Brace yourselves Daily RFT readers -- it's a double-dose of bail bond action for your snowy Tuesday afternoons.
We already discussed the funny business that the Post-Dispatch recently uncovered at the city's Circuit Court and you've probably heard about the murder-for-hire plot between two bail bondsmen that was detailed in an RFT feature story last year. So what you might be wondering now is why the hell isn't anyone doing anything about all this?
Well, somebody is. Sort of.
Last year Missouri convened a "Bail Bond Study Committee" consisting of fifteen judges, law enforcement personnel, elected officials and bondsmen to examine the issues facing the oft-corrupt (but very essential) industry.
Over the last few months of 2009 the committee held several public hearings (including one in St. Charles) and issued a report earlier this month recommending changes to the state's bail policies. The full document, published January 6, 2010, is available after the jump.
Angela Park, a bail
bond agent based in Rolla who served on the committee, says one of
their recommendations may have been able to prevent the alleged
skulduggery that's now under investigation at St. Louis city Circuit
Park points out that the city's bail system is unique. It is the only court in the state with a "pretrial release commissioner" (Mary Catherine Moran) who recommends the amount and what type of bonds a defendant should be issued. Elsewhere, such decisions are made by the judges themselves. The St. Louis method, she says, could easily lead to the bail bond equivalent of insider trading.
"What's happening down there isn't a statewide problem," Park says. "It's a St. Louis problem."
Nevertheless, Park adds, each of the State's 45 circuit courts conducts bail business a little bit differently. As a result, the committee recommends that the state adopt uniform policies and procedures for issuing bail in every court.
Seems like common sense, right? Not nearly as much as this next suggestion.
The committee also recommends that the state prohibit convicted felons from becoming licensed bail bondsmen. A law passed in 2005 -- thanks to lobbying by a few local bondsmen -- allows anyone who hasn't been convicted of a felony within the last fifteen years to become a bail agent. This statute is known as "The Lee Clause" after Virgil "Lee" Jackson, the felonious bail bondsmen whose muder-for-hire plot we wrote about last year and who was, at the time the law was passed, intended to be the sole benefactor of the fifteen-year exemption.
Despite the seemingly glaring need for reform, Park cautions that any legislation in the coming year is far from a sure thing.
"Bail bond bills are always controversial, just by their nature," she says. "And there are some people within the industry who will be opposed to the changes, just because it doesn't benefit them."