The Incredible Shrinking Bond Forfeitures: At This Rate, County Will Owe Bondsmen Money

JenkinsBondPresser1.jpg
Photo by Brantley Hargrove
On Sunday the daily reported that Dallas County had some $35 million in outstanding bond forfeitures. Oh, but wait: Yesterday Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins shot back, calling the number a "gross misinterpretation of the true nature and totality of the bail bond forfeiture challenge facing Dallas County." The "legally collectible" amount was but a fraction of what was reported over the weekend -- more like a cool $6 mil, if that, Jenkins said.

Whip out your calculators, Friends of Unfair Park, and prepare for some long division, because the actual number that is realistically, practically and -- oh, yeah -- legally available is less than $500,000, according to an estimate from the county Auditor's Office. Yes, we know.

The $35 million represents all bond forfeitures dating back to 1959, Jenkins told the assembled media at a presser in the Dallas County Administration Building this morning. (Commissioner Mike Cantrell, who was scheduled to attend, was apparently in a civil service hearing, so he couldn't make it.)

For now, we'll resist the temptation to wonk out (though there are spreadsheets after the jump) and instead say that it's a case of old-school accounting, antiquated IT and one hand -- the criminal court judges, the county clerk's office, the county commissioners and auditors -- having no clue what the other hand is doing.

Now, after decades of this, the county can't collect on a bunch of old bad debt. So Unfair Park asked Jenkins about the distinction between the "legally collectible" forfeitures and the money the county has to kiss goodbye.

According to Jenkins, if the forfeiture has been outstanding for more than 10 years and no lien or writ of execution has been filed, the money's gone. If some smokehound got a personal recognizance bond and didn't show, good luck collecting anyway. If a guy ends up in prison, stamping license plates won't do much to settle up that debt with the county. These are the forfeitures little can be done about. How much of the pie they comprise is another question entirely.

But, Unfair Park inquired, is it possible that, seeing how nobody knows what everyone else is doing, that some bonds got paid, but notations weren't made in the right place?

"That is true," Jenkins replied. "We've found that already in some cases. Of that $35 million, that again just represents every figure on the computer since 1959, we found some situations where, because our computers are not communicating with one another, it shows paid on one and not on the other. So, does that make it as clear as mud?"

Yes, Your Honor, it does.

So what's to be done?

Jenkins: Yadda, yadda, my predecessor let things go to shit. Meanwhile, the county plans on hiring law firms that work on a contingency basis and specialize in collections. And a task force composed of all the previously uncommunicative arms of county government will now create some protocols. Jenkins said he's headed to Portland, Oregon, shortly, hoping someone can set the county up on the Cloud -- maybe Google? -- so they can link up digitally.

He also plans to shop around for some new software, though he noted it may be easier said than done -- like maybe nearly 3 years down the road. Why so long, Unfair Park asked?

"Problem is, whether you sell radios or dresses, the software you need is pretty uniform," Jenkins began. "But in government, the way we handle bond forfeitures is different than the way Oklahoma or Missouri handle that. So there's a very small group of people out there who want to buy your software, so software companies are not itching to build something for us."

It may also take a little longer, he said, because he's communicating with some of the surrounding counties. Eventually, the county would like to sell the software to some of the 'burbs. So, we guess that's one way to bridge the gap between a half mil and 35 mil.Bond Forfeitures Cnty CtsBond Forfeitures District Ct

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24 comments
Bailman2008
Bailman2008

Sorry excuse for how public servants are supposed to conduct themselves.  A large amount of bondsmen give hearty donations to those in power and especially gifts to those that assist them with forgiving bond forfeitures that they owe or altoghether just setting them aside so no one finds them.  It happens everywhere and as long as you have humans running the nuthouse it will always happen.  Just make sure and punish those that do the deed.  I would suggest that you take a look at who the major bond companies and attorneys, because they write bonds also and probably are the biggest recipients of favors, and review where some of their campaign donations went to.

La Piso
La Piso

Ya know that they are really doing? Clay, et al is burying the identities of who else owes the $35m. He only wants to go after the first $500,000 or even $6m. Who's name is on the list beyond that? Could it be Craig Watkins? Let's see the list of names as to who owes!!

RTGolden
RTGolden

Judge Jenkins: "But in government, the way we handle bond forfeitures is different than the way Oklahoma or Missouri handle that. So there's a very small group of people out there who want to buy your software, so software companies are not itching to build something for us."..........In layman's terms " They haven't come up with a washing machine big enough for the amount of laundering we have to do, but we're still hoping to find one"

Mike
Mike

Why don't we just change our procedures to match someone that has a working process and supported software? It is standard procedure in the business world to find a best practice and simply copy it, especially on processes that are not key success factors. Moses did not bring an extra tablet down from Mt. Sinai with our sacrosanct bond processes. Why can't people working in government figure this stuff without a crisis?

