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Conflict of interest shuts down lobbyist Ron Book’s work for bail industry

Ron Book

Ron Book

By Dan Christensen, BrowardBulldog.org

Flagged by Broward officials for a conflict of interest, county lobbyist Ron Book has agreed to stop pushing for a new state law that county officials say would seriously undermine Broward’s pretrial intervention program and cost local taxpayers millions.

The new law is being sought by another of Book’s clients, the Florida bail bond industry. It would restrict access to county-run pretrial release programs by establishing new, statewide eligibility requirements for defendants seeking to get out of jail, forcing the county to spend more in keeping inmates behind bars.

County support for the pretrial program has wavered over the years; nevertheless, critics say Book should not be involved in representing the bail bond industry on the issue.

Broward County pays Book $53,000 a year plus $2,000 in expenses to lobby in Tallahassee.

At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Commissioner Lois Wexler said that if passed the law would “decimate” local pretrial release programs and place huge financial burdens on counties across the state.

Wexler added that she wants her money’s worth from the lobbyist that many consider to be the most influential in Florida.

“I want Mr. Book on my team…I don’t want him neutral,” Wexler said.

 At Book’s urging, Broward commissioners passed an ordinance in January 2009 restricting access to the program run by the Broward Sheriff’s Office. The proposed change in state law would further tighten the bondsmen’s noose on the pretrial program.

“I guess the bail bond companies didn’t get richer or increase their bottom line enough by what we did a year and a half ago, so now they’re going in for the kill,” Wexler said in an interview.

“This bill makes money the determination of justice,” said Broward Public Defender Howard Finkelstein.

Book declared a “potential conflict” in a March 8 letter to the county after a county official told him the county opposed the pretrial measure. He asked the county to waive its conflict rules to “allow me to continue my representation of the bail industry.”

Those rules recognize the potential for conflict of interest in dual representation, but only when the Legislature is in session as it is now.

Broward has yet to rule on that request, but the matter may now be moot. On Friday, Book agreed honor the demand of another client, Miami-Dade County, which decided it did not want Book lobbying on the pretrial detention issue.

“I am in the process of extricating myself from the issue,” he said.

Wexler said Book may be disingenuous when he says he’ll stop lobbying the issue.

“The word on the street is that he’s already secured the votes for them so he can now afford to be neutral,” said Wexler.

Book may be out of the legislative game on the pretrial detention bill, but his sympathies were clear in a parting shot Monday at Finkelstein his chief Broward antagonist.

“Public policy is on our side. And contrary to what Howard Finkelstein thinks, nobody died and left him in charge of what’s right and wrong in this world,” said Book.

This isn’t the first time Book’s work for the bail industry has put him at odds with his clients at county hall.

The January 2009 vote was accompanied by intense behind the scenes lobbying and public controversy. And 11 years ago, Book apologized when Broward commissioners asked him to explain why he had pushed a bill that would have weakened the county’s pretrial detention program and cost the county millions.

“Hopefully, you don’t make the same mistake again,” Commissioner Ilene Lieberman said at the time, according to The Miami Herald.

Book said Pete Antonacci of the GrayRobinson law firm will now lead the lobbying effort. Antonacci said the next hearing is Friday in Tallahassee at the House criminal and civil justice committee.

“We have very good support in the House and Senate,” Antonacci said.

The House and Senate are considering two versions of the proposed law, HB445 and SB782. The sponsors are two powerful Republicans – Lake Mary Rep. Chris Dorworth, Speaker of the House designate for 2014-2016, and St. Augustine Sen. John Thrasher, the new chairman of the Republican Party of Florida.

A staff analysis of the House bill reported pretrial program data collected from about a half-dozen counties, including Miami-Dade and Palm Beach.

Miami-Dade said approximately 55 percent of their current pretrial clients, nearly 7,300 people, would be ineligible based on the bill’s requirements. In Palm Beach, the rate of ineligibility would rise to 67 percent, or 3,400 people.

Broward was not included in that analysis. But at Tuesday’s hearing Wexler said 1,750 Broward defendants who now use the program would no longer qualify if the law passes.

A fiscal analysis sought to project how much it would cost to keep those extra people in jail for the average length of time it takes to get cases resolved in each county.

