Last week in New Orleans' Civil District Court, a lawsuit was filed against a prominent local bail-bonding company in an effort to force it and other New Orleans-area bonding companies to cough up fees the lawsuit alleges were illegally obtained. In February, after the Southern Poverty Law Center a complaint with the Louisiana Department of Insurance, Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon's office ruled that the bonding companies had illegally overcharged customers for 14 years by charging an extra percentage point above the state's legal cap on fees (which is 12 percent). The legislature stepped in and passed a law last session which retroactively legalized the excess fees and cancelled refunds owed to customers. The suit in Civil District Court seeks to declare the law unconstitutional. It further contends that taking away customers' right to refunds for their allegedly being overcharged violates the state and federal constitutions and that legislators cannot simply let bail companies keep 14 years worth of illegally collected fees and short-circuit the fight over Donelon's order.
I have argued here before that the State of Louisiana should seriously consider eliminating or drastically reducing cash bail, especially when it comes to non-violent offenses. The bail-bonding industry has always had a strong lobby in Baton Rouge and any article, it seems, must always describe the industry as "politically powerful." With that being said, this is the first I have heard of the legislature's action, and I feel like they should be ashamed of themselves. Although the money may not seem like a big deal to most (the lead plaintiff was allegedly overcharged $250 on a $25,000 bond), it is important to note that many if not most families have to scramble to find the money when a loved one is arrested. I know this for a fact because I hear it on an almost daily basis, and I have seen on many occasions where a 1 percent difference in a bond is the difference between hiring a lawyer and not hiring a lawyer. Furthermore, as the article notes, the allegedly overcharged fees totaled $6 million over a period of 14 years, which is clearly not chump change. Here's hoping that the lawsuit is successful.