Professional Appearance – Would you trust you?

By Michael J. Whitlock, MCBA

It’s Wednesday morning in Indianapolis.  I’m scheduled to teach an hour of continuing education today to a group of property and casualty agents on the issue of bail bonds. In preparation, I got up early showered and dressed in a pair of dark gray slacks, light pink shirt, dark pink tie with a light gray sport coat with light pink strips.   What can I say; I’m not afraid of pink.

At every bail association meeting I’ve attended through the years, the issue of professional dress is almost always mentioned.  When it comes to professional attire, the bail industry gets very low marks and it most likely has to do with the hours a bail agent keeps, all 24 of them.

One never knows when the bail line is going to ring and one has to head down to the jail to meet a client or post a bond.  Most people will not take the time to put on a nicer set of clothes before heading out.  More often than not, they go with what they have on, jeans, sweatshirt, warm-up suit, etc.  With this 24/7 lifestyle it’s easy to get away from the habit of dressing professionally.

We fifty-something’s still remember when you were expected to be at work on time, stay late if you had to and work the occasional weekend day.  We also remember the requirement or rather expectation, of having to wear a tie and jacket or a nice outfit for the ladies.  That was normal then, not so much today.

I’m one of the hold outs.  I’ve found through the years, I’m treated differently when I’m professionally dressed as opposed to when I’m outfitted in jeans and a golf shirt. People give you ten points for just wearing a tie.

I still cringe when I see members of our own staff setting out to visit agents sans a tie and jacket.  In their minds, they’re dressing equal to what the client would likely be wearing.  They may be right, but it doesn’t feel right to me.

Right or wrong this is the way society is going.  Even at the weekly lunch meeting of my men’s group, of fifty people present I may be one of three wearing a coat and tie. The majority of business travelers I see are in casual attire.

Whether you wear a coat and tie or not first impressions are very important, particularly in the case of transacting bail bonds.  The general public has a preconceived notion of the typical bail agent.  Their expectation of professionalism and appearance is low.

Clients are typically, family, friends or co-workers looking to post bond for someone. They want very much to trust the person with which they are giving money and signing a number of legal documents.   For good reason, it is important to present a professional appearance and convey trust and confidence.  Surprise them.

Give this some thought the next time you’re scheduled to meet with a client.  Think about how your client is receiving you and what your appearance conveys.  Will it be trust and confidence or hesitation and skepticism?  Would you do business with you based on your appearance?  Up your game and dress professionally, it matters.

Now, I have to give a lecture on bail bonds today fully aware it is possible to look good and still suck.  Here’s to not sucking.



WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for major changes to the nation’s criminal justice system that would scale back the use of harsh prison sentences for certain drug-related crimes, divert people convicted of low-level offenses to drug treatment and community service programs and expand a prison program to allow for release of some elderly, non-violent offenders.

In remarks prepared for delivery Monday to the American Bar Association in San Francisco, Holder said he is mandating a change to Justice Department policy so that low-level, non-violent drug offenders with no ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels won’t be charged with offenses that impose mandatory minimum sentences.

Mandatory minimum prison sentences — a product of the government’s war on drugs in the 1980s — limit the discretion of judges to impose shorter prison sentences.

Under the altered policy, the attorney general said defendants will instead be charged with offenses for which accompanying sentences “are better suited to their individual conduct, rather than excessive prison terms more appropriate for violent criminals or drug kingpins.”

Federal prisons are operating at nearly 40 percent above capacity and hold more than 219,000 inmates — with almost half of them serving time for drug-related crimes and many of them with substance use disorders. In addition, 9 million to 10 million prisoners go through local jails each year. Holder praised state and local law enforcement officials for already instituting some of the types of changes Holder says must be made at the federal level.

Aggressive enforcement of federal criminal laws is necessary, but “we cannot simply prosecute or incarcerate our way to becoming a safer nation,” Holder said. “Today, a vicious cycle of poverty, criminality and incarceration traps too many Americans and weakens too many communities. However, many aspects of our criminal justice system may actually exacerbate this problem, rather than alleviate it.”

“We need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, deter and rehabilitate — not merely to convict, warehouse and forget,” said the attorney general.

Holder said mandatory minimum sentences “breed disrespect for the system. When applied indiscriminately, they do not serve public safety. They have had a disabling effect on communities. And they are ultimately counterproductive.”

Sens. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rand Paul, R-Ky., have introduced legislation aimed at giving federal judges more discretion in applying mandatory minimums to certain drug offenders.

