Capitol Alert

California’s problems with money bail were created by the courts, bond agents say

A sign in the window of a bail bonds office across from the Hall of Justice in San Francisco in 2015.
A sign in the window of a bail bonds office across from the Hall of Justice in San Francisco in 2015. The Associated Press

Will the California chief justice’s call to end the use of money bail tip the scales for advocates when the Legislature returns next year?

A high-profile push to scrap California’s bail system, which critics contend has created an unequal system of justice based on wealth, fell short in the Assembly last session amid concerns about cost and the effect on public safety. But Gov. Jerry Brown announced he would continue to work on the issue with legislative proponents and Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.

Their campaign got a boost of momentum last month with the release of a report, issued by a working group compiled by the chief justice, that urged the state to instead release defendants based on whether they pose a threat to public safety.

Cantil-Sakauye endorsed the conclusion of the study that bail “unnecessarily compromises victim and public safety” by unfairly penalizing the poor. (Brown has not commented on the report.) She asked the working group to present its findings to the Judicial Council, the policymaking body of the California courts, during its meeting at 2:40 p.m. in Sacramento.

Facing an existential threat to its business, however, the bail industry has cast doubts on the legitimacy of the study. The Golden State Bail Agents, a trade association, contends that it was not “sufficiently included” in the process. (The executive director of the American Bail Coalition was among 46 individuals that presented to the working group.)

The bail agents plan to submit their own detailed response to the recommendations to the Judicial Council, raising concerns like how California will pay for a proposed replacement pretrial services system that is estimated to cost billions of dollars per year. They also argue that the state could easily address concerns for the poor by lowering the bail schedule, which is set by county courts.

“The recent report by the Judicial Council is nothing but a clever subterfuge to cast blame for the courts’ problems on the California bail industry,” Albert W. Ramirez, general counsel for the Golden State Bail Agents, said in a statement. “If the courts really believe that some defendants are in custody only because they cannot afford bail, the courts can set lower bail schedules at any time, for no additional cost.”

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LADIES WHO LUNCH: Former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, the only major female candidate in next year’s crowded gubernatorial field, is the guest of honor at a luncheon hosted by the women’s leadership organization Capitol Network, 11:30 a.m. at the State Building & Construction Trades Council building on I Street, where she will discuss her experience in politics.

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Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff

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