financially secured bail bond

The Florida Bail Agents Association Legislator of the Year and what the so-called “powerful bail industry lobby” actually looks like.

By any measuring stick, Dennis K. Baxley has lived a life of exemplary public service. He is currently a Republican member of the Florida Senate, representing the 12th district, which includes Sumter County and parts of Lake and Marion Counties in Central Florida. He has served his community as a member of the Belleview City Commission and later as the Mayor. Baxley was elected to the Florida House of Representatives, representing parts of Marion County. He rose to the second highest position: Speaker Pro Tem of the Florida House of Representatives. After that, Baxley was elected to the Florida Senate.

Florida Senator Dennis Baxley

Baxley was born in Ocala, earned two degrees from Florida State University and founded Hiers-Baxley Funeral Services. Senator Dennis Baxley has spent his entire adult life fighting for the strong conservative values which most of us Floridians cherish. He has a well-earned reputation for standing by his convictions and fighting for what is right. Senator Baxley’s perspective as a husband, father, and successful family business owner guides his public service.

During his tenure, Senator Baxley has worked tirelessly to develop policies that free the private sector from the burden of unnecessary government interference and allow people to get back to work to build a solid future for their families.

The first time I sat in his Tallahassee office, I looked Senator Baxley right in the eye and boldly stated that we have a lot in common. I am a liberal bondsman from Miami, and at the time was sporting a thick beard. Though he is certainly a skilled and effective politician, it’s quite possible that Baxley flinched slightly at my point-blank declaration. I pressed my case:

“We each get phone calls — sometimes in the middle of the night — from grieving, vulnerable family members who are dealing with a very distressing situation.”

“Because these consumers are in a vulnerable position, our businesses – bail for us and funeral services for you – are appropriately well regulated by the state. We need to be licensed and trained and fully compliant with numerous regulations and laws.”

“We each provide a critical service.”

“As small family business owners we know all-too-well that the only thing worse than the telephone ringing at all hours is the telephone not ringing at all hours.”

Senator Baxley is a quick study and he got it right away. He took the time to learn what bail agents accomplish and the important role we play in the criminal justice system. Like most people who take the time to learn what we actually do for a living, he became a supporter and an ally.

Senator Baxley sponsored a bill in Florida which clarified that the purpose of a bail bond is to ensure the appearance of a defendant. This successfully nixed the practice of a few activist judges in Florida of forfeiting bail for behavior or reasons other than a failure to appear. Nothing in the bill extended the time in which bail agents have to fulfill their obligation or granted any other special benefit to Florida bail agents. It was about fairness and clarifying the role of Florida’s licensed bail agents. Thanks in large part to Senator Baxley’s efforts, the bill passed.

Senator Baxley’s testimony in support of the bill before the Judiciary Committee included the following:

“You know I kinda wondered why I did this bill until I got to looking at a situation where I read a story where a defendant didn’t show up. The bail bondsman of course was liable for it. But then the defendant died . . .

And still didn’t show up. And they had to pay up because he didn’t show up. Well, there was something needed fixing here.”

Senator Baxley fixed it.

For his efforts on our behalf, Senator Baxley was awarded the Florida Bail Agents Association Legislator of the Year and he was given a small plaque for his office wall.

This is what bail industry lobbying actually looks like. It is hard working small business owners educating policy makers and building relationships. Senator Baxley is a fan of private bail because he took the time and effort to learn that private bail works. The 2,500 or so licensed bail agents of Florida serve the public and the courts of Florida. Once educated, people understand that private accountable bail is a fantastic deal for taxpayers, courts, and, yes, even accused defendants.

It’s ironic that billionaires like Laura and John Arnold and astronomically well funded outfits like the Katherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the Public Welfare Foundation repeat the same false narrative over and over that the “powerful bail industry” lobbies politicians. No one does more paid lobbying and less actual constructive work than the “#endmoneybail” charlatans pushing for so-called bail reform.

The reality is that bail is and always has been a “mom and pop” business. While many of the 18,000 or so licensed bail agents across the country are backed by insurance companies, the role these companies play in the bail process is relatively small. Typically, the insurance companies provide a financial guarantee to the state that the bail agent will fulfill his or her obligation – which is to produce the defendant in court or pay a substantial penalty.

