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Challenging Connecticut’s Bail Bond System

Posted on Jul 18 2008

Many of Hartford Attorney A. Paul Spinella’s clients have one thing in common: they were wrongfully imprisoned and held for long periods before the charges against them were dropped.

Spinella has requested class action status for his federal lawsuit, which claims the state’s bail bond system is unconstitutional.

“Nobody even looks at their case until it reaches trial,” Spinella said last week in a telephone interview. He said he looked back three years — as far back as the state’s data goes — and found that more than 500 people each year are held for six months or more before their cases are thrown out.

That’s 1,500 people over three years, Spinella says, adding that “it says nothing about those that plead out to lesser charges just to get out of jail.”

Spinella said the statistics alone should be enough evidence to get the state to revise its bail bond system, but he’s not going to wait for the legislature to act. Instead, he’s taken his case to federal court where he recently asked U.S. District Judge Mark Kravitz to certify the case as a class action against Connecticut’s Judicial Branch.

No word yet on Kravitz’ decision.

Last week the state, through the Attorney General’s office, asked the court to dismiss Spinella’s motion to certify the class action, which would allow others to join the lawsuit if they were held by the state on artificially high bonds for long periods before charges were dropped.

“I consider this to be a very important case,” Spinella said, adding that he has been surprised that the case has remained below the radar for so long.

The legislature has for almost 20 years wrestled with changes to the bail bond system.

Rep. Michael Lawlor, D-East Haven, co-chair of the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday that the state shouldn’t have to rely on a federal judge to solve this problem.

As Lawlor sees it, there are two major problems with Connecticut’s bail bond system.

First, he said bail amounts have gotten way too high. Second, he said, “bail bondsmen are operating in a regulation free zone.”

Christine Stuart - Posted to Courts | Legal | State Capitol