Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Tighten up bail bond system

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater has to get to the bottom of whether bail bond agents and surety companies in some Florida counties are getting away with not paying the full bond when a defendant skips town. The allegations are not new. They have been swirling at least since Atwater's predecessor, Alex Sink, was in office. There has been plenty of time to explore the extent of the problem, and more needs to be done.

Robert Kerrigan, a trial attorney from Pensacola, claims that the state has failed to collect millions of dollars in judgments against bail bondsmen and their insurers who owe the full value of a posted bond after a defendant fails to appear in court. In a suit filed in Escambia County in 2009 on behalf of two bail bondsmen, Kerrigan alleges that five insurance companies were not paying bail bond judgments, putting his more responsible clients at a competitive disadvantage. There is little incentive for bondsmen to try to track down the defendant if they don't have to make good on the insurance policy.

Court clerks are charged with collecting on bond judgments. But an agency within the CFO's office has the responsibility of compelling payment or suspending the license of a bond agent when bonds are due past a set number of days. Pat Frank, Hillsborough County clerk of the Circuit Court, and Ken Burke, her counterpart in Pinellas County, say state enforcement has lagged. When bonds aren't paid, the sheriff will bar the agents and their insurers from doing any more bond business in the county. But without swift and sure statewide consequences, those same players can pop up somewhere else.

The issue has been complicated by a possible coverup in the CFO's office. Ray Wenger, the head of the division that handles bail bonds, received only a one-day suspension after his staffer shredded 150 boxes of bond judgments that Kerrigan had requested to see. The document destruction means the evidence of Kerrigan's complaint, that some bond insurers continue to get work without paying up, has been destroyed. The answer as to how this happened — by mistake — has not been satisfying.

Atwater has not been idle. He has tightened rules and created a tracking system that should help get more bond agents to satisfy judgments on time — restitution and fines have already been meted out. And Atwater is auditing a small number of counties, looking for outstanding judgments. It's a good start. But he needs to dig deeper and determine whether any counties granted favored bondsmen preferential treatment, if any members of his own department's staff helped keep it quiet, and if his department has been too lax in using its enforcement powers. Atwater inherited this problem. Now it's his to fix.

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Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Editorial: As USFSP consolidation task force meets, openness and collaboration are key

Writing a new law that phases out separate accreditation for the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and folds it back into the major research university was the easy part. The hard work starts today when a new consolidation task force holds i...
Published: 04/23/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Correction

CorrectionCircuit Judge John Stargel of Lakeland is a member of the Florida Constitution Revision Commission who voted against a proposed amendment that would have stopped write-in candidates from closing primary elections. An editorial Saturday inco...
Published: 04/23/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Editorial: Florida’s death penalty fading away on its own

Florida lawmakers may never take the death penalty off the books, but stronger forces are steadily eroding this inhumane, outdated tool of injustice. Court rulings, subsequent changes to law and waning public support have significantly suppressed the...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/24/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Updated: 04/23/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18