Holder said new approaches — which he is calling the “Smart On Crime” initiative — are the result of a Justice Department review he launched early this year.

The attorney general said some issues are best handled at the state or local level and said he has directed federal prosecutors across the country to develop locally tailored guidelines for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not.

“By targeting the most serious offenses, prosecuting the most dangerous criminals, directing assistance to crime ‘hot spots,’ and pursuing new ways to promote public safety, deterrence, efficiency and fairness — we can become both smarter and tougher on crime,” Holder said.

The attorney general said 17 states have directed money away from prison construction and toward programs and services such as treatment and supervision that are designed to reduce the problem of repeat offenders.

In Kentucky, legislation has reserved prison beds for the most serious offenders and refocused resources on community supervision. The state, Holder said, is projected to reduce its prison population by more than 3,000 over the next 10 years, saving more than $400 million.

He also cited investments in drug treatment in Texas for non-violent offenders and changes to parole policies which he said brought about a reduction in the prison population of more than 5,000 inmates last year. He said similar efforts helped Arkansas reduce its prison population by more than 1,400. He also pointed to Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Hawaii as states that have improved public safety while preserving limited resources.

Holder also said the department is expanding a policy for considering compassionate release for inmates facing extraordinary or compelling circumstances, and who pose no threat to the public. He said the expansion will include elderly inmates who did not commit violent crimes and who have served significant portions of their sentences.


Lawsuit: Maryland District Court failing to make bail bonds insurers pay up

By Justin George, The Baltimore Sun

A company that insures bail bonds is suing Maryland’s District Court for being too lenient on its own industry.

What gives?

Lexington National Insurance Corp. says the playing field on which it’s competing with rival companies is not level. The Cockeysville company alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that the state courts have thrown away as much as $3 million by defying state law and not making competitors pay up when defendants jump bail or miss their court dates.

Lexington National says in its lawsuit that the practice puts them “at a distinct competitive disadvantage” with noncompliant insurance companies because it regularly pays forfeited bail bond bills, as required by a 2011 law.

Representatives for the District Court and Chief Clerk Roberta L. Warnken, who is listed as a co-defendant, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The attorney general’s office, which is representing the courts, also declined to comment.

But in a February memo, District Court Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn said corrective action was being taken to make sure clerks were following the law.

Lexington National Insurance insures bail bond businesses, which put up money for criminal defendants who can’t afford bail.

The bond amount, typically much less than the full bail amount, is returned to bail bonds agents once a defendant shows up for hearings. When they don’t, the bail bonds businesses are required to pay the full bail amount. That payment is often made by insurers such as Lexington.

But between Oct. 1, 2011, and May, Lexington National Insurance claims that District court clerks failed to make some companies pay for forfeited bonds. The suit says they either ignored and erased the amount owed when defendants finally showed up after a legal deadline had passed or they failed to enter judgments ordering insurance companies to pay at all.

“Other companies are getting away without paying because the Clerk failed to timely implement protocols or has consciously chosen not to enforce the law,” Lexington National president and CEO Brian Frank wrote in an email. “Lexington National was aware of the law from its enactment and we implemented policies and procedures to comply, and continue to comply, regardless of the Clerk’s inactions or failure to enforce.”


Honolulu man allegedly rapes 13-year-old girl while being closely monitored in probation program for a previous rape conviction

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN - Live Samuelu, the 21-year-old man accused of repeatedly raping a 13-year-old girl he met on Facebook earlier this year, pleaded not guilty in court on Monday to 7 sex assault charges.

Samuelu is being held at the Oahu Community Correctional Center until his October 8 trial unless he can come up with the required $250,000 bond.  He is charged with sexually assaulting the child four times between March and April 18, 2013, while he was on probation for an earlier violent sex assault.

Two years ago, Samuelu came home intoxicated from work, and beat and raped his own 18-year-old cousin as she lay sleeping in their home.

He pleaded guilty to all 8 counts of sex assault in that case.

While he was sentenced to a year in prison, he spent less than 5 months behind bars, according to a spokesperson for the Honolulu city prosecutor.

Samuelu was supposed to be closely monitored for the next five years in Hawaii’s Opportunity Probation with Enforcement program – also known as HOPE Probation – an innovative program developed by Circuit Judge Steven Alm in 2004 that requires strict monitoring of parolees.

Samuela violated probation twice, first in May when he skipped a meeting with his parole officer. He was arrested on May 23, and went before Alm on May 28, sentenced to time served and released. The second time he violated probation was July 12, when he caught for consuming alcohol.  He was back in custody on July 17 for allegedly sexually assaulting the 13-year-old girl.

