By Diana Hefley Herald Writer
EVERETT — In a unique ruling, a Snohomish County Superior Court judge told a defendant that he’ll need to come up with $50,000 cash if he wants to get out of jail until his trial.
Judge Eric Lucas said Wednesday that while he is concerned about imposing excessive bail, he agreed with prosecutors that “bail must mean something.”
Prosecutors had argued that they didn’t want convicted rapist Peter Barton’s freedom decided by a bail bondsman. Without the judge’s order, a bail- bonding company could have agreed to post Barton’s bond with little or no money down.
Instead, prosecutors wanted assurance that Barton or someone close to him — not just the bonding company — would be on the hook for a significant amount of money if he didn’t show up for his court hearings.
Barton, 31, is accused of raping a 7-year-old girl last month. A registered sex offender, Barton faces a mandatory life sentence under the state’s persistent offender law if convicted of the new charge.
At the time of the incident, Barton had a warrant for his arrest for failing to report to his community corrections supervisor. He also is a suspect in two other sexual assault cases, according to court papers.
Snohomish County deputy prosecutor Adam Cornell called Barton an untreated sex offender who is a clear danger to the community. Cornell also added on Wednesday that the girl and her mother are afraid of him.
Lucas on Wednesday declined to increase Barton’s bail to $1 million. Instead, he doubled the amount he set on Monday, effectively ordering Barton to be jailed on $500,000 bail. The judge then granted the prosecutor’s request that Barton be required to post 10 percent in cash with the county clerk’s office before he can be released. He also must secure a bond for the full amount, Cornell said.
Prosecutors may be making more of these requests in the future.
“The legislature has failed two years in a row to address the gaping flaw in our fictional system of bail. We will ask judges to address it one case at a time,” Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe said. “It is as simple as this: Everyone needs to know, before they walk out of court, exactly how much it is going to take for the defendant to be released, and a judge, not a bonding company, should be making that important public safety decision.”
Roe has been harping on the issue since he served on a task force assigned to look at bail practices in the state. The analysis was ordered after four Lakewood police officers were shot to death in 2009. The shooter, Maurice Clemmons, paid a bonding company about $3,000 on his $190,000 bail and was released from jail about a week before the slayings.
Until then many judges and prosecutors were operating under the assumption that bail-bonding companies required their clients to pay 10 percent of the bail amount before the company would post bond.
That practice “eroded over time,” Lucas pointed out on Wednesday. The judge alluded to the Clemmons case, saying some results were “not happy for the community.”
Since the task force was formed, voters approved a state constitutional amendment that allows judges to deny bail to some defendants facing a life sentence for a violent offense. Until then, judges could only deny pre-trial bail for someone accused of aggravated murder.
Last year Roe and other county prosecutors proposed other changes, including legislation that would have set a minimum payment rate for people looking to bail out of jail.
Opponents, including the task force’s chairman Sen. Adam Kline, D-Seattle, successfully defeated the measure. They argued in part that it would discriminate against the poor. Not surprisingly, those in the bail-bonding industry also balked at the idea.
Mike Rocha, the manager at All City Bail Bonds in Everett, worries similar legislation would be the first step in eliminating commercial bonding companies altogether. He said he’s not opposed to requiring a minimum payment rate, but the money shouldn’t directly be deposited in government coffers.
He pointed to Oregon, where private bonding companies are outlawed. That eliminates an extra layer of oversight offered by bonding agents, and relies solely on law enforcement to apprehend people who fail to appear for court, Rocha said.
He said private industry is more efficient and effective than the government would be in assuring criminal defendants show up for court hearings. Bonding companies are on the hook for the full amount of the bond, so naturally they have a vested interest in their clients following the rules, Rocha said.
People have a right to be out on bail pending trial, he said.
Everyone is assumed innocent until proven guilty, and bail allows them to “go to work, pay their bills, take care of their family and conduct their lives,” Rocha said.
Diana Hefley: 425-339-3463; firstname.lastname@example.org.