Bail bonds agents fear how long court clerks furlough will last

Bail bonds agents fear how long court clerks furlough will last

NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Sitting right across the street from the Orleans criminal courthouse, Steve’s Bail Bonds make it easy for family members to help post bail. However, manager Amber Dennis says it’s been unusually quiet.

“Not something I was expecting on a Saturday; it's a busy day people go out have fun and go to jail unfortunately,” said Dennis.

While she says court clerks are still answering her calls this weekend, come the start of the week she questions how it will be possible to post bonds.

“I guess Monday my game plan was just to let the first bond come in, bring it over there, and see what I can do, and if I can't do anything I’m not going to hold their money,” she said.

Since years of back and forth between the criminal district court clerk's office and city leaders, Clerk of Court Arthur Morrell announced he will be furloughing nearly all of his employees citing he does not have a fully-funded budget to operate.

Morrell says the criminal justice system will grind to a near halt until city leaders award the $4.6 million budget he requested, saying city leaders are violating state law if they don't.

“They didn't fund my budget that I submitted. They could've put $200,000 in there, what you're saying is well, ‘I have $200,000 why not use that?’ If you put $4 million in there and I use it and accept it that’s accepting less than what's needed to operate my office according to the law and what's necessary for my office to function properly,” said Morrell.

“You need these people to do just about everything the building is going to come to a halt, not to mention don't get arrested this weekend,” said Fox 8 legal analyst Joe Raspanti.

Raspanti says the office's near closure will undoubtedly cause huge issue from posting bond, to simple court appearances, but he's not expecting workers to be furloughed long.

“I have a feeling this is going to be a publicity stunt… this bomb was dropped on Friday, most people were not even working on Friday so it's extremely bad timing, and I think it is going to get the maximum irritative affect,” said Raspanti.

Dennis says depending how long workers will be furloughed means everything. She says for their business alone, it will mean roughly an 80 percent hit to revenue. But she knows it will be an even bigger hit to those forced to sit in jail.

“We do bail bonds so if we can't get out of jail, all we'll have is the municipal bonds that we can post without getting them certified by the clerk which are normally smaller bonds so it's harder to stay open if there's no bonds coming in,” she said. “Just knowing that well, I don't know if I’ll be able to get out today or this week or this month if they don't fix it.”

City communications director Beau Tidwell put out a statement saying, “The clerk of court received a budgetary increase for 2020, and those funds are available for his staffing and operational needs. It is the expectation of the administration and of the people of New Orleans that all public servants, including the clerk of criminal court, honor their commitment and do their jobs”.

According to a statement from the Orleans Clerk of Court, Morrell’s offcie will continue to operate as normal Monday at the request of Criminal District Court Judges while he meets with judges to discuss the budget impasse with the City of New Orleans.

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