California’s newly signed law abolishing money bail makes the livelihoods of thousands of bail bondsmen obsolete — and in Sacramento, which is dotted with colorful figures from the industry, many are frustrated by the move.
There are 3,200 licensed bail bondsmen in the state, and the industry accounts for at least 7,000 jobs, according to Maggie Kreins, vice president of the California Bail Agents Association. .
“Bail bondsmen are insurance agents,” said Topo Padilla, president of the Golden State Bail Association and Sacramento bail bondsman. “We issue an insurance policy to the court guaranteeing a person’s appearance in court. If a person fails to appear in court, the bail industry goes out and returns people to the court. If we fail to return the person to court in time, we pay the full amount of the bond.”
The new law, SB 10, replaces the money bail system with a “risk assessment” of an individual’s likelihood of returning for court hearings and their chances of getting arrested again. Those who are deemed “low-risk” would be released with the least restrictive non-monetary conditions possible, while “medium-risk” and “high-risk” defendants could be held awaiting trial.
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“Really and truly a bail bond is nothing more than accountability,” said Greg Padilla, who owns Greg Padilla Bail Bonds in Sacramento. “That’s all it is.”
The new law faces strong opposition from the bail bond industry, which moved to block the law Wednesday by introducing a referendum drive, asking voters to delay and ultimately overturn SB 10.
“With a stroke of a pen, this bill eliminates the bail bond business,” Topo Padilla said.
Topo co-owns Greg Padilla Bail Bonds with his father, Greg, who has been in the industry for nearly 40 years.
Bail bonds is a family business for the Padillas, spanning three generations. Greg’s wife, son and grandson work in the bail industry. His brother Leonard Padilla made an illustrious name for himself as a bail bondsman and led a life that is sometimes stranger than fiction.
Leonard isn’t chasing people who jumped bail anymore, but Greg still runs the business from his storefront directly across the street from the Sacramento County Main Jail.
“By October 1 of next year, we’re gone,” Greg said of SB 10. “So we just have to go find a job.”
He has 14 full-time employees and two locations in downtown Sacramento. He said he didn’t know how they would fight SB 10, but he know people are looking into ways to do it.
Tony “The Tiger” Lopez, another notable Sacramento bail bondsman, isn’t sticking around to see what happens. He’s closing up shop. leaving the bail bond business and moving out of state, he said.
“By next year, it’s over, it’s a wrap, we’re done,” he said.
Lopez has been a bail bondsman for 19 years, taking up the business after a career as a professional boxer, where he was a three-time World Boxing Champion.
“Who’s going to chase the people who don’t show up to court?” he said. “If they don’t show up, on my dime and our dime, we chase them. ... Anywhere they go, we go, because if we don’t find them, we actually pay that bond cost.”
SB 10 replaces bondsmen with county-funded teams that are responsible for finding people who don’t show up on their court date.
“It’s stupid, there’s no other word for it, it’s just stupid,” he said.