In Miami-Dade, where the per day cost to keep an inmate in jail is $134.27, that cost would be $1 million to $10 million depending on how many of those 7,300 extra inmates remained in jail until their cases were resolved. In Palm Beach, the range was $1.3 million to $12.8 million.

Those worrisome numbers are fueling opposition to the bill among the 28 counties that have pretrial programs.

But that’s a plus to Antonacci.

“In some ways it helps because I don’t think they have a particularly good track record in Tallahassee. Every time out they say the sky is falling and it doesn’t happen. People become a little numb,” he said.

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  • THE STAFF ANALYSIS IS FLAWED. NOT EVERYBODY INELIGIBLE FOR PRETRIAL UNDER THIS BILL WOULD REMAIN IN JAIL. MANY WOULD BAIL OUT.

    ALSO, IT DOESN’T TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THAT THE INDIVIDUALS PROHIBITED FROM PARTICIPATING IN PRETRIAL ARE EXACTLY THE ONES THE PUBLIC WANTS OFF THE STREET. HERE IS THE LANGUAGE OF THE BILL AND SEE IF YOU AGREE:

    The bill specifies that a defendant is only eligible to participate in a pretrial release program if the defendant is charged with a misdemeanor or with a felony that is not a dangerous crime and:
    – Has no history of failing to appear at any court proceeding;
    – Is not, at the time of the arrest, subject to or on probation for another charge and is not facing charges for another crime anywhere in this state;
    – Has no prior convictions involving violence;
    – Satisfies any other limitation upon eligibility for release which is in addition to those above, whether established by the board of county commissioners or the court; and
    – Is indigent as defined in Rule 3.111, Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure.12

    THIS LANGUAGE IS EXACTLY THE REASON THE BILL PASSED UNANIMOUSLY OUT OF ITS FIRST HOUSE COMMITTEE, WITH DEMOCRATS AND REPUBLICANS VOTING FOR IT.

    PRETRIAL HAS BECOME A HUGE GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY IN MOST COUNTIES. THIS BILL ANALYSIS DOESN’T TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE SAVINGS THAT WOULD BE RELEASED BY CUTTING IT BACK.

  • If you want the facts on government sponsored pretrial release programs…or shall I say the myths, visit http://www.pretrialtruth.com and get the FREE whitepaper “Taxpayer Funded Pretrial Release – A Failed System.”

  • The bill in question is only three pages long and remarkably straightforward. Yet these “officials” cry the sky will fall if we deny violent criminals with prior failures to appear their “right” to bond out of jail on the taxpayer’s dime. Miami-Dade claims the cost of this bill will be $1 million. Or maybe it’s $10 million? For Palm Beach maybe it’s $1.3 million or perhaps $12.8 million. .Take your pick. The fact is that these programs don’t even know who they are releasing. I don’t believe Miami-Dade’s pretrial release program even screens their “clients” for indigence.
    Pasco County eliminated their pretrial release program completely and the jail population did not go up a bit.

  • You have it so wrong. If you would research Pre-Trial Release Services of Broward County you find incidents, of them taking into their program peole who do not qualify under the current statute, people whose address is in the middle of Lake Hollywood and one individual who had a deportation order on her.

    If the PTS was used as intented no one would have a problem, Every bondsman will give you examples of bonds he has posted only to have them kicked back because Pre-Trial took the person into the “Program” which by the was cost money and is very similiar to a parole or probation sentence. This is prior to the case even being filed.

    Contact me and I will enlighten you.

  • IS ANYONE GOING TO ASK SANDY ADAMS WHY SHE IS VOTING THIS MORNING ON HB455/SB782, THE BAIL BONDSMAN BILL AND THEN ATTENDING A FUNDRAISER MONDAY HOSTED BY THEM FOR HER CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN?

  • Bail bonds has been around since we were riding horses. lets keep it that way .The government cant run everything thats not the american way.And in reply too howard finklestein FREEDOM HAS ALWAYS COST SOMTHING IT NEVER WAS FREE…godbless america

  • Looks like this concept when no where in both the House and Senate; probably because Book was de-fanged.

  • Another example of about damn time. Now continue to look at all of the conflicts!

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