship." The plaintiff failed both tests, he ruled. "After James Bonding obtained bondsman's process from the state court, there was no state involvement of any kind in James Bonding's ongoing efforts to arrest Weaver," the order states. "There is no evidence that James Bonding coordinated its two-month search for Weaver with law enforcement agencies. ... these facts unambiguously establish that James Bonding was performing a private function arising out of its contract with Weaver, and that it acted completely independently and in its own financial self-interest to carry out that function."