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Fayette eyes bond money

| Friday, Aug. 2, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Fayette County is exploring ways to recover thousands of dollars in bond proceeds that are forfeited when criminal defendants fail to appear for court hearings.

County commissioners Al Ambrosini and Angela Zimmerlink met with solicitor John Cupp, Controller Sean Lally and Clerk of Courts Jan Snyder on Thursday to discuss what Ambrosini described at the outset of the meeting as “the bond forfeiture process.”

Snyder said although forfeited bonds are payable to the county, professional bail bondsmen can petition judges to exonerate them. Typically, she said, judges grant the exonerations as long as the bondsman agrees to pay the fees for the constables who picked up their clients.

“And that's happening almost every time now,” Snyder said. “The judges are granting them left and right.”

The constable fees are approximately $300 in most cases, if two constables serve the warrant, she said.

Snyder cited two recent examples in which bonds of $10,000 and $12,500 on two criminal defendants were exonerated.

“Why in God's world would we let that happen?” Lally said.

Cupp said the exonerations are permissible under a state Superior Court ruling.

Another problem occurs when district judges set unsecured bonds for criminal defendants who then skip town. The bonds are nearly impossible to collect, Cupp said.

He cited a recent case in which a burglary defendant forfeited a $30,000 unsecured bond.

“She was allowed to say, if I don't show up, I promise to give you $30,000,” Cupp said. “You know what the chances are of me getting the $30,000? Nothing.”

A number of other issues were discussed, including the possibility of requiring professional bondsmen to post sureties with the clerk of court's office.

The county could draw on the sureties when a bond is forfeited, provided it is not exonerated, Snyder said.

Cupp said that would be permissible only through a change to the court's local rules, a process that must be initiated through the Fayette County Bar Association.

Cupp said he would contact the appropriate rules committee with the bar association, as well as the court's solicitor, Garnet Crossland of Uniontown, before the group schedules another meeting.

Liz Zemba is a reporter for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-601-2166 or lzemba@tribweb.com.

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