Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bail me out!

Its a dilemma most defendants face, pay for a bond? or pay for an attorney?

The plus side is by doing both, by hiring an attorney who makes the bond they are getting both. The minus side, as in everything else in this world, is there some unscrupulous attorneys who sign up as the bondsman and do not have the experience to handle the case or are looking to make the quick buck.

So the beat goes on.

Dual legal role debated
Karisa King: Express-News

Michael Sanchez faced a tough choice: pay a bondsman to get him out of jail or hire an attorney who would take his case to trial. When he found a lawyer who promised to do both at a price he could afford, he thought he'd found an easy fix.
His decision only led him into a deeper hole.

After Sanchez missed a court date, his attorney, Kelly Green, asked a judge to issue a warrant for his arrest and sent bounty hunters to apprehend him. Before long, Sanchez was back in Bexar County Jail, too broke to hire another lawyer and left to rely on the same attorney who, he believed, had worked against him.
"I didn't trust her," Sanchez said. "I was uncomfortable, but what could I do? I had already paid her for her services."

His case is a textbook example of what can go wrong when lawyers play the dual role of attorney and bail bondsman.

Nearly all other states prohibit the practice because it can lead to conflicts of interest, pitting an attorney's own financial benefit against the duty to fight for clients in court. For that reason, the American Bar Association said attorneys should not post bonds for their clients except in rare circumstances.
But some lawyers routinely take advantage of an obscure state law that allows them to bail out inmates, a San Antonio Express-News analysis has found. A review of computerized court records shows about 250 lawyers posted bonds in Bexar County last year, including 18 lawyers who each signed bonds totaling more than $1 million.

Charging the industry standard of about 10 percent of the total bond amount, some lawyers have turned bail bonds into a bread-and-butter part of their law practices.

Green, Sanchez's attorney, leads the pack. She posted more than $5.1 million worth of bonds on about 430 cases last year, more than many professional bail bond companies in Bexar County.
Texas law uniquely contradicts ethics experts who condemn the practice. State law allows attorneys to bail out prisoners on the condition they later represent those defendants in court. A review of several dozen cases shows some attorneys may be skirting the law by posting bail for inmates while other lawyers do much of the legal work.
But the law is vague. It doesn't spell out the amount of work the bonding attorney should do on a case.

Among attorneys who post the most bonds is former state Rep. Robert Puente, who signed about $1.4 million in bonds in 2006 and about $550,000 last year. Although Puente has posted numerous bonds worth more than $50,000 each in recent years, records show he rarely appeared in court to present plea bargains for those clients and almost never filed motions relating to evidence in those cases and others. Instead, other attorneys routinely filed the paperwork and appeared on the trial dates.

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