June 6, 2013 – Bail bondsmen, bounty hunters, and bail bond companies can operate in five Wisconsin counties, under a Republican-backed plan that was added to the proposed 2013-15 state budget yesterday by the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.
In early May, the State Bar of Wisconsin reported that a bail bond proposal could end up in the proposed state budget, despite opposition from more than 650 prosecutors, judges, and criminal defense lawyers on the State Bar’s Criminal Law Section.
Wisconsin banned commercial bail bonding in 1979, but the industry would be revived through a pilot program allowing bail bond agents, agencies, and recovery agents to operate in Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine, and Waukesha counties.
Under the proposal, outlined in Motion #999 and approved by a 12-4 vote on party lines, the pilot program would last five years before automatic statewide implementation.
Licensed bail bond agents, who would pay a $1,000 fee and meet other requirements to obtain a license, could charge defendants 10 percent of the total bail amount.
Reportedly, judges would have discretion to decide whether a defendant could be released on bond paid by a commercial bail bondsman.
Wisconsin is one of four states that prohibit the commercial bail bond industry from operating within its borders. Republican lawmakers pitched a bail bond program in the previous state budget, but Gov. Scott Walker vetoed the plan, urging separate legislation to address any bail bond program. A subsequent bill failed to pass.
The State Bar’s Criminal Law Section opposed previous attempts to revive the commercial bail bond industry, and opposes the current attempt.
Milwaukee Deputy District Attorney Lovell Johnson, on behalf of the section, said bail bonding “would be inconsistent with the evidence-based pretrial system presently being used in Milwaukee County Circuit Court, and other similar systems, which examine factors pertaining to each individual defendant in making a release decision.”
Jeffrey Kremers, chief judge for the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, has noted that all 48 judges on the Milwaukee bench opposed the return of commercial bail sureties.
Randy Koschnick, chief judge of the state’s Third Judicial Administrative District that includes Waukesha County, told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he and the nine other chief circuit court judges in Wisconsin oppose any bail bondsman legislation.
Rep. Robin Vos (R-Burlington) has said that allowing bail bond agents and agencies to operate commercially in Wisconsin would ensure that defendants make court dates.
But Kathleen Madden, circuit court clerk for Waukesha County, says that high bail defendants who are released on 10 percent of the bail amount would have “little incentive” to comply with pretrial orders or show up for court once released.
“The less serious offenders with the lower bail set, however, will not be of interest to the profit driven bondsmen creating a bail system that unfairly penalizes some individuals and rewards serious offenders,” Madden wrote in a letter to lawmakers.
Madden noted that in the last decade, counties paid more than $7.2 million in restitution to crime victims from bail deposits by defendants who are ultimately convicted.
If commercial bondsmen are posting bail, it will be returned to them, not the victims. “I certainly am not interested in piloting this new law,” Madden added.