Hundreds of people who have neglected to show up for a Montgomery County court date in recent years may soon receive an unpleasant phone call.
The county's Board of Commissioners on Thursday approved a plan by the county's Clerk of Courts and the county solicitor's office to enlist the help of collection agencies and other third parties in recovering several years' worth of bail forfeited by defendants who had failed to appear before county judges.
"It's been sitting out there and no one's been taking any actions to recover it," Montgomery County solicitor Ray McGarry said.
County Lacked Mechanism for Collecting
When a judge releases a defendant on unsecured bail, no money is collected from the defendant, who essentially agrees to an I.O.U. for the prescribed bail amount. That becomes due if the defendant fails to appear for their hearing. For years, the county has made no concerted effort to collected that forfeited bail.
Commissioner Bruce Castor, Jr. said that previous efforts to collect forfeited bail had "lost steam," sometimes due to changes in county personnel following elections. He said he has been advocating for more stringent bail collection measures since his early years as a member of the county district attorney's office.
"This has bothered me for at least 25 years," Castor said. "It has taken a good deal of time to figure out how all the pieces fit, but it is finally moving ahead."
Castor estimated that perhaps 10 percent of defendants forfeited bail through failure to appear.
"We're going to find some aggressive firms to go out there and start the process," McGarry said. "The question is, how much can we recover?"
Multiple firms will be used on what McGarry called "a contingency basis" in order to recoup the money. Those that are most successful in recouping funds will receive additional work.
The county is not sure exactly how much bail could potentially be recovered, but McGarry referred to the amount as a potential "windfall" for the county.
"There's substantial monies out there," McGarry said.
Most Recent Cases to be Pursued First
The county intends to focus first on people who have forfeited bail since 2008. McGarry said the county was sure that those individuals had been served the proper legal notices regarding the forfeiture of their bail.
"We're then going to take a look at prior to 2008 to see what is outstanding," McGarry said.
"This is very valuable for law enforcement and for the safety of our residents," Castor said. "It might put a few more people up at the [county] jail."
Asked how much the county hoped to recover through the initiative, McGarry said there was no target amount.
"$400 million," joked Josh Shapiro, chairman of the Board of Commissioners, referring to the county's approximate annual operating budget.