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Bail reform is killing our business, bail bondsmen say
JERSEY CITY — New Jersey bail bondsmen may be looking for some bailing out of their own.
A pair of Hudson County bondsmen and one from Bergen County told The Jersey Journal the bail reforms that took effect on Jan. 1 have decimated their businesses, leaving them with previously sold bonds to service but no money coming in.
“So far we have zero business,” Lou Turdo, of Big Lou’s Bail Bonds on Newark Avenue in Jersey City said of the impact of the Speedy Trial and Bail Reform Act, which assumes virtually no defendants will have monetary bails.
Kurt Shaw of Kurt Shaw Bail Bonds in Hackensack said he’s had “no business, period, since the beginning of the year,” while Al McCallen of Ace Bail Bonds on Newark Avenue in Jersey City echoed those comments.
“This has brought us to a halt,” McCallen said.
New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner was among the state and local officials to tout the bail reforms during a presentation in Jersey City in October. Rabner said the previous bail system was not fair to poor, often minority defendants, because they could not post bails set even at the lower end of the spectrum.
Those types of defendants often wound up jailed pending trial, cut off from families and possibly losing their jobs, sometimes going without medication, Rabner said at the time.
As a result, the poor faced tougher plea deals and pressure to plead guilty under the previous system because of the length of time they spend in jail, Rabner added.
But the bail bondsmen still have financial obligations. Turdo has more than 900 existing bonds and it may take a couple of years for all those defendants to wind their way through the judicial system. He said he tracks his clients, keeps in touch with them and tries to ensure they show up for their court dates.
Turdo said that if one of his clients doesn’t show up for a court date his business can be fined. If the client disappears, he calls a bounty hunter to bring the person back. Turdo added that if the bounty hunter doesn’t bring a client back within a specified period, he could be on the hook for the total amount of the bond.
“I don’t have the means and the income to catch these guys or monitor them anymore,” Turdo said. “Once they get the word on the street, I think people will stop showing up in court. It’s really scary the types of defendants that are being released on their own recognizance.”
Shaw added: “There’s no way we can keep an office and pay our employees to come in if there’s no business.”
Ray Worrall, a spokesman for the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office, said there haven’t been any monetary bails set in Hudson County Superior Court for people arrested after Jan. 1.
Turdo also pointed another potential flaw under the new guidelines. People who consigned for a bond did so with the expectation that Turdo would be working to ensure the defendant shows up for court hearings and he would have the person tracked down if necessary. The government will have to foot the bill for tracking people down now, Turdo said.
“The cosigners are left with their signatures out there thinking I was going to be checking on the people,” Turdo said. “I’ll be here until the money runs out and that won’t take too long.”