Although charged with only one duty, the Commission on Courts has added the controversial topic of bail bonds to its summer study agenda.
At its first meeting Thursday afternoon, the commission heard testimony from several bail bond agents as well as the views from Indiana sheriffs and judges. The focus of much of the meeting was on the use of cash bonds over commercial surety bonds and whether more state courts are requiring cash bonds in order to increase their revenues.
Bail bond providers’ comments ranged from details about their services, namely the monitoring they do once their clients are released from custody, to charges that by ordering cash bonds, the state has an unfair advantage over private bail bond businesses.
Commission members repeatedly asked for statistics and data, but the witnesses said over and over statewide figures are not available.
The commission turned its attention the bail bonds at the request of Sen. Earline Rogers, D-Gary. She introduced a bill during the 2013 session of the Indiana General Assembly that would have enabled counties to retain a portion of funds they received from bail forfeitures.
The bill died in committee, but the Commission on Courts chairman Sen. Brent Steele, R-Bedford, brought the broad issue of bail bonds before his group for further study. After the meeting, Steele said he is not happy with the current situation of courts demanding cash bonds.
“I think that the defendant ought to have the right to post the surety bond if he wants to,” Steele said. “For a judge to say, ‘we’re just going to do cash only,’ I don’t agree with that.”
Steele said he intends to continue the discussion about bail bonds at the commission’s upcoming meetings.
Before it began talking about bail bonds, the commission opened its meeting by reviewing the request from Vanderburgh County for a new magistrate in the Circuit Court. This was the only issue assigned to the commission by the Legislative Council.
Vanderburgh Superior Judge David Kiely was the sole witness to testify on the need for a new magistrate.
“The demand is so great, we don’t have someone to fill in when there are problems,” he told the commission. “… We’re making it work and we’ve been making it work for a long time, but it’s extremely difficult. I think with another judicial officer, we could move cases quicker.”
Steele delayed a vote on the request until all commission members were present. Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis; Reps. Kathy Kreag Richardson, R-Noblesville, and Greg Steuerwald, R-Danville; and Allen County Commissioner Theresa Brown were not at the meeting.