By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
What started as
a shadowy debate issue in this year’s hotly contested Dade County sheriff’s
race, then escalated into an examination of the way rural sheriff’s departments
do business with their jail bail bondsmen, has been settled – at least for the
outgoing administration, said Dade County Executive and Commission Chairman Ted
“No later than
the end of next week, the Friday, supposedly all the bonding companies will be
paid up,” said Rumley last week after a meeting with Dade’s current Sheriff
Patrick Cannon, now serving out the last few days of his term, and County
Attorney Robin Rogers. “Robin’s handling it right now. He’s got this process
that the judge has got to sign off on, you know, and agree with all the amounts
they’ve got, which they’ve already looked at them. So when the bonding
companies start with the new sheriff, there’s supposed to be zero owed.”
Ray Cross, who
defeated Cannon in this summer’s Republican primary, then Democratic contender
Philip in the November general election, takes office at midnight on Dec. 31.
Stacks of FIFA
(short for Latin legal term fieri facias) liens at the Dade County Courthouse
show unpaid bond forfeitures dating from as far back as 2005 for over $313,000
amassed by Gary’s Bail Bonding and Dade County Bail Bonding, two bonding
companies that still do business with the county, as well as by Brock Bonding,
an earlier company associated with Gary’s.
But Rumley says
that after much examination of the records, Robin Rogers and the sheriff have
determined the amount the three companies actually owe the county to be much
less, somewhere around $50,000 for all three put together.
“He had to
review each case and find out if the guy was incarcerated at the time,” said
Rumley. “Robin’s spent some time on it, because it’s got to be right.”
Bail bonds are
money amounts required by judges to guarantee that individuals arrested for
crimes and released pending trial will in fact return to face the charges
own property, such as a house, can use that as their bond, but the vast
majority of arrestees – 95 to 97 percent, according to the Dade County
District’s Attorney office – go through the bonding companies. The bondsmen,
whose privilege of doing business in a county is in the gift of the local
sheriff, make their money by charging arrestees a percentage – typically 10
percent – of the bail bond. Then, if their client does not show up for trial,
they are on the hook for the bond amount.
had explained earlier that the governing statute allows the bondsmen to recoup
generous percentages of the forfeiture depending on when and if they produce
the bonded individual – 95 percent if within 120 days, 50 percent if within two
years, he said.
But in Dade, no
such negotiations appear to have been made. Rather, arrestees had skipped bail,
bond amounts had gone unpaid and judges had issued “judgments absolute” against
the bonding companies, resulting in the stacks of FIFAs.
As a condition
of doing business in Dade County, bonding companies deposit $30,000 in
interest-bearing accounts in local banks, and the sheriff has the right to dip
into those escrows should bond companies not pay their obligations. But Cannon
had not done so in all the years the forfeitures had been piling up.
to speak to the Sentinel on several occasions as to why he had made no efforts
to collect, but Rumley reported that, to him, the sheriff had pled ignorance.
“Patrick said the reason that it got out of hand was because the DA had not
given him reports,” said Rumley. “He didn’t have any idea because they were not
sharing that with him. I don’t know how it works but that’s what he’s said all
along. He said you can’t enforce something if you don’t know.”
office, meanwhile –the agency that brought the forfeitures to the county’s
attention as a potential source of uncollected revenues in the first place –
had earlier told the Sentinel that after the judgment absolute, enforcement is
up to the sheriff, and it is up to the county commission and county attorney to
That seems to
be what has ultimately happened here, albeit after considerable delay and
billable hours. Attorney Rogers told the
county commission at its November meeting, then again at its December session,
that the sheriff’s department was working hard to determine the amounts owed;
and he told the Sentinel the department would comply with an open records
request about bond forfeitures only if paid $20 an hour for six hours to
produce five pages Rogers had determined to be responsive.
But now, though
as of press time he could not furnish exact amounts, Rumley said the sheriff’s
department, bonding companies and county commission had reached consensus.
“They’ve got the money in the bank, the $30,000, and if they don’t pay, then
Robin’s got the authority now, or will have, that if they don’t want to cut us
the check which they’ve agreed to, we’ll take it out of that,” he said.
He said he
thought the estimated $50,000 figure to be collected was fair because Rogers
had told him so. “I’m satisfied because my attorney looked me in the eye and
told me we’re bringing this to a head,” he said.
In any case, he
said, when the new sheriff takes over next month: “They’ll still have their
$30K apiece in the bank and they’ll start with a clean slate.”
Will the same
bonding companies continue to do business after January? “If the new sheriff
sees fit, I reckon,” said Rumley.
The bail bond
issue arose during the county’s summer high-and-dry period before real estate
taxes begin rolling in in the fall. Rumley had issued, as he does each year, a
plea to all departments to call in any neglected receivables. The D.A.’s office
responded with a reference to the neglected bond forfeitures.
forfeitures have never seemed to figure before as revenue for the county. The
Sentinel checked with Dade’s county clerks for the past 16 years and they
reported seeing none turning up as income.
also checked with Ladell McCullough of Henderson, Hutcherson & McCullough,
the county’s longtime auditors, and she said she hadn’t noticed bond
forfeitures as reported revenues on any county she audited – though she would
be mindful of it in the future.
So will he,
said Rumley. “After seeing what happened with this, definitely, I guarantee
you, Ray [Cross] and I will communicate monthly, if not every court date,” he
And so, he
believes, will other commissioners across the region. “Seems like it’s spread
throughout Georgia, the ones that I’ve talked to,” he said. “We’re looking at a
lot of places that have never been looked at for revenue.”
asked another county boss, Sole Commissioner Jason Winters of Chattooga, about
bail bond forfeitures. Though careful to specify the whole function was so far
from his office, he didn’t know who the bondsmen for Chattooga were, Winters
said: “I'm sure our county faces the same thing.”
And he said
Chattooga and other counties might well find themselves addressing the issue in
coming months. “As we’re all scraping for funds, we don’t want to feel we’re
leaving any money on the table,” he said.