We are very grateful that friends and fellow family business owners like Senator Dennis Baxley get it.

Friendly text reminder to begin serving jail sentence may not be sufficient

I just got a text message to remind me of my upcoming doctor’s appointment. I already had the appointment scheduled in my calendar but the text was unobtrusive so it didn’t bother me. Besides, I’m sure that these texts help some people remember to keep their appointments.

“Friendly reminders” might not be enough

I have a pretty good idea of what will likely happen at my doctor’s office. They will weigh me and take my vitals. My doctor will examine me and ask questions about my health and well being. There’s a good chance he’ll encourage me to keep on exercising and eating healthy foods. His staff will collect my co-pay and schedule my next appointment.  Based upon my past experiences the visit won’t take long and I’ll leave my doctor’s office in a good mood.

Here is what I know with a great degree of certainty will not happen during my upcoming doctor’s appointment. They will not handcuff me and cart me off to jail and refuse to let me go home.

Text message reminders are a good thing. Many licensed bail agents use this tool already and make it a routine practice to text court date reminders to both their bail bond principals and to their family members who sign on the bond.

The bail reform charlatans, however, are peddling poppycock to policy makers that text reminders are sufficient to assure court appearances. This bogus claim intentionally ignores critical facts. Some defendants don’t want to go to court. Some defendants are guilty as sin and they know it. Some defendants —though presumed to be innocent — are most certainly anything but. Some defendants are inevitably and deservedly headed to jail or prison. A friendly text reminder won’t do the trick to assure their appearance for sentencing.

Across the country there are hundreds of thousands of open bench warrants for the arrest of felons who have absconded. The dunderheads at outfits like “Pretrial Justice Institute” would have us believe that we can round up these hordes of dangerous criminals by sending text message reminders. Bail Agents know better.

You know what types of text messages are much more effective than “friendly” text reminders? A message that your family and loved ones are financially accountable for your appearance in court. A message that a licensed bail agent faces the imposition of a substantial financial penalty if you fail to appear and that he or she will go to great lengths to avoid that.  So-called “money bail” works because money incentivizes people. All other forms of pretrial release tend to be figments of everyone’s imagination. We value money. So by pledging money we are placing something we value as security to assure the appearance in court of accused criminals.

Which sort of text message do you think is more effective at guaranteeing the court appearance of an accused criminal?

  1. Hi there! Just a friendly reminder of your court date tomorrow in courtroom 4E at 9am!

  2. Hi there! You must be in court tomorrow at 9am before the Honorable Judge Jack Johnson to face criminal charges that you committed robbery and possession of cocaine. If you fail to appear your grandmother is at risk of losing her family home. In addition, the bail agent will make it his or her life’s mission to locate, apprehend and return you to jail. He or she will not fail in that obligation. That will not prevent, however, each of your relatives who signed to guarantee your bond from suffering financially. So do the right thing. Your family and loved ones and your bail agent assisted you in securing your bond so you could be released pretrial. Return the favor by rewarding their trust and appearing in court to face the consequences of your actions. You must do this even if you don’t “feel like it” or want to.

If you make a living peddling junk science for the “University of Pretrial” you might go with option “1.” The rest of us, of course, would select “2.”  (Bonus question: What “university” has no professors, no campus, no text books, and has never been responsible for the appearance in court of an accused criminal?)

Bail works because people —including the accused criminal —are held accountable for their actions.

Text message reminders are a wonderful tool in the arsenal. But let’s not fool ourselves for a second that a “friendly text message” can replace a financially accountable licensed bail agent.


Newsflash: “Money Bail fails to solve Climate Change!”

It would laughable if the stakes weren’t so high and the subject matter not so tragic.

According to their website, the Pretrial Justice Institute’s core purpose is “to advance safe, fair, and effective juvenile and adult pretrial justice practices and policies that honor and protect all people.” They are certainly not interested in protecting or honoring the approximately 17,000 hard-working private bail agents who make a living by assuring that accused defendants actually appear in court.

