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Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Open Letter-Joining Together as an Industry

The following is guest commentary submitted by General Agent Ben Hilton of Lebanon, MO.

This letter is my thoughts and beliefs alone; I do not speak for any bond association.

I am writing this to further the warning to the Bail Industry that the opponents to the bail system are increasing their agenda. I truly hope to get the General Agents attention and encourage each and every one of them to get involved in an effort to protect their lively hoods. Personally, I tend to get a little aggravated with the weaknesses of the bail bondsman industry in Missouri.

The Professional Surety Industry as a whole cannot support itself with the bonds that are available currently. The Courts are basically taking advantage of us. They need us and yet do not want us! They are abusing the Bail System; the Surety Bonds presently written today are the cases that have caused problems to the Courts in the past.

We are writing only an estimated one third of the bonds that we were posting a few years ago and our agent numbers have doubled. You don’t have to be Albert Einstein to do the math.

Part of the reasoning for the intentional abuse is due to the 2004 law, it upset the Judges, but they have some guilt in this. It was due to their own inconsistency in court procedures concerning bondsman, and they failed to listen to the Bondsman’s pleas. A very small group, based out of St. Louis, supported and helped pass the 2004 legislation, in the long run, it hurt us all.

Because of that law, the Courts will not give us the support that we need to survive….. maybe it is time to contact them and call a truce of some kind. Let’s show them more respect than we gave them in 2004.

Fewer Professional Surety Bonds are posted today, they were replaced with “Release of their own Recognizance”, “cash only”, “10% to the court Bonds”. These methods of pretrial release experience an extremely high rate of failing to appear in Court.

The Courts are aware of their own statistics, and they are knowingly allowing a large percentage of defendants free without proper assurances to guarantee their reappearance in Court. When a Judge sets a 10% to the court bond, they are deceiving the public. The public falsely believes the defendant is posting a bond ten times larger than the actual amount reported to the community.

It is generally understood that professional bondsman maintain a success rate for their clients appearing in court of at least 98%, and a past study by the F.B.I. reported that Bail Agents apprehended over 70% of all fugitives in the U.S.A.

The Courts in effect, are allowing thousands of open cases to remain in “failure to appear” status, some for years. Needless to say, the Prosecution is postponed while the cases are allowed to deteriorate. Worse, the victims are forced to wait for their own personal closure, and the public is again misled, this time, as to the amount of open cases the court truly has.

Why does it appear that the Courts are seemingly protecting the defendants of a criminal case, over society’s wishes? Using their own numbers, when the Court accepts bail bonds other than a Professional Surety bond, they are already aware that a strong percentage will not come back to court on their own accord.

The Courts should be required to return to utilizing the Professional Surety Pre-Trial release system; it enables the industry to be self supporting, saving the taxpayers millions of dollars. The small misdemeanor bonds had provided a major part of the funding needed to sustain this system, now the public is getting hit with unnecessary expenses. Missouri Law Enforcement Agencies cannot afford Warrant and Fugitive Bureaus to combat this problem.

When the Court accepts a 10% of a bond, they accept the bond from any person who wants to pay the fee and assume the role as surety. They can be a convicted felon, a government employee, a law enforcement officer, an elected official or a bankrupt individual. They can be the defendant’s attorney, who in turn files an assignment on the cash posted for their benefit. (Note this interesting statue: Nothing in sections 374.695 to 374.775 shall be construed to prohibit any person from posting or otherwise providing a bail bond in connection with any legal proceeding, provided that such person receives no fee, remuneration or consideration therefor.) Does this law prevent attorneys from filing an assignment on monies deposited with the court?

Are these bonds ever set to judgment? If so, who is responsible to pay the School System the forfeited funds?

The question is “who and what is the Surety”?
· The defendant?
· Is it the person paying the money and signing the paperwork to indemnify the full amount to the Court?
· Should the Court itself assume the responsibility, for ignoring State Law and accepting bonds from unqualified and unlicensed bondsman?

By what standards do the Courts use to qualify individuals to be able to post 10% to the Court Bonds, by State Statue, there are restrictions being ignored by the Courts. For example;
· 374.702. No person shall engage in the bail bond business as a bail bond agent or a general bail bond agent without being licensed as provided in sections 374.695 to 374.775.
· No judge, attorney, court official, law enforcement officer, state, county, or municipal employee who is either elected or appointed shall be licensed as a bail bond agent or a general bail bond agent.
· Any person who is convicted of a violation of this section is guilty of a class A misdemeanor. For any subsequent convictions, a person who is convicted of a violation of this section is guilty of a class D felony.
· 374.710. 1. Except as otherwise provided in sections 374.695 to 374.775, no person or other entity shall practice as a bail bond agent or general bail bond agent, as defined in section 374.700, in Missouri unless and until the department has issued to him or her a license, to be renewed every two years as hereinafter provided, to practice as a bail bond agent or general bail bond agent.

Just how long will these types of bonds continue? Maybe, the Industry should attempt to get an official Opinion from the Missouri Attorney General!

My personal request to the Department of Insurance’s appointed Committee is the same as I recently wrote, please don’t try to make cleaning up the Bail Industry the priority, please help put surety bonds back on our plate, then together we can fix the problems. The precedence should be;
1. Pass a law allowing Surety Bonds posted will act the same a Cash Bond.
2. Slow down or stop 10% to the Court Bonds.
3. All General Agents should qualify their assets to the Courts, stop the Ten Thousand dollar General, then a lot of the Bail Agents who are causing problems will follow them.

Everyone should agree that General Agents are totally responsible for the professional bail industry in Missouri therefore they should be answerable for the defense of the bail bond profession in Missouri.

Bail agents are an intricate and necessary element of the bail industry, but because of the wasted efforts and great expense in the past to organize them into a unified voice, via a professional bondsman organization, I personally have concluded that the following;

A single Bondsman Association in Missouri is the only answer to save the Industry. We must unify the agents together and become a recognized voice for the industry. The General Agents need to form an Association of General Bail Agents with the bail agents as a sub-group.

If we do not join together now, the professional bail industry in Missouri is over as we know it.

Ben Hilton, GBA
P.O. Box 1857
291 N. Adams Street
Lebanon, MO 65536