Thursday, November 12, 2009

Orange County Mayor: Give Me Credit for Changes to the Pretrial Release Program

Orange County, Florida Mayor Richard Crotty did an about face recently regarding the pretrial release program at the jail when the Chief Judge suddenly revoked the way the program released defendants.

For the last several months, the private surety bail industry has put pressure on Chief Judge Belvin Perry, Jr., the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners regarding an "administrative" release process that allowed jail staff to make release decisions. Defendants charged with serious and/or repeat criminal and driving offenses were routinely being released without any judicial involvement and minimal supervision. A mailer was sent to 50,000 Orange County citizens making them aware of how their tax dollars were being spent after numerous attempts to educate our elected officials on the public safety concerns for such releases. The response from citizens was overwhelming and a strong message was sent that they did not want their tax dollars spent to release and supervise defendants.

In response to the mailer, the Mayor asked the jail chief to make a presentation on September 22, 2009 regarding the success of the pretrial release program, to include the legal authority for such program to operate. The private surety bail industry had put the Chief Judge, the Mayor and Board of County Commissioners on notice that our contention was that release by a non-judicial authority was illegal. Judge Perry stated publicly and privately that he was not going to eliminate release authority by jail staff because his initial appearance judges would be forced to deal with more defendants who did not bond out within 24 hours. If the private surety bail industry didn't like his decision we could file a lawsuit challenging his authority with the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal. That is exactly what we did on October 26, 2009!

However, during the jail presentation the Mayor stated that the, "level of community supervision was key to the success of the pretrial release program and that an 84 percent success rate was pretty impressive." This comment was made after jail staff had stated that most defendants choose to call in to an automated telephone answering system as their "preferred" method of supervision. Mayor Crotty went on to accuse the private surety bail industry of lauching a public relations attack for a, "sliver of seven percent of releases," through the pretrial release program and patted himself on the back for holding public safety harmless during the budget process. It didn't seem to phase the Mayor that $1.7 million in tax dollars were being spent to allow "lay" individuals to make release decisions back into our community for individuals charged with serious and repeat offenses.

One week after a petition for common law writ of certiorari was filed on behalf of Accredited Surety and Casualty Company to the Florida 5th District Court of Appeal challenging the release process by a non-judicial authority, Judge Perry suddenly decided that the authority for jail staff to release defendants should be changed and issued an amended administrative order. This amended order, effective November 5, 2009, prohibits release into the pretrial release program prior to initial appearance in front of a Judge, acknowledging that such release decisions should not be made by jail staff. A huge victory for the private surety bail industry! But who do you think took credit for the change? Mayor Richard Crotty.

The Mayor issued a memo to the Board of County Commissioners on November 6, 2009 stating that he had instructed jail staff to review the, "internal processes and identify opportunities for improvement," of the pretrial release program and to work with the Chief Judge on, "potential revisions to the administrative order governing the pretrial release program." This is after the jail had made a presentation outlining the, "legal authority," for the program and the Mayor had publicly touted the success of the pretrial release program stating the county was, "on pretty solid ground," with the way the program operated.

No credit whatsoever was given to the private surety bail industry for advocating and fighting to make sure your tax dollars were spent wisely and that public safety was enhanced by providing a higher level of supervision than offered through the pretrial release program! Despite the fact that we had to legally challenge the release mechanism and highlight the types of releases happening through the pretrial release program and the previous contention by the Mayor and the jail that all was, "well," with the program . . . suddenly this about face occurs. Mayor Crotty has set himself up to continue to take credit for these changes by saying he has, "instructed staff to continue to monitor the progress of the pretrial release program and provide updates on a regular basis."

Sometimes an attempt at blatant credit, is just blatant.

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