Wes Scott
Wes Scott

Actually, Moses DID have a third tablet, but he dropped and broke it. Didn't you see the documentary "History of the World" by Mel Brooks?

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Antiquated IT?  Why don't they hire about five good bookkeepers with ledgers, pens, adding machines and eyeshades?

Ed D.
Ed D.

Dallas County IT is a joke. Remember when they lost all those actual human beings in the county lock-up thanks to some vendor's software, spent millions more to correct it, then spent even more millions to bring in Microsoft? Meanwhile, Collin County transitioned off their Reagan-era mainframes over the last few years without losing inmates or megabucks. Maybe Dallas County should look north instead of hoping to sell their junk to other counties.

Jay
Jay

In my next career, I want to be a software vendor for Dallas County. They seem to pay quite a sum of money for custom programs that don't interface. Or...maybe its the people who don't interface.

Jeneheffer
Jeneheffer

Handing the money for the County of Dallas SHOULD NOT be put in the hands of any county employee. There should be an outside firm keeping track of the goings and comings of the funds. Everyone there employed by the county should be investigated AND drug tested and/or deemed incompetent.

fred
fred

That's kind of a blurry photo of Mortimer Snerd - you can't even see Mr. Bergen's (JWP) hand up his back.

Dallas Diner
Dallas Diner

Up his back?  A little further south, I think.

BHargrove
BHargrove

My bad, Fred. I'm a shitty photographer.

BoPeep
BoPeep

So, the District Attorney is ready to launch out there and hire an outside law firm to start collecting on the $35 Million that's due. And, he admits that the County has had an "in-house" expert working on this for awhile now. But, now we find out the real number may be more like $500,000? Either these folks are the biggest incompetent nincompoops ever (kinda like the three stooges), or something smells very fishy in Denmark.

Jay
Jay

Seems like they're making this shit up as they go along. If Judge Mini-JWP can figure all this out in three days, what has the expert DA Watkins hired been doing for the past year? I just want to know if the current DA owes and forfeitures?

JimS
JimS

I just added up all the bar tabs I split wth other reporters when I was young, calculated the amount I got shorted, computed the interest, and I'm, rich. Would anybody out there be willing to  lend me a cash advance on my money?

BHargrove
BHargrove

Maybe. Let me take a look at the massive bi-weekly paycheck I get for working at an alt weekly.

Cujo
Cujo

1959? Them that debts is older than me? I didn't know punch cards would last 50 years.

BHargrove
BHargrove

Grumpy Demo, my understanding is that that's where these forfeiture expiration dates come into play. Shit is dense, for sure.

Guest: Lest we forget the $100 million in outstanding fines and fees Jenkins says the county is owed.

Grumpy Demo
Grumpy Demo

Where do the Bail Bond companies fall into this, I thought they guaranteed a lot of bail? Where they not performing? or given a free pass?

Rico
Rico

As to this "antiquated IT" excuse, let's call it what it is - bullshit. Lawyers and judgment creditors, for years before anyone new what IT stood for, were able to keep up with judgments, their expiration dates, and the need to extend the judgments with timely Writs of Execution. Do judgments fall through the crack on occasion? Sure, but not on the scale we are seeing. 

And yeah, Judge Jenkins, you're right - the actual number of collectible enforceable judgments is much lower than the total amount of those unpaid judgments previously reported, thanks primarily to the negligence of Dallas County officials, so spare us your "gross misinterpretation" condescension. 

Guest
Guest

To be fair, using a total going back to the 50s isn't a fair description of the current situation. It also couldn't possibility be Judge Jenkins' fault. 

No one knows the scale of the problem.  The $35 million originally reported includes: (1) bonds unpaid more than 50 years ago; (2) bonds that have actually been paid but which were not recorded on the correct system; and (3) bonds that, as you say, "fell through the crack" more recently.  I don't have enough information to judge the county's performance on the issue because I don't know what percentage of bonds fell into the last category during the past 10 years (everything else is water under the bridge).      

Rico
Rico

I don't think this problem is due to the actions of  the current county administration only. Republican DAs and County Judges bear  responsibility for the lapses on their respective watches. Keeping judgments alive and enforceable, for as long as may be necessary, is not rocket science. I'm not concerned about a policy underwhich a few mistakes occur and the occasional judgment is  allowed to lapse. I am concerned about the apparent absence of, or non-compliance with, any policy or standard procedure to track and enforce judgments, or insure that they do not lapse.

P1Steven
P1Steven

Sounds like Dallas County might be getting some number crunching advice from JWP.

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