This election has been a divisive time for our community. While I dislike the divisiveness immensely, it has brought certain issues to the attention of the voters. One such issue is the bond forfeiture procedure in Troup County.
I was originally asked a question concerning the bond forfeiture problem during the Chamber of Commerce Forum at West Georgia Tech and admittedly, it threw me. I never wanted to point fingers or place blame. However, when the question was asked, I had to answer honestly and say that bond forfeitures are a problem in Troup County. It is my job as an elected government official to seek every solution possible. I believe the people of Troup County are entitled to understand this issue fully and will try to clarify the matter in this letter.
First, it was quite by accident that Judge Jeannette Little stumbled upon this problematic issue. For chronological context, she had addressed this issue twice in the past ten years, and I thought the issues had been resolved long ago. Sometime in 2011 Judge Little noticed there had not been any bond forfeitures on the calendar in a while. Until mid 2009, my office prepared bond forfeiture notices and we had regular bond forfeiture matters on the court’s calendar. In 2009, the law changed and our Clerk of Court took over the duties of sending out said notices as mandated by new legislation. Judge Little’s question led to the discovery that for some period of time after the clerk took over the notices, very few notices of bond forfeiture were prepared. This presented a problem because notice must be sent out in compliance with a strict 10 day notice rule or the county loses out on the right to collect on these specific bonds.
This also led to the discovery that many older bond judgments (fifa) had not been collected. The duty to collect bonds is clearly with the Sheriff. The Sheriff is responsible for assuring that criminal defendants are not released on bond unless there is sufficient surety for the bond ordered by the courts. The security is there to allow the bonds to be collected if the criminal defendants fail to appear in court as ordered.
It was clear there needed to be a meeting of the stakeholders concerning the bond forfeiture procedure. A meeting was set and the county attorney, state court judge, clerk of court, sheriff, county manager (asst.) and myself were scheduled to attend. The day before the meeting the county attorney was contacted by an attorney who said Sheriff Turner and the Clerk of Court were his clients and they would not be attending the meeting. There still has not been a meeting of the stakeholders regarding proper bond forfeiture procedure.
Because a resolution couldn’t be achieved without all parties participating, and because it was clear that a number of bonds had not been collected, I was authorized by the county to speak with attorneys or representatives of some of the bonding companies that had outstanding bond judgments. Based upon my work with the bonding companies, the vast majority of the outstanding bond judgments owed by a professional bonding company have been agreed upon as due as ordered, and a few have been reduced because of the timing of a return of certain defendants by the bondsmen. These judgments are now being collected by an authorized deputy.
There was never any “judicial error.” When Judge Little calls the bond due, the bonding companies have the right to come to court and state why, for various reasons, the bond should not be forfeited. If after the bond judgment has been issued and the bondsmen find or return a defendant within a certain prescribed time frame, the order can be reduced, but they must bring the issue before the court. The problem with collection of bonds had nothing to do with the procedure as set forth by statute but rather was caused the failure of the notices to be sent and the failure of the Sheriff to collect those which had been deemed due and payable by a court order.
This week, I had a chance to review what the Sheriff has called the 650 page audit he did on the bond forfeitures. Based on my review of that audit I remain convinced that some bond judgments were not collected because of a misunderstanding of the bonding law. This is what the meeting of stakeholders was meant to address. It was a chance for everyone to get together and come to a meeting of the minds, review the law, and agree upon correct procedure in order to move past this issue.
No office, department or elected official is perfect, but we must all accept constructive criticism and agree to work together for the benefit of the citizens of Troup County.
Nina Markette Baker
Troup County Solicitor-General