Bail bond agents seek to defend bail system in lawsuit against SF sheriff

City Attorney Dennis Herrera said Tuesday his office will not defend The City against a federal lawsuit filed last year by Equal Justice Under Law, a Washington, D.C.­-based civil rights nonprofit, claiming money bail is unconstitutional. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner file photo)

The California Bail Agents Association has asked to be allowed to defend the state’s money-based bail system in a lawsuit filed against San Francisco last year after City Attorney Dennis Herrera on Tuesday called the system “unconstitutional.”

The California Bail Agents Association filed a motion to intervene Tuesday night in the lawsuit against Sheriff Vicki Hennessy after Herrera said he would not contest its contention that the pre-arraignment bail system deprives poor defendants of their rights by keeping them incarcerated solely based on their inability to pay.

In its motion the association says it is now the only party willing to defend the constitutionality of the bail system and it plans to mount a “substantive and multi-pronged defense of the use of surety bail.”

“If Plaintiffs’ requested relief is granted, not only would CBAA’s interests in existing bail bond contracts be wiped out, but CBAA’s entire, constitutionally-approved industry would be destroyed, with detrimental effects to California’s criminal justice system,” the motion states.

Under state law, every county is currently required to post a schedule that automatically sets the amount of bail defendants need to pay for pre-arraignment release.

“That creates a two-tiered system, one for those with money and one for those without,” Herrera said. “It doesn’t make anyone safer, it’s not right and it needs to stop.”

While jurisdictions in other states have taken steps to reform their bail systems, Herrera said San Francisco appears to be the first government agency to choose not to defend a bail system in court.

A ruling last month by U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed the state’s attorney general and city of San Francisco as defendants and denied a previous request by the bail bond association to join the list of defendants, leaving Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, who is required to uphold state laws, as the sole defendant.

The lawsuit against San Francisco is one of 11 filed around the country by the nonprofit Equal Justice Under Law, which is working to abolish money-based bail systems.

A hearing on the bail association’s motion to intervene has been set for Dec. 13 at 2 p.m. before U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers.

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