Bail bond company files libel suit against rival

Woman alleged firm traded favors for work

March 31, 2000|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

A bail bond company has filed a libel suit against a competitor who alleged to the District Court that the company swaps favors to officials to get more bonds.

The lawsuit, filed this week in Anne Arundel County Circuit Court by Paul J. Cox Sr. of Cox Bail Bonding stems from a Feb. 29 letter by Shirl Hirshauer, who owns ASAP Bail Bond. She asked the District Court to investigate what she alleges was preferential treatment granted to Cox's business by Anne Arundel County police; by Wackenhut Corp., guards who transport defendants; and by at least one commissioner.

Court officials said they could not substantiate the allegations.

The lawsuit seeks $500,000 from Hirshauer and her insurers. Neither Cox nor his attorney responded to telephone calls yesterday seeking comment. The lawsuit says that by making accusations and asking the District Court to investigate them, Hirshauer led officials to think that Cox "was engaged in illegal business practices," implied that he "was a criminal" and sought to ruin his reputation.

Hirshauer wrote that in the seven months she has been in business, she had seen and heard of a Cox bondsman doing what she was told not to.

"If it is illegal I would like your assistance in putting an end to it, if it is not illegal I would like to know so I can gain business for my company in the same manner," she wrote.

"I am not trying to defame him. ... I hope he does fine," Hirshauer said yesterday.

In a highly competitive business, bail bondsmen visit District Court buildings where commissioners set bail. They may wait to meet a client whose bond they have arranged to post but may not pass the day waiting in a commissioner's office in case criminal defendants arrive.

The law bars them from soliciting business at a courthouse, jail or prison. A violation is a misdemeanor punishable by a $100 fine and subject to sanctions by the state insurance commission.

Among Hirshauer's allegations are that some Wackenhut guards bound for the Glen Burnie courthouse steer bonds to Cox in return for favors such as breakfast, that his bondsmen sit in the commissioner's office when they are not waiting for clients and that his bondsmen freely solicit business there.

"I know the allegations," said James W. Dryden, administrative judge for the District Court in Anne Arundel County, who said yesterday that he received an anonymous letter with similar accusations. He said he and the supervisor for the commissioners locally "looked into these as best we could" and were unable to substantiate them. Commissioners were issued a reminder about what bail bondsmen can and cannot do at the courthouse.

"Believe me, if I had a specific complaint about a specific day and a specific person sitting in a specific commissioner's office, I'd do my best to look into it," Dryden said.

Another bail bondsman, who asked not to be named, said the situation alleged at Glen Burnie District Court led her to go out of her way to post bails at the District Court in Annapolis.

Wackenhut manager John Seiss said the allegations about his guards are false. The company has been transporting people charged with crimes from police districts to the two District Court commissioner offices in the county for nine years.

"No guard has ever been disciplined in Anne Arundel County regarding anything to do with bail bondsmen," Seiss said.

County police Lt. Jeff Kelly said yesterday that the department was unaware of the recent allegations. Police are forbidden to endorse bail bondsmen, and a breach of that policy could result in punishment from a reprimand to firing.

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