Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner, Clerk of Court Jackie Taylor and District Attorney Pete Skandalakis all responded Monday to accusations the sheriff had not been properly collecting about $300,000 in bond forfeitures in the last 1o years.
“I have collected every fi fa that the county has asked me to collect,” Turner said in a letter to the LaGrange News. “I challenge you to find one county in the state of Georgia that has a better collection record than mine.”
All three letters were hand-delivered to the LaGrange News on Monday morning.
State Court Judge Jeanette Little questioned the sheriff’s process for collecting bond forfeitures after she realized there had been a lack of bond forfeiture hearings in her court. She provided information on the uncollected bonds to the LaGrange Daily News last month after receiving an open records request.
Here is the process, which is Georgia law:
The bond process starts when an individual is arrested. In order to be released from jail early with assurances the defendant will show up for the scheduled court date, the sheriff approves someone (usually a bond agency) to sign a bond. That person or agency becomes the surety. The pledge signed by the surety is that the amount of the bond will be forfeited if the defendant fails to appear in court.
If the defendant doesn’t show up, the state court solicitor would ask for a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. The bench warrant must be issued within 10 days of the court date. At that hearing, if the defendant or surety doesn’t appear, the court issues a writ of execution, commonly called a “fifa” for fieri facias, to collect the bond. It’s the responsibility of the sheriff to collect that money.
Prior to 2009, it was the responsibility of the State Court Solicitor to notify local bondsman that defendants hadn’t shown up for court. The law was changed in 2009, making it the responsibility of the Troup County Clerk of Court to notify the bondsmen.
“(Every county department) is busy and short-staffed and all departments work for the good of the county,” Taylor said in an interview last month. “We do the best we can do and the citizens are foremost in our minds.”
It has always been the sheriff’s job to collect the fifas, and Little contends that the fifas aren’t being collected. She took her findings to then-County Manager Mike Dobbs and also to Skandalakis. A letter from Skandalakis saying Turner had done nothing legally wrong was included in information provided to the LaGrange News by Little.
Judge Little complained to the county and the district attorney that I was not collecting bail bond fifas,” Turner’s letter to the LaGrange News said, in part. “The district attorney conducted an investigation. The county had the county’s attorney conduct an investigation at the expense of thousands of taxpayer dollars while utilizing over 500 man hours. After looking at the facts, both the district attorney and the county’s attorney concluded that Judge Little’s complaint had no merit.”
Taylor also defended the practices, saying in her letter that there hadn’t been any problems with issuing bond forfeitures since her office began sending out the notices in 2009.
Skandalakis said in his letter that he wasn’t asked to investigate bond forfeiture procedures, but rather, whether Turner had violated his oath, and that was the scope of his inquiry.
“When one uses the term ‘violation of oath of office,’ one can be assured that I, as district attorney, will conduct a preliminary investigation to determine if these allegations have merit and if a criminal investigation is warranted,” the district attorney’s letter said, in part. “I immediately began such an inquiry and closely examined the alleged violations. … I found that the sheriff did not, and has not, violated his oath of office.”
Little had no comment when notified of the correspondence to the Daily News on Monday. State Court Solicitor Markette Baker said she stands by the comments made in her own letter to the editor, published Saturday, and much of the controversy could have been avoided if the sheriff had been willing to meet with Little and others last year.
“This week, I had a chance to review what the sheriff has called the 650-page audit he did on the bond forfeitures,” Baker said. “Based on my review of that audit I remain convinced that some bond judgments were not collected because of a misunderstanding of the bonding law. This is what the meeting of stakeholders was meant to address. It was a chance for everyone to get together and come to a meeting of the minds, review the law, and agree upon correct procedure in order to move past this issue.”