A Judge's Tips on Courtroom Appearance Etiquette for Bail Agents
At the 2013 PBUS conference in Las Vegas, Judge Leslie G. Johnson, an avid supporter of the private bail industry, presented a session on courtroom etiquette for bail agents. Johnson sat down with AboutBail to share his insights and tips on how bail agents can be better prepared for an appearance in the courtroom.
“As a former prosecutor and a judge I’ve always liked to have bail bondsmen on a defendant’s case,” Johnson said. “I think a bail bondsman has an investment in that case and is going to try to keep up with the person and is going to try to deliver that person to the court if he or she does not appear.”
For bondsmen, Johnson stresses that bail agents should keep in mind, first of all, what they’re going to be doing in court. He notes that it’s important to understand what to do in court, how to handle various situations, and what the rules of each court are. “If they’re going to be speaking to the court,” he said, “they need to know the rules of that court.” Johnson stressed the importance of understanding conduct-type rules, including:
- What are the rules of this court?
- What is the dress code?
- What are the rules about speaking to the court?
- When and where do I stand?
I would suggest that bail bondsmen understand that many judges, [district attorneys], and clerks do not understand the bail bond law as well as perhaps a bondsman would.
Additionally, Johnson warns bondsmen that they may have a clearer understanding of the bail laws within the state or county. “I would suggest that a bail bondsman understands that many judges, [district attorneys], and clerks do not understand the bail bond law as well as perhaps a bondsman would,” he said. Johnson suggests being prepared for the court appearance with copies of statutes, cases, and rules, and point out not that the judge is incorrect and misinformed, but rather to present the material to the court. He urges being tactful in the presentation of the information, suggesting a bondsman say, “Here is the law and I think I have followed it -- I think this situation falls in that category.” Statutes and case laws, he explains, can correct many misconceptions.
In the realm of things to never do in the courtroom, Johnson provides the following:
- Never get into an argument with the judge, prosecutor, attorney, or witness
- Never say to a judge that he or she is wrong or cannot do something
- Understand that there can be an opportunity to appeal the situation
Johnson also lined out the three major issues that come to fruition with bondsmen in the courtroom:
- Failure of the defendant to appear
- A situation where a person did not appear, a forfeiture has been filed, and it is being determined whether the bondsman should pay that forfeiture.
- A hearing in which the bondsman is asking for additional time before the forfeiture is made final.
Bondsmen do serve a good function. If the courts properly manage that situation it is a very honorable and very necessary function. I think we all have a role to play in making sure that bail bondsmen are professionals and that the courts treat them as professionals.Judge Leslie G. Johnson
Drawing from personal experience, Johnson noted that there have been times when bail bondsmen have been in court when a person was supposed to appear and the defendant was not on site. According to Johnson, in those cases, the bondsman should raise his or her, ask to speak, and say, “Your Honor, I have contacted that person, he is on his way.”
“I always appreciate that,” he said. “I look at that as a professional courtesy to me -- conduct being that [the bondsman] is taking care of the individual trying to get him or her there.”
Johnson closes his interview by noting that bondsmen are a positive influence on the criminal justice system.
“Bondsmen do serve a good function. If the courts properly manage that situation it is a very honorable and very necessary function,” he said. “I think we all have a role to play in making sure that bail bondsmen are professionals and that the courts treat them as professionals.” He closes the interview by indicating that members of the criminal justice system need to educate the public on the benefits bail bondsmen bring to the table. He references members of the legal industry saying, “I think we need to let the public know that.”