ANNAPOLIS – Maryland’s appeals court sharply reminded bail bond agents Thursday that they are secondary to the bail process, not the main players.
In a Maryland Court of Special Appeals opinion, retired Judge Charles E. Moylan emphasized that bail is an agreement between the defendant and the court. Bail bondsmen he wrote, are merely insurance agents gambling on a defendant’s reliability.
At issue, was bail bondsman Nickolas Pantazes’ contention that the $10,000 bond he put up for his client Jose W. Orellana should be returned by the court, even though Orellana failed to show up for sentencing. Through a series of lapses and errors on the part of the court system, Pantazes argued, Orellana’s bail was “revoked” not “forfeited” when he failed to appear.
While the court admitted its terminology errors and changed the language about a year later, Pantazes argued the incorrect wording and delay hurt his ability to track down his client and produce him for court. Therefore, he argued, he should get his money back.
The Court of Special Appeals upheld the Montgomery County Circuit Court ruling that Pantazes was not entitled to get his money back and said that as an agent Pantazes took a gamble that Orellana would show up in court and lost.
Frederic Einhorn, an attorney for Pantazes, declined to comment on the case.
In the opinion Moylan wrote, “(Pantazes) presumes too much significance for the relatively peripheral role that he plays. The hardest thing for him to grasp is that the case is not really about him.”
This criticism of the bail bond industry comes on the heels of a highly critical audit of the Maryland bail system released earlier in the week. The audit performed by the court system highlighted numerous problems within the bail bond industry and led to the creation of a task force to examine the relationship between the courts and the industry.
Moylan said this opinion has nothing to do with the task force and was written weeks ago.
Many defendants must post bail in order to be released from jail while awaiting trial and sentencing. Defendants who cannot afford the amount will usually go to bondsmen, who charge about 10 percent of the total. 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 either pay the remaining bond or produce the defendant.
Forfeiting a bond is not meant as punishment for the bondsmen, Moylan wrote. It is meant as an incentive for the bondsmen to find the defendant. Returning the bond would provide a disincentive.
Moylan said later his ruling was not intended to be a criticism of the bail bond industry as a whole, but a limited criticism of those in the business who think they are entitled to various protections.
Moylan wrote that bail bondmen are incidental to a process that tries to reconcile two competing and very legitimate social interests that are in conflict – the interest in not subjecting an accused person to undue pretrial detention since they are presumed innocent and the interest in guaranteeing that a defendant would show up for trial.
He wrote that the court, “took a second look at the decision from a longer viewpoint . . . in order to stress the point that the appellant (Pantazes) was not the leading character in this loss of forfeited collateral but only a supporting actor. His problems and his reactions to them were not the central plot, and we (the court) must constantly guard against being distracted by a sideshow.”