That said, the actual mission of this outfit is advocacy for the elimination of any and all monetary terms of pretrial release. They want to end what they refer to as “money bail.” (You and I call this secured accountable, pretrial release.) PJI attempts to “educate” policy makers and criminal justice stakeholders through the use of flawed studies, false premises, bad data and poorly disguised propaganda. They routinely disregard any academic studies whose conclusions are inconsistent with their core belief that the use of “money bail” to assure a defendant’s appearance in court is inherently wrong.

The Honorable Chief Judge Craig DeArmond In Danville, Illinois recently wrote an excellent essay, “Bail Reform – Is there another side to this argument?

His article is well worth distributing to the judges, politicians and policy makers in your jurisdiction. Chief DeArmond writes:

“Was I the only one who felt like we were being asked …, no, told we had to drink the Kool-Aid of no money bail reform or face eternal damnation?”

“What I found was the people so vehemently advocating this massive change in the bail system have been doing so under different names and different umbrellas for several decades. What they have in common is a progressive agenda being marketed as “evidence based practices”; the current buzzword in social engineering. Frequently funded by progressive philanthropists like George Soros and others, these groups have a much broader agenda than merely bail reform.

Don’t get me wrong… although I don’t personally agree with George Soros and his world view, nor will I ever be mistaken for a progressive, I have no problem with the fact that they are able to express their views. I take issue however, when we are given bad data, outdated studies, and recycled propaganda in the form of “judicial education” and being told essentially, there is no other perspective.

It does not take long when you start researching bail reform to find alternative positions, studies, and evaluations of the same data which produce dramatically different conclusions. It takes even less time to find jurisdictions which tried an increased use of no money bail and eventually returned to an expanded cash bail system due to the dramatic increase in failures to appear and crimes committed while free on bail.”

This judge deserves credit for recognizing that we are being sold a bill of goods. It is also worth noting that Chief Judge Craig DeArmond presides in Illinois — one of the few jurisdictions within the United States that prohibits the use of commercial bail.

So it’s obvious that the charlatans at the “Pretrial Justice Institute” will say or do just about anything in order to advance their agenda.  However, even in this light, the most recent blog post by PJI is disingenuous, shameless and disgusting.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen — the wing-nut CEO of PJI — claims to have actually figured out what causes domestic violence and how we as a nation can solve this horrific problem.

Even though domestic violence has been on a steady decline for decades, it obviously remains a horrible and heart breaking problem. In the United States an average of three women each day are murdered by intimate partners. We suffer the highest rate of domestic violence homicide of any industrialized country. Thousands of people experience domestic abuse every day. They come from all walks of life.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen, No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen,
No tragedy too great to exploit.

Cherise Fanno Burdeen and the rest of the hypocrites at PJI have a solution to the complex problem of domestic violence: End money bail. Seriously. Presumably in honor of “Domestic Violence Awareness Month,” Burdeen obtained the names of four women who were each tragically murdered last year. According to this disingenuous dimwit, here is why these four women were murdered: “because of failed money bail systems.”

Unlike Burdeen, I am not going to exploit the names of these victims. The women who were murdered are real people, not props. But it is important to note that these victims were from four different jurisdictions across the United States – some of which do not even utilize secured, private bail or bail agents.

In some of the cases the accused murderers violated their conditions of pretrial release with no consequence. (In other words, the “supervised” release conditions touted by PJI). The actual facts obviously don’t matter to Ms. Burdeen or her comrades. Her concern is only for her narrative: “Money bail did nothing to protect these poor murdered women.”

Let’s be clear. Publicly funded government-run pretrial release programs don’t do anything to protect the public or victims of domestic violence. Note that PJI spotlights Washington DC as the poster-child for bail reform. The PJI website prominently proclaims that the nation’s capital is “DOING THINGS RIGHT” and “The District of Columbia does not use money to detain pretrial defendants.” Leaving aside the insane amount of tax dollars which they spend, this is the same pretrial release program that placed a GPS monitoring bracelet on a murderer’s prosthetic leg. This is the jurisdiction which allows repeat violent offenders, including rapists, to be released over and over again with no consequence.  Washington D.C. is where the Police Chief recently quit her job, saying, “The criminal justice system in this city is broken.” DOING THINGS RIGHT, indeed.

