Sunday, July 3, 2011

Bail Bondsmen Say Marshals Offering Bail Illegally

The Las Vegas Review Journal did an excellent job, in their June 27th article “Bail Bondsmen say Las Vegas marshals stepping out of line”, of exposing something that has been the worst kept secret among Las Vegas bail bonds agencies. They are having a very tough year for business and the city of Las Vegas is making the problem worse. Most of the public has been blissfully ignorant to the plight of the Las Vegas bail bondsmen over the past year. Many are slowly dying on the vine, as they claim, due to the new City of Las Vegas program that has marshals clearing warrants and taking bail. Las Vegas bail bondsmen are up in arms because they say the new program is robbing them of much needed business and clientele while violating a few laws in the process.

The program was launched by the City of Las Vegas on July 1, 2010 with the stated intent of generating revenue. The city focused marshal resources and efforts to increase enforcement of outstanding traffic warrants. In turn once contacted by marshals, the defendant has the option of paying a fee directly to the court and thus avoiding jail. The city sees this as a way to fund ongoing administrative costs and avoid lay offs. The city also cites the additional benefit of reducing prison costs by not actually incarcerating these defendants or increasing jail populations. Las Vegas claims that the program has netted a $1.6 million profit since its inception approximately one year ago.

This successful program does come with a price. That price is being paid by the local Las Vegas bail bondsman. For every traffic warrant cleared by the marshals, bail bondsmen potentially lose out on a client. In fact, things have gotten so bad that The Las Vegas Review Journal reported that Aztec Bail Bonds business had 50% negative growth year over year. The article went onto say that the owner has reduced his staff from 10 employees to six. When measuring business by the number of bonds written, Aztec bail bonds has gone from approximately 35 bonds a week to 16.

This decline in business was seconded by the owner of Black Jack Bonding in the article. He said his revenue was off by half from the previous year. Beyond feedback from a local bail bondsman, there are other signs that the new program is affecting the Las Vegas bail bonds agencies. Several vendors serving bondsmen report receivables are aging and increasing. In addition, marketing and advertising spending are declining as bail bondsman budgets shrink.

While the evidence is anecdotal and hasn't been proven to be cause and effect, there certainly seems to be a strong correlation between the decline in local bail bondsman's businesses and the launch of the Las Vegas program in 2010. With the program netting $1.6 million for the City of Las Vegas, it is highly unlikely they will stop it anytime soon. For the bail bondsmen that have been affected, they are resigned to a long hard fight to win back their businesses.

Local bail bondsmen are unilaterally contacting state and local officials to lodge complaints. In addition, they are working through local bail associations to collectively and formally challenge the legality of the program. Time will tell how successful the bail bondsmen are in fighting for their survival. Let's just hope they can last long enough to see the fight through to the end.