By Terrence McCoy
By Allie Conti
By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
On top of that, the program accomplished its mission: keeping our jails uncrowded. The 5,622-bed system, which includes five jails, generally runs at 90 percent capacity. Last Wednesday, for instance, there were 5,207 people incarcerated, according to Gulick.
Limiting the program would lead to higher jail populations — and those who did get out would have to go through Book's clients, the bail bondsmen.
And don't worry, the bondsmen aren't starving. The percentage of inmates that bond out of jail is still at about 28 percent, says Gulick, a slight rise over last year.
So why is this even an issue?
That answer is easy: Ron Book. If not for his considerable influence, the suggested ordinance probably would never have been a glint in a commissioner's eye.
Book not only works for the commission, but he also has poured literally hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign accounts. A look at just the last election shows that his wife, his daughter, and his lobbying firm contributed a total of $10,000 to four sitting commissioners — Ilene Lieberman , John Rodstrom, Josephus Eggelletion, and Stacy Ritter.
Think about it. Book collects $50,000 from taxpayers and recycles a fifth of it back into commissioners' accounts. See how that works?
The bail bonds industry pumped in a few thousand to the four campaigns as well, just for good measure.
Book's history representing the bail bond industry hasn't been without controversy. In 1999, he played a role in tacking on a provision to a crime bill that made it illegal for defendants charged with violent crimes to participate in pretrial release programs. Gov. Jeb Bush vetoed the provision after it was discovered that such a move would cost jails across the state tens of millions of dollars, including an extra $4 million to $7 million for Broward County alone.
Book publicly apologized to the Broward County Commission that year for pushing a measure detrimental to the county while he was being paid by taxpayers to lobby for its interests in Tallahassee. "Let me formally apologize," he said to the commission. "I did not know it would cost anybody money."
For his part, Book says Gulick's statistics are "lies." He says the low rate of absconding by those in the pretrial program is basically an accounting trick. Book also complains that the program has been taking in violent criminals that shouldn't get the privilege.
"Don't buy their bullshit," says Book, who is very good at what he does. "They are trying to dupe you. Don't let them. Everybody knows that pretrial release services have been taking people it shouldn't, child molesters, drug users, batteries on law enforcement officers, burglaries of occupied dwellings, not once, not twice — thousands of cases."
That's true — but the funny thing is that Book doesn't oppose allowing those defendants to bond out through his clients.
The truth, according to numerous officials and lawyers, is that no horror stories have emerged about rampages by defendants who are monitored under pretrial release in Broward or several other counties where pretrial release programs are utilized.
The system might not be broke, but that hasn't stopped several commissioners from following Brook's lead and trying to fix it. Commissioner Lieberman, a longtime Book friend who is closer to him than any other commissioner, has been the strongest advocate, as her contemptible pronouncement about violating the federal order indicates.
But she isn't alone. Several commissioners, all of whom have been lobbied heavily on the issue by Book, appear to favor the measure, including Mayor Stacy Ritter and Rodstrom, who said he has met with Book and bail bondsmen on the issue and believes the cost of the program must be reduced.
Commissioner Kristin Jacobs was the only commissioner to speak out against the Book ordinance at the November 13 meeting.
It's due for a public hearing next month, where Finkelstein hopefully won't be alone this time in railing against it.
"This is about bondsmen having a secure income stream and they are trying to achieve it because their lobbyist isn't just at his job, but he works for the county commission," says the public defender. "To me this is pay to play. I admire and respect Ron Book's abilities, but that doesn't mean the county commission should submit and succumb to him."