Picture, SEN. TOMMIE BROADWATER . . . law never explained
State Sen. Tommie Broadwater (D-Prince George's), a prominent local bail bondsman, has routinely signed sworn affidavits declaring that he has no bail bond debts when he owes the courts thousands of dollars for clients who jumped bail.
The affidavits Broadwater signed are required by Maryland court rules of all bondsmen who post bail for criminal suspects. By signing the affidavits in order to continue his business, Broadwater had apparently committed perjury, according to court officials.
The rule requiring the affidavits is designed to prohibit bondsmen from obtaining new business while they have outstanding debt judgments because of missing defendants. Court clerks enter the judgments against bondsmen when they fail to either find a missing client or pay his bail within 90 days of his disappearance.
As for Monday, Broadwater had 15 such judgments against him in Prince George's and Montgomery County courts for bail bonds worth a total of $17,850. Broadwater explained that he needed only to complete court paper work yesterday to have 9 of the 15 judgments and most of the debt erased. He had asked for extensions of time to find the missing defendants in the remaining cases.
However, during the months it has taken Broadwater to find his clients and resolve the cases or ask for extensions of time, he has collected fees for dozens of new bail bonds. In each case he has signed the necessary affidavit declaring that he had no such judgements.
Broadwater, 38, a self-made businessman from Glenarden who has become one of the state's most influential politicians, says the law he has allegedly violated has never been enforced or even explained to him and other bondsmen in its three years on the book.
"They've changed their procedures," Broadwater said. "The affidavit was never stressed. It never crossed my mind that it was an offense [to sign the affidavits]. I don't know why they are raising so much hell all of a sudden or getting so technical . . . somebody had just got a new twist now and is trying to make trouble -- and it's just not fair."
However, Prince George's County State's Attorney Arthur A. Marshall Jr., who was told about the alleged violations by court officials, said:
"I don't think [signing the affidiavits] is technical. It's clearly a crime. The question is whether Broadwater or anybody knew it was a crimee and whether there is an administration remedy."
Although Broadwater says that the law he allegedly violated has never been enforced or even explained to him, almost every other bondsman in the state has halted work when faced with such outstanding judgments, court officials said.
Many bondsmen, in fact, have been forced to pay their bail -- judgment debts through an administrative procedure used by court officials until recently. State officials now say that method was discriminatory and legally unsound.
Court clerks relied on a list of qualified bondsmen that was distributed monthly. Bondsmen who had outstanding court judgments were excluded from the list and were not allowed to continue their businesses.
However, this administrative practice, which was dropped in April after eight years of use, regulated only those bondsmen who worked for insurance companies. The 13 independent or "property" bondsmen in Maryland, including Broadwater, were never covered.
According to court officials, most of the state's independent bondsmen stopped working when they had outstanding judgments anyway, partly because they did not want to make false statements on affidavits. However, Broadwater and at least one other Prince Georges's bondsman, Solomon Hamilton, apparently delayed settling their debts while continuing their work, at the apparent risk of breaking the law, court officials said.
In an interview, Broadway said that he had been recently warned by Prince George's bail commissioner, Robert Taylor, that he may have violated perjury laws by continuing his work while court judgments for bail bond debts were pending against him.
But Broadwater maintained that he had done nothing improper or even unusual. Instead, he said that he regularly finds his clients or pays their bonds when court officials warn him of his judgments.
Offering case-by-case explanations of the current judgments against him, Broadwater said that the judgments were still outstanding only because he had failed to file routine paperwork, although he has not yet found several of the defendants involved or paid their bail penalties.
Broadwater said that he never realized that he could not continue his business until he had satisfied all outstanding judgments, and that court officials had not warned him of this fact or of the cases that had not been settled.
"Nobody's called me in to say these bonds aren't being taken care of," Broadwater said. "I handle a hell of a lot of bond cases . . . I'm doing so many different things that some of them get by me. You assume if you don't hear from them, it's been taken care of."
"They've changed their procedures," Broadwater said. "The affidavit was never stressed. It never crossed my mind that it was an offense. I don't know why they are raising so much hell all of a sudden or getting so technical . . . somebody has just got a new twist now and is trying to make trouble -- and it's just not fair."
Maryland district court officials began trying to stop bondsmen from working when they had outstanding bail penalties in 1972, shortly after the court was formed. Court officials found at the time that many bail bondsmen were never required to pay the bail penalty when a defendant skipped his trial, and owed the courts tens of thousands of dollars in debts that dated back years.
Court officials felt that bail bondsmen who were avoiding paying a penalty for the clients who disappeared had no incentive to make sure defendants showed up in court, and were escaping from debts they legally owed to the state.
The 1972, Maryland District Court Clerk Margaret Kostritski began the system of compiling a list each month of bondsmen eligible to work in state courts. Any bondsman with an outstanding debt did not appear on the list, and court clerks around the state would not allow such bondsmen to post new bail bonds.
According to Kostritski, a bondsman forced to stop work faces severe financial losses. "It will drive many of them out of business," she said in a telephone interview.
Kostritski said that from 1972 to 1980, no insurance company bondsman was allowed to neglect bail bonds that had been forfeited by clients. However, she said there was a "regulatory gap" in her system: none of the independent bondsmen, most of whom work in Prince George's, were included.
After the rule requiring sworn affidavits from bondsmen posting bail in District Court took effect in 1977, the independent bondsmen should have been required to pay the same penalties -- and suffer the same losses -- as other state bondsmen, Kostritski said.
However, officials in Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- where 11 of the 13 independent bondsmen work -- apparently never checked to see if bondsmen were violating the law by swearing to false statements on the affidavits.
Montgomery County's court clerk. Howard Smith, said in an interview that he normally did not check judgments against bondsmen, which he said was the job of the county state's attorney.
In Prince George's, bail commissioner Taylor said that he also did not monitor bondsmen's bail debts. He said he only took action when court clerks informed him that a bondsman was badly in arrears.
However, Taylor said that most of the 11 independent bondsmen he is charged with supervising were "good about paying their debts within a day or two." The large outstanding judgments pending against Broadwater and Solomon Hamilton, he said, were "highly unusual."
The alleged violations by Braodwater and Hamilton were discovered only last month, after state officials decided to abandon the system of compiling the monthly list for insurance bondsmen.
Kostritski said that she was informed in April by Robert C. Murphy, the chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, that she did not have the legal authority to dispatch a monthly list of eligible bondsmen.
In an effort to continue collecting bondsmen's bail debts, Robert F. Sweeney, the chief judge of Maryland's District Courts, sent a letter to all court clerks and state attorneys reminding them that bondsmen who signed the affidavits when they had an outstanding judgment "would appear [to be commiting] a criminal offense."
That letter, in turn, prompted court officials in Prince George's to inform State's Attorney Marshall that Broadwater and Hamilton apparently had violated the law.
Marshall said in the interview that he had not yet decided on how to follow up on the allegations against Broadwater and Hamilton. "This suddenly came out of nowhere," he said. "We were not aware of this."