Bondsmen dread the day they're told to pay

04/01/2012 12:10 AM

09/16/2012 4:34 PM

FORT WORTH -- Paul Schuder, a county bail bondsman for 20 years, is in front of a magistrate.

It's Valentine's Day, and two clerks and a bailiff are smiling. A young African-American man is waiting in the courtroom hoping to catch a glimpse of his fiancee, who is expected to be arraigned at any moment on a forgery charge.

But Schuder is not in a romantic mood at all. He is in a hand-wringing sweat and is frowning. He has run out of pleas and prayers and is facing a maximum penalty.

Two years ago, Schuder wrote a $25,000 bail bond for Juan Andrade, who was charged with aggravated robbery. That was the get-out-of-jail card for Andrade, who then went on the lam. On this day, the bond forfeiture is 617 days old. Any felony case that exceeds 270 days triggers the Tarrant County district attorney's office to pursue the full bail amount.

Schuder may have to pay up.

"I'm asking you for a pass," Schuder told the magistrate, Judge Timmie White. "The only thing I'm asking for is 30 more days."

It's unusual for cases like his to end up in court. Many bond forfeitures don't see the light of day because settlements are worked out.

For those that aren't, the hearings can be perfunctory.

The magistrate's docket that day included eight other bond forfeiture cases. Each exceeded the 270-day requirement. White whipped through the docket in moments, resetting some cases and settling others.

One involved a repeat DWI defendant out on $5,000 bail, missing for about 18 months. The attorney-bondsman paid up the full bail amount, plus court costs and interest, county records show.

A suspect charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child had been loose for more than a year after being sprung on $50,000 bail. His bond forfeiture hearing was reset.

The district attorney also filed a felony bail-jumping case against the defendant early last year, county records show.

Yet another case, involving a drug defendant out on $100,000 bail, was pushed to a different day. The bond forfeiture was to have been heard for the first time that day, but the district attorney gives automatic resets to those.

"The first hearing ... the attorney or surety gets a pass," said Ashley Fourt, an assistant district attorney.

Criminal court judges used to be responsible for such felony forfeiture hearings, but state law now allows them to pass the responsibility to magistrates. In almost every criminal court, appointed magistrates hear the cases.

The high drama of Schuder's case soon dissipated.

White gave Schuder a burdened stare.

Fourt had told the magistrate: "If you don't object, I don't object."

"I won't object as long as on that date, we're done," White said.

Schuder was given the additional 30 days to bring Andrade back to court.

Later, White said he felt sorry for Schuder. "I'd be crying real tears," White said. "He was wringing his hands, crying, 'Please don't make me pay.'"

By March 15, Andrade hadn't shown up and a judgment was issued for the $25,000. Schuder had not paid as of March 30, county records show.

Yamil Berard, 817-390-7705

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