Bail amounts aren’t what they seem | – Opinion

After the 2009 murders of four police officers in Lakewood, Pierce County, a bail task force was assembled to look at Washington bail practices and:

A. try and figure out what went wrong that allowed the killer out of jail in the first place, and

B. fix it.

I was the representative of our state’s 39 elected prosecuting attorneys.

Most people on that task force thought they knew what “bail” meant, in the context of crimes, criminals and jail. After the murders, however, even some who have worked in criminal justice for decades were shocked to find out how wrong they were.

We discovered that how much money it takes to get someone out of jail is as much or as little as a bonding company will accept. We learned that some are willing to accept very little, or even nothing paid up front at all. The public is being put at risk by these decisions, which should be made by judges, not businesses.

The task force met several times, and included many thoughtful, experienced and knowledgeable people. Legislators, judges, cops, defense attorneys, victim advocates and the bail bonding industry were all represented.

In our first meeting, we identified a disturbing and curable flaw: that bonding companies, not judges, were in control.

I am writing today to tell you that currently, it appears the Legislature may do nothing to fix it. I am frustrated by that, and I think you should be, too.

When a judge sets bail at, say, $50,000, an almost universal belief was that to get out of jail, the person being held would have to give a bonding company at least 10 percent, or $5,000, up front. The bonding company would then post a bond for the whole amount and the suspect could be released. We all learned that this was a myth.

The Lakewood killer had been in jail on $190,000 bail, but was released having paid only around $3,000. (Ten percent would have been $19,000.) His family simply shopped around to different bonding companies and got the best deal they could. Public safety for sale to the lowest bidder. No episode of “Myth-busters” affects your safety like this busted myth. Perhaps this is one reason the state of Oregon eliminated bail bonding altogether, and now only accepts cash bail.

As a prosecutor for 25 years, I have attended thousands of bail hearings, and left them thinking I knew how much money it was going to take to get the guy out. Victims have walked out of court feeling either safe or not because they believed they knew, too. Judges set bail thinking they “knew” it would take at least 10 percent down for a defendant to be released.

We were wrong, and we know that now. The only remaining question is: Will the Legislature do anything about it? It doesn’t have to be 10 percent, but it has to be some certain, defined amount.

After the task force concluded its work, a bail bill was proposed in the Senate that in my opinion was akin to rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic, while continuing on course for the iceberg. That bill deliberately ignored the central issue of certainty, and of defining bail. I spoke with local legislators like Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), and he helped kill that flawed bill. As prosecutors we committed to working toward a bill this year that actually takes on the elephant in the room, and puts “truth in bail.”

We met with representatives of Washington’s bail industry and crafted a compromise. We agreed that everyone, including you, deserves to know exactly what a defendant will have to come up with, up front, to get out of jail. No guesswork. While a bonding company can rightfully decide what total premium to ultimately charge, the down payment, the amount it is going to take for the person to be released, has got to be known.

We compromised on 5 percent. That way, no matter what side deal is made with the bonding company, everyone will know the least amount a defendant must pay before they get out. Judges can set bail accordingly, and with confidence.

It surprised me and may surprise you that there are powerful lobbying forces and out-of-state bonding companies who do not agree with this. The Judiciary Committee and full Legislature need to resist those forces. They will listen to you. Please ask your senator or representative to push for truth and certainty in bail, because you, we, everyone deserves to know the truth.

via Bail amounts aren’t what they seem | – Opinion.

Mike Whitlock: Has it been 30 years?

On the drive into work today it occurred to me last month marked my thirtieth year in bail. The ink was barely dry on my diploma from Plano Senior High School in December 1981 when I took a job as a runner for Guaranty Bail Bonds in downtown Dallas. While I’m a second generation bondsman, my first job was not working for my father, Jack Whitlock (though I would eventually work for him for more than 20 years), but my older brother who actually got me a job as a runner. My brother got out of the business and while I didn’t know it at the time, bail became my career choice.

The life of a bond runner is far from glamorous. It’s a hard job, you’re effectively a gofer.   Go post this bond, go wait for the defendant to be released, take an application, call the client with his court date, etc. I went through more than one set of tires on my ’78 Nova, running bonds to jails all over Dallas County. Only bondsmen and law enforcement can recognize the particular fragrance defendants can acquire after a night in jail. Aside from that, most clients were glad to see me, as I was their savior of the moment. Most were good people going through a bad experience.

I also recall working the graveyard shift, when downtown Dallas was asleep and eerily quiet. Parking was not a problem that time of night and if I paced myself, I could make every green light on Commerce Street as I returned from posting a bond at the county jail. Still the nights were endless and unforgiving.

I worked for three bonding companies before going to work for Texas Fire & Casualty as a bottom rung claims processor. It was at TF&C, and a year later at Allied Fidelity, I first started working with the likes of Don Floyd (GA), Marvin Byron (CA), Bud Goldberg (MN), Carl Guillory (LA) and Linda Braswell (FL), the current president of PBUS. Good people all.

I learned a tremendous amount during my first five years in bail which helped me through the subsequent twenty-five and today. It’s when I began working with bail agents in nearly every state in the country I really began seeing the big picture of what commercial bail means to the criminal justice system and the forces who work to eliminate our profession. The few years I spent in retail has helped me relate to the bail agents I’ve contracted through the years.

Bail has become my passion.  Working in this profession has allowed me to provide for my family.   I’ve been truly blessed to work with my father for more than twenty years and have partners like Bill Carmichael and P.J. Longstreth and work with a great staff of experienced good people. The bail agents I work with everyday are hard working decent people trying to make a difference and my wife Marcia and our kids who have been tolerant of my odd work hours and extended travel schedule. It’s been a good ride so far and I’m looking forward to many more years working in this noble profession. Happy New Year!

via Commercial Bail | American Surety Company – The Bail Insurance Company.

Fraud conviction reported (again)

The Star-Advertiser reported today on Big Island resident Eric Lighter’s conviction on federal wire fraud and related charges. It’s a “premium” story, meaning you can’t read it without a subscription. You would think that means the story has some special value.

Problem #1: He was convicted on December 20, almost two weeks ago, making it rather old news.

Problem #2: The Star-Advertiser already reported an AP version of the same story it the “breaking news” section on December 22.

Problem #3: The Star-Advertiser’s December 22 and January 2 stories both appear to be based on the same government press release without additional reporting.

Problem #4: You wouldn’t know, from the S-A story, that the Star-Bulletin archives contain some detailed reporting on earlier cases of fraud involving Lighter.

Admittedly, I’ve got a personal interest here because I recognized long ago that Lighter was a world-class con artist and his schemes worth reporting on.

So even though it’s a legal holiday, and the end of a long holiday weekend, I still hope to get more than rewritten press releases from our daily newspaper.

But it is what it is.

via Fraud conviction reported (again).