ANNAPOLIS – The Maryland Bail Bond Association Tuesday hailed the formation of a task force to examine ways to improve the bail bond industry after a highly critical internal audit released by the Maryland judiciary found numerous problems.
“We welcome this,” said Byron L. Warnken, a law professor at University of Baltimore and general counsel for the Maryland Bail Bond Association. “We want an enhanced system. We could not be more supportive of this.”
The task force created Monday by Maryland Chief Judge Robert Bell will include all parties involved in the bail system and is charged with analyzing the system, recommending policy and drafting procedures to ensure compliance. No deadline has been set for the review.
“Now that the audit is complete and the problems are identified, we are ready to take corrective action,” Bell said.
The court system audit ordered by Bell described a system that lacked controls and procedures. It found “there is a potential threat to public safety and general disrespect for laws and rules governing bail bonds.”
The audit committee found no process to enforce compliance and no reliable information system to support the enforcement.
Around 40 percent of defendants must post bail in order to be released from jail while awaiting trial. Defendants who cannot afford the amount will usually go to bondsmen, who charge about 10 percent of the amount. The bondsmen then take responsibility for the defendant showing up in court to face the charges. If the defendant fails to show, the bondsmen must pay the remaining bond.
Among the most disturbing problems was a failure to properly track property offered in lieu of bail.
It’s so-called “bail hackers,” Warnken said, who are giving legitimate bail bond agents a bad name.
Bail hackers are unlicensed people who offer property as collateral for bail knowing the court system routinely does not confiscate the property if the defendant fails to show up in court.
Without forfeiture of property there is no incentive to require defendants to show, Warken said, whereas bondsmen must regularly follow up with clients because they will be held responsible.
The report also highlighted problems in verifying ownership of the property put up for bail, figuring the actual equity in the home available for use as bond and determining whether the property has been used for other bonds.
Warnken said bondsmen would also like to see a unified bail system in Circuit Court similar to one instituted in District Court about 10 years ago.
“It completely cleaned up the court system,” he said.
In the District Court, a bondsman has 30 days to produce the defendant, pay the remainder of the bail or face license suspension. In the Circuit Court, each county has its own enforcement rules.
However, the audit found bail bond license suspensions are rare because court personnel have little confidence in the reliability of information about overdue forfeitures. It found one bondsman who had 113 outstanding forfeitures, but was never suspended.