Appeals panel rules against Pugh in bail bond lawsuit

handcuffsJACKSON COUNTY — A federal appeals panel has upheld a ruling that Mississippi sheriffs are authorized to decide who will — or won’t — write bail bonds in their counties.

The ruling came last week from a three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans. The ruling upheld a decision by a Mississippi federal judge last year.

The lawsuit was filed in October 2012 against Sheriff Mike Byrd and the county after Byrd barred three Pugh Bonding Company employees from writing bonds that February.

Plaintiffs Donald Pugh, Percy Gusta and Priscilla Gusta alleged they were removed from the approved bondsman list without notice and without reason. They sought reinstatement to the list and a permanent bar against being removed in the future.

A Mississippi judge ruled against the plaintiffs in November of 2013.

Court records show the Gustas were placed to Jackson County’s bail bondsmen list in 2008 and that Pugh was added in 2010.

Records show Byrd removed them from the approved list after allegedly receiving complaints that Pugh Bonding was undercutting other bail agents by not adhering to a 10 percent bond-premium rule and being disruptive toward other bail agents. Pugh and the Gustas denied the complaints.

The 5th Circuit panel said the writing of bail bonds is not subject to due process protections under federal and Mississippi laws. The panel said Mississippi law leaves to the discretion of the sheriff as to who can write bail bonds.

“The plaintiffs have failed to offer any evidence that they had a contract with the defendants to write bail bonds in the county,” the panel said.

The panel also rejected arguments that the bonding company was discriminated against by Byrd.

Court records show Byrd required bail agents to first be approved by satisfying certain criteria set forth in documents such as the Official Agreement for Bonding Companies and Bonding Company Rules and Regulations.

Once approved, bail agents must follow certain “directives,” such as not being disruptive toward employees, arrestees, or other bail agents in the jail, charge those arrested a minimum of 10 percent of the bond.

Byrd resigned as sheriff in December of 2013 when he pleaded guilty to state and federal charges. He began concurrent sentences of six months home confinement in March 2014.

Once bail has been set and a bondsman has been contacted, the bondsman collects part of the total bail amount — typically 10 percent — from family or friends of the prisoner. The bondsman then issues the bond for the prisoner’s release.

By issuing the bond, the bondsman is guaranteeing the suspect will appear in court on the required date. If the suspect doesn’t show up, the bondsman has to find the person and get him to court, or pay off the entire bail amount.

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