The critical distinction is that private bail agents have never laid claim to guaranteeing a defendant’s behavior – only his or her appearance in court. Burdeen’s insensitive blog piece doesn’t come right out and state the only logical option which could have actually served to prevent the four tragic murders. It is not “no money bail” as she claims. It’s no bail whatsoever.

This is the tragic irony. PJI’s advocacy invariably ends up promoting indefinite pretrial detention. Should all four of the accused defendants have each been held in jail with no bail? In hindsight, we would hope that they had been of course. But should everyone accused of domestic violence be held with no bail? Should the detention of an accused person – the deprivation of their liberty – depend on nine variables plugged into some “risk score” assessment?  PJI claims that their “core values” support pretrial detention only as the result of due process that determined no conditions would reasonably assure appearance and community safety. The same misguided folks who clamor for an end to “money bail” now advance the unintended consequence of the increased use of preventive pretrial detention. Burdeen and her cohorts have unwittingly become the most vocal proponents of “lock ’em up and throw away the key.” How else would Burdeen propose to actually protect the four murdered women whom she uses as an advertisement for her continued government funding?

Our Constitution’s prohibition against excessive bail means that we can’t keep accused defendants locked up in jail simply because they scored out wrong on a bogus “risk assessment” test.

So called “money bail” is an efficient and time honored way to secure the appearance of an accused defendant. A bail bond is a three-party contract between the state, the accused, and the surety, whereby the surety guarantees appearance of the accused. Ms. Burdeen is correct that private secured bail is not a panacea or a replacement for judges, police, and lawmakers. The prosecutors and judges who daily deal with accusations of domestic violence struggle mightily. They don’t get to blame tragic outcomes on flawed algorithms. Here are quotes from a judge and prosecutor in one of the cases which Burdeen gratuitously cites:

 “It’s not like you can just put information into a computer and spit out what the appropriate bail would be; I don’t think that would be realistic,” he said. “There are people that are charged with making that decision … looking at all the facts and all the input they get.”

The judge defended his decision, while also expressing anguish over its outcome. He said he decided to double the suggested bond from $50,000 to $100,000 based upon his experience and available court records, he told the CantonRep. And he said prosecutors did not recommend a bond amount.

“I’m not blaming anyone … but the red flags weren’t there,” he said.

At the same time, however, the judge also appeared to express remorse over the possibility that his ruling gave Dragan a second, and successful, alleged attempt to kill his ex-wife.

“I feel horrible about this situation,” he told the Canton Rep. “I sympathize with the family (and) with the children — it’s a terrible, tragic situation for the community. I feel terrible about it.”

“I think the judge made what he believed to be a good decision with the information that he had at the time and it’s always easy to look back,” the Canton prosecutor Ty Hauritz told the newspaper. “But I don’t … think (the $100,000 bond was) out of the ordinary.”

Private, secured bail works. It serves to assure the appearance of accused defendants who are released pretrial. Cherise Fanno Burdeen doesn’t like “money bail” or what we do for a living. That’s her prerogative. But it’s spectacularly insensitive to suggest that secured bail caused the deaths of the four murder victims whom she exploits in her blog. For her edification, here are a few other “Money Bond Failures”:

  • Money Bonds fails to improve the Miami Dolphin’s offensive woes
  • Money Bonds fails to balance the United States budget deficit
  • Money Bonds fails to achieve lasting peace in the Middle East
  • Money Bonds fails to spend taxpayer funds (like the $1.3 million the Pretrial Justice Institute burns through annually.)

Thirty-three hours after being released from jail upon a promise to appear, drunk driver kills himself and four innocent people.

A suspended driver’s license didn’t deter 61-year-old James Pohlabein from driving his 1997 Chevy Silverado while drunk. At about 2:30am on Thursday, February 11, 2016 he lost control of his car and crashed it into a parked car. He hit it hard enough that the parked car slammed into another parked car.

It’s a safe bet that the Ohio police who responded to the scene had little difficulty in determining that Pohlabein was drunk. They arrested him for operating a motor vehicle without reasonable control and driving while intoxicated. The police took Pohlabein to jail.

