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Published: Wednesday, 7/9/2014

Ohio Supreme Court throws out cash-only bonds

RANDY LUDLOW
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH

Woody Fox welcomes a new Ohio Supreme Court ruling, saying he expects it will produce more business for him and other bondsmen who bail people out of jail for a price.

But he said it also allows criminal defendants who can’t round up the money for a 10 percent, cash-only bond the option of getting out of jail by posting a surety bond.

By a 5-2 vote, the justices ruled yesterday that a court rule allowing judges to set 10 percent cash bonds on defendants is unconstitutional.

Clerks of courts also must accept surety bonds, typically issued by licensed bondsmen, for the full bond amounts even if courts order that 10 percent be paid in cash to post bond, the court ruled.

“Yeah, it’s going to help the bail industry. And it’s going to help a lot of people sitting in jail because they don’t have the cash,” said the owner of Woody Fox Bail Bonds in Newark and Columbus. “And, it will help un-crowd jails.”

The court ruling came in cases brought by a Wayne County bondsman and Fox, a retired Columbus police officer who had just returned from a trip to Chicago to bring a wayward client back to a Marion jail.

The court rule overturned yesterday deprives criminal defendants of their right to post surety bonds required by the Ohio Constitution, Justice Sharon L. Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

Fox said the “long time coming” ruling was a bid to standardize bond rules around Ohio; requirements sometimes differ by court.

Fox said courts and counties wanted to hang on to cash-only bonds because they pocket 10 percent of the money as an administrative fee from defendants who attend all court proceedings, and they keep all the cash when defendants run.

Fox said bondsmen offer payment plans, take credit cards and accept houses as collateral to get people out of jail — none of which was an option under cash-only bonds.

“I take checks. They want dead presidents,” he said.

Fox also asserted that people are more likely to skip court under cash-only bonds because they know no one will look for them. “You don’t see any judges or court clerks out there chasing anybody at night,” he said.

Licking County Common Pleas Court Judge David Branstool, among those from whom Fox unsuccessfully sought damages for lost business, was “baffled” that the Supreme Court overturned cash-only bonds, given that it created the rule.

Branstool said he will continue to offer 10 percent cash bonds when warranted, with defendants also now having the option of a surety bond. “There’s still a real incentive to post a cash bond ... you get 90 percent of it back” if you show up for all court hearings, he said.

The judge said the case brought by Fox “was all about his revenue stream.”

Fox said he charges clients a fee of 10 percent of the total bond amount. On a 10 percent, cash-only $10,000 bond, the court fee is $100. Fox would charge $1,000.

The fees accompanying cash-only bonds help reimburse counties for the cost of prosecutors and public defenders, court expenses and unpaid court costs, Branstool said.

Justices Paul E. Pfeifer and Terrence O’Donnell dissented in the ruling, suggesting that it gives bondsmen a constitutional right to post bonds for clients.

“The conditions set by judges were not onerous and did not deny bail to those entitled to it,” Pfeifer wrote. “In fact, the conditions set by the judges allow defendants to post bail at a much lower cost than when they use a bail bondsman.”

rludlow@dispatch.com

@RandyLudlow

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©2014 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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