Sheriff Donny Turner continues to blame others for his shortcomings and failure to perform his duties.
Once again, he has used his personal newsletter, Troup County News, to attack the LaGrange Daily News’ coverage regarding his failure to collect nearly $300,000 in bail bond forfeitures. A TCN article in its Friday edition has accused LaGrange Daily News of practicing “Chicago-style politics. ” in the article, “Bail bonds collected same way in Troup County for years … and now that method being called into question?” We’re asking, how so? In the LaGrange Daily News Article, published July 28, “Some bail bond forfeitures go uncollected, we clearly point out that almost $300,000 in bail bond forfeitures have gone uncollected from 2001 to 2009. Our article states:
“The system Troup County Sheriff Donny Turner uses to collect on bond forfeitures has been called into question by State Court Judge Jeanette Little.
Little said she started her own look into why it seemed some bond forfeitures weren’t being collected when she realized there had been no bond forfeiture hearings in 201o.
‘The collections have always been spotty,’ Little said. ‘When I give an order, I assume it’s being followed. I kick myself for not picking it up sooner.’”
Our article also states that there has been a problem with the collection of these forfeitures and it appears the problem has been getting worse since notification process of delinquent forfeitures was taken away from the Solicitor General’s office in 2009 and put in charge of the Troup County Clerk of the Court. It is the job of the County Sheriff to collect the fifas issued from various bondsmen. We acknowledge there may be some slow collection problems due to suspects being detained in another jurisdiction or their unfortunate deaths. However, failure to collect $300,000 from 147 unpaid fifas dating back to 2001 seems a bit excessive.
The fact that the District Attorney’s office doesn’t find a problem with these delinquent collections is appalling. If this is the way bail bond forfeitures have always been collected, then it’s time to fix this problem.
The Troup County News’ statement saying our coverage was filled with half truths and one-sided coverage is laughable. We tried contacting the sheriff personally and through open records requests and his response came from two different letters which criticized Judge Little for her protocol in inquiring about the failed collections. One was from a private attorney. Why does a public official have to resort to hiring a private attorney to respond to a question regarding public policy? Our coverage also included actual figures from public records as follows:
• In 2001, of nine fifas issued, five went unpaid for a total of $5,650.
• In 2002, of 45 issued, 33 went unpaid for a total of $35,160.
• In 2003, 62 were issued, 35 went unpaid for a total of $58,285.
• In 2004, 39 were issued, 22 went unpaid for a total of $62,375.
• In 2005, 34 were issued, 18 went unpaid for a total of $39,325.
• In 2006, 39 were issued, nine went unpaid for a total of $17,845.
• In 2007, 41 were issued and four went unpaid for $24,520.
• In 2008, 32 were issued and 13 went unpaid for a total of $34,766.
• In 2009, 16 were issued, eight went unpaid for a total of $17,625.
These numbers speak for themselves.
Where are the figures in the TCN’s article? When did attacking our coverage become more important than addressing the failure of the Troup County Sheriff to properly execute the correct collection procedures. The TCN also states in its article, that reporters come and go at the LaGrange Daily News like “swinging doors in a saloon.” Our article on the bond forfeitures was written by Jennifer Shrader, who has been a reporter at the LDN for over nine years.
A letter to the editor, sent by Troup County Solicitor General Nina Markette Baker to the LaGrange Daily News and the Troup County News Friday, states the following:
“First, it was quite by accident that Judge Jeannette Little stumbled upon this problematic issue. For chronological context, she had addressed this issue twice in the past ten years, and I thought the issues had been resolved long ago. Sometime in 2011 Judge Little noticed there had not been any bond forfeitures on the calendar in a while. Until mid 2009, my office prepared bond forfeiture notices and we had regular bond forfeiture matters on the court’s calendar. In 2009, the law changed and our Clerk of Court took over the duties of sending out said notices as mandated by new legislation. Judge Little’s question led to the discovery that for some period of time after the clerk took over the notices, very few notices of bond forfeiture were prepared. This presented a problem because notice must be sent out in compliance with a strict 10 day notice rule or the county loses out on the right to collect on these specific bonds.
This also led to the discovery that many older bond judgments (fifa) had not been collected. The duty to collect bonds is clearly with the Sheriff. The Sheriff is responsible for assuring that criminal defendants are not released on bond unless there is sufficient surety for the bond ordered by the courts. The security is there to allow the bonds to be collected if the criminal defendants fail to appear in court as ordered.”
She further states in the letter how she attempted to set up a meeting between the various county and court officials including the sheriff to discuss the problem, but the meeting was quashed by a private attorney representing the sheriff.
“The day before the meeting the county attorney was contacted by an attorney who said Sheriff Turner and the Clerk of Court were his clients and they would not be attending the meeting. There still has not been a meeting of the stakeholders regarding proper bond forfeiture procedure,” Baker’s letter says.
The TCN’s article also takes issue with our complaint that the sheriff has failed to provide police reports to all local media. I attest that the withholding of information regarding the arrest of a murder suspect in connection with the shooting death of a convenience store clerk is a denial of the public’s right to know. The report regarding this arrest was given freely to the TCN. We had to file an open records request to retrieve this information. We are not “whining” as was said in the TCN. We are protesting the fact that the sheriff has failed to provide us with public information.