YOUNGSTOWN No questions asked, judge lets bondswoman keep cash
At show-cause hearings last month, another municipal judge asked lots of questions.
By PATRICIA MEADE
VINDICATOR CRIME REPORTER
YOUNGSTOWN -- Heidi Phillis didn't explain what efforts she made, if any, to get two defendants back into custody who failed to appear in court after she guaranteed their bonds.
She didn't have to.
Municipal Judge Robert P. Milich didn't ask the independent bail-bondswoman any questions at a show-cause hearing Wednesday.
He released Phillis from forfeiting a $1,500 bond for one defendant and $20,000 bond for another. Police arrested both defendants after warrants were issued for their failure to appear in court when scheduled.
Phillis had guaranteed the bonds as an independent contractor for Acme Bonding. The judge could have ordered her to pay all or a portion of the bonds after quizzing her about her efforts to find the defendants and bring them to court.
After reviewing the first defendant's file, the judge told Phillis the man has been in custody since arraignment Aug. 24, when a new $10,000 cash or surety bond was set. The judge told Phillis she was released from the bond and she thanked him.
When re-arrested, the second defendant, a woman, had a new $100,000 bond set, which she failed to post and remained in jail. The judge told Phillis she was released from the original $20,000 bond and "you'll be happy to know" that the woman was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail.
"OK, good," Phillis said.
In August: It wasn't so easy for Phillis when she appeared for a show-cause hearing Aug. 7 in the court of municipal Judge Elizabeth A. Kobly.
The judge asked a series of questions about three men Phillis had failed to bring to court and, unsatisfied with the answers, ordered that she forfeit $12,000 in bonds she'd guaranteed. Since the bonds were written without Acme's power-of-attorney number, Phillis was held personally responsible.
At the time, Judge Kobly was satisfied with answers given by Atty. Michael J. Rich, who represents Acme, and released the company from $4,000 in bonds co-owner Jim "Woody" Horvath had written for another defendant.
In response to Judge Kobly's questioning, Rich explained the lengths Horvath had gone to in the man's re-arrest. The lawyer asked for the bond release, saying Acme felt it could no longer assure the man's appearance.
Clerk of Courts Sarah Brown-Clark was hesitant to comment Wednesday on the difference between Judge Kobly's and Judge Milich's handling of the cases, saying only that different judges do things differently.
"I did my part. My intention is to reduce the caseload and cut out wasted time," she said. "I want to make it crystal clear that when bondsmen post a bond, the people must appear in court -- the bondsmen assume that responsibility."
When asked after court why he didn't question Phillis, Judge Milich said: "My concern is getting the defendants in custody. I think the bondsmen will get the message."
Another defendant in court Wednesday showed up with his lawyer, not a representative from Ace Bonding, whom Brown-Clark had expected. The lawyer, Theodore Ivanchak, took the blame for his client's failure to show in court in May and asked for a new trial date.
Judge Milich reset the case to November and continued the man's $2,500 bond that Ace posted.
As the defendant and his lawyer left the courtroom, Brown-Clark approached the bench and pointed out to Judge Milich that he had continued the bond without Ace's being in court to address the issue.
The judge then noted on the record that the bond forfeiture action is stayed until the November court date.
After court, the judge told The Vindicator that if Ace wanted to be released from the bond, a representative should have been in court. "They have to show to exercise their rights," he said.
Here's the issue: Brown-Clark issued an ultimatum at the end of June that unless bonding companies paid what they owed for defendants who skipped court appearances, she would prohibit them from writing bonds at her counter.
Since then, the bondsmen have been paying or bringing defendants to court and the three municipal judges have been holding show-cause hearings.
In the past, if and when collections were pursued under the former clerk of court, bondsmen forfeited only 10 percent of the bond amount when their clients failed to show up for court.