Bail bonds industry readies for Wisconsin opportunity - WQOW TV: Eau Claire, WI NEWS18 News, Weather, and Sports

Bail bonds industry readies for Wisconsin opportunity


MADISON (WKOW) -- A provision in the state budget to establish commercial bail bonds in Wisconsin must still survive Governor Walker's veto pen this weekend, but some companies are already letting potential Wisconsin customers know, they're open for business.

Minneapolis-based Ability Bail Bonds is advertising its services in Wisconsin on its web site.

Ability president Tony Hanson says he realizes even if the bail bonds provision survives, it could be a year before any commercial bail bond is granted, given time needed to develop rules for bail bonds operation, and discretion on commercial bail given to judges in the five counties where commercial bail will initially be available.

Dane County chief circuit court Judge William Foust says it will be hard to convince him to eschew requiring a defendant to post the entire bail amount.

Under the bail bonds system, a defendant could post 10% of bail and earn jail release, with the bail bondsman responsible for the remaining bail.

"Judges are a better judge of the risk of a defendant to not appear than the bail bondsman, who is driven purely by profit," Foust tells 27 News.

"I do have to confess, I'm having a hard time thinking of any good reason to invite the posting of a commercial bail bond."

Kenosha County chief circuit court Judge Mary Wagner says each proposed use of commercial bail will have to assessed on its merits, and rejection will not be automatic.

Most of the leaders of the state's criminal justice system, including Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, oppose the introduction of commercial bail bonds. Opponents say the scheme will make collecting bail and certain court fees more uncertain, saddle defendants with unrecoverable bail bond payments, and introduce the sometimes risky practice of bounty hunting here. 

Hanson says the bail bonds system gives those accused a better chance to defend themselves when not incarcerated, involves insurance on bond payments, and is relatively routine when it comes to tracking down fugitive defendants.

"I don't carry a gun," Hanson tells 27 News. "Mostly it's calling, knocking on doors, talking to the family."

Foust says the state of Texas is owed millions from bail bonds companies.

In June 2011, Walker vetoed a similar bail bonds budget provision, but his veto message left open the possibility a future proposal could survive his veto pen.

Hanson says his internet ad has led many Wisconsites to call for help. He says he explains the absence of the bail bondsman option here.

While the budget provision enables bail bonds in five large counties only for the next five years, Foust is quick to dismiss the use of the term pilot project to describe it.  The provision does not rely on the experiences in those counties to dictate the future of commercial bail bonds, but instead automatically extends the approach statewide after the five year period.


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