Alm would not comment on Samuelu’s case, because it is active.

Samuelu isn’t the only HOPE probationer whose committed violent sex felonies while on strict supervision and monitoring.

Dewitt Lamar Long, 45, was caught by Honolulu police in the act of raping a 13-year-old girl, according to court records.

Hawaii Reporter on November 28 reported Long was charged with sexually assaulting the girl, then was charged with kidnapping and raping another underage victim who came forward to police and said Long had attacked her a year earlier in a motel near the airport.

Before that, Long was arrested nearly 100 times in Hawaii and traffic court also shows 100 previous charges against him since moving to Hawaii in the 1990s; his criminal record in California shows Long was convicted on felony firearms and drug and firearms.

Long was supervised by state probation officers for 12 years, and transferred to HOPE probation in 2007, but repeatedly avoided prison time despite numerous arrests during that period.

Alm, naturally the most adamant promoter and defender of the nearly decade-old HOPE probation program that he developed, said HOPE cannot stop every probationer from committing new crimes, but can deliver “swift, predictable, and immediate sanctions – typically resulting in several days in jail – for each detected violation, such as detected drug use or missed appointments with a probation officer.”

The program is now being replicated in several other states and being expanded in to a pretrial program in Honolulu, thanks to a nearly $790,000 grant from the John Arnold Foundation.

According to a statement from the foundation, “The grant will fund positions at the Department of Public Safety’s Intake Service Center to supervise and drug test HOPE Pretrial defendants, a deputy sheriff to serve any arrest warrants, and a part-time deputy prosecutor and public defender to prepare for and handle any needed violation hearings in court. The funds will also provide for drug testing, any needed confirmation tests, and outpatient and residential treatment.”

Honolulu City Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro has been the most outspoken critic of the HOPE program, saying it takes away valuable resources from the justice system. Kaneshiro would not comment on the success rate of HOPE Probation when it comes to sex offender cases.

The Samuela and Long cases may be used next legislative session as another example of why Hawaii needs tougher sex offender laws.

This past legislative session, state senators debated whether penalties for sex offenders should be boosted to an either 7 year or 25 year minimum sentence, but they failed to pass out either proposal to the House.
Hear from Judge Steven Alm about his HOPE Probation program



New York — Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced the release of the first-ever comprehensive interactive Web database of laws governing key issues in pretrial criminal justice in all 50 states. This database, which is searchable by both subject and state, provides users with easy-to-understand summaries of statutes and constitutional provisions governing important pretrial topics including release and detention, diversion, risk assessments, conditions of release, and the use of citations in lieu of arrest.

The interactive online database represents the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between LJAF and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). The resource is available on NCSL’s website.

“We believe there is a tremendous opportunity to reduce crime and improve the efficiency of taxpayer dollars by focusing on the front end of the system, the period between arrest and sentencing,” LJAF Vice President of Criminal Justice Anne Milgram said. “Jurisdictions that take advantage of this new resource can identify ways to both better protect the public and realize significant cost savings.”Among the topics covered in this interactive resource are:

  • Laws mandating or recommending the use of risk assessments in making pretrial release/detention decisions.
  • Laws governing which defendants are eligible for pretrial release and which may be detained.
  • Laws providing for alternatives to traditional criminal justice proceedings for certain people charged with criminal offenses, a practice known as diversion.
  • Laws establishing conditions that may be set for defendants released before trial.
  • Laws governing when law enforcement may issue citations (tickets requiring an appearance in court and/or payment of a fine) for low-level criminal violations, rather than arresting an offender.

The database will also include information on bail eligibility, pretrial services, and commercial bail bonding practices – work that was funded by the Public Welfare Foundation.

“With the launch of this database, it will no longer be a challenge for legislators and policy-makers to understand the laws that impact pretrial criminal justice in individual states, or on the national level,” Milgram said. “This resource for the first time provides a comprehensive guide to current laws affecting these critical issues and will allow lawmakers and practitioners to learn from one another, identify potential reforms, and spread best practices.”

LJAF and NCSL previously published three reports on pretrial legislation introduced or enacted over the past year. LJAF also recently announced that, over the coming year, it will partner with NCSL so that NCSL can update and augment its existing database of laws governing the use of DNA in criminal proceedings to include information on statutes pertaining to a wide variety of forensic science issues. That project is expected to be complete in March 2014.

About Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Laura and John Arnold Foundation is private foundation that currently focuses its strategic investments on criminal justice, education, public accountability, and research integrity.  LJAF has offices in Houston and New York City.