James Pohlebeln

James Pohlebein, murdered four innocent people

When Pohlabein was dragged before the judge a few hours later, he pleaded not guilty. The presiding judge ordered Pohlabein released on his own recognizance.  He was let out of jail about 7pm on Thursday night, conditioned solely upon his own promise to appear.

No one has to worry about Pohlabein keeping his promise to appear in court to face criminal charges of driving drunk.

Approximately 33 hours after being released from jail — at about 3am on Saturday February 13 — Pohlabein was driving his car the wrong way on I-75 at a high rate of speed. It’s evident that he was committing the same crimes that caused his earlier arrest. He was driving blind drunk on his still suspended license and completely out of control. A witness called 9-1-1 to report their own narrow miss with the wrong-way car. But it was a futile call.

Pohlabein drove his car head-on into an oncoming SUV and murdered all four of its occupants. Four young, innocent, vibrant, useful and loved people died at the scene: Kyle Canter, 23; Earl Miller II, 27; Vashti Nicole Brown, 29; and Devin Bachmann, 26. Perhaps mercifully, Pohlabein died at the scene as well. It was a horrific and tragic wrong-way accident.

The article in the Dayton Daily News does not mention the name of the municipal court judge who released Pohlabein on his own recognizance. Nor will I. It is not the intent of this blog post to second-guess the judge’s decision. No one can accurately predict or guarantee human behavior. As both a human being and a judge he most certainly must feel horrible about what happened.

I would like instead to foster a discussion about a natural consequence and benefit of private, financially secured bail. What would have happened if Pohlabein had to post a secured bail bond, rather than simply issuing a promise to appear?

In such case — absent possessing the entire penal amount of the bail bond in cash — the accused defendant has to make a phone call. He needs help to secure his release. He cannot get out of jail by himself. So he calls a bail bondsman. What does the bondsman do first? The bondsman first brings the friends and family members of the defendant into the picture. The bail agent enlists people who are willing to be accountable and responsible for the accused defendant’s appearance. The bail agent needs people who will vouch for the defendant. As every bondsman knows, this is even more important than obtaining the premium for posting the bail bond. The bondsman needs people willing to help the accused and willing to participate in the posting of his financially secured bail bond.

A significant number of people who find themselves arrested are in the grips of alcoholism and/or drug addiction. Such was almost certainly the case with James Pohlabein. His former wife said that months earlier he had sent her text messages saying he wanted police to kill him after the death of his brother. A former neighbor of Pohlabeln said he drank frequently and that she had witnessed him stumbling “half-drunk” out of his car on several occasions. After the horrific wrong-way crash, the same neighbor told reporters, “He was always drunk” and “Somebody should [have done] something because everybody knows that he’s drinking like this.”

What would have happened if a bail agent had to speak to the ex-wife and the former neighbor of Pohlabeln in order to secure his bail bond? What if the bail agent had to speak to relatives of Pohlabeln before he could be released from jail?

Denial is a defining characteristic of sufferers afflicted with alcoholism and drug addiction. (“I don’t have a problem! You have a problem!”) In the warped world view of the active alcoholic it is all-too-often the parked car’s fault. Or whoever parked the car there — it’s their fault!

The purpose of a bail bond is appearance in court, make no mistake. But the process of obtaining a financially secured bail bond through a licensed bail agent requires bringing friends and family of the accused together. It is not uncommon for this to lead directly to an intervention with the accused. For many of our clients the arrest and — more importantly — the participation of family and friends, leads the accused to move beyond his denial. They begin to accept at last that they have a serious problem. It is a truism that admitting there is a problem is the first step in recovery.

I have no idea whether James Pohlabeln had anyone left in his life willing to vouch for him, to be accountable and to help. But I do know many of our clients turn their lives around and find the help they need following an arrest and the posting of their secured bail bond. I do know that as bail agents we often get to play a small but vital role in helping families to heal. During the course of doing our jobs, we often times bring families together and get a front row seat to miracles. We get to watch our clients find the help they need and transform their lives. This is often the most rewarding aspect of being a bail agent.

Again, I am not second guessing the judge who released James Pohlabeln on his own recognizance. But I cannot help but wonder what might have occurred had he been required to enlist the help of responsible family members and friends in order to secure his release from jail.