YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The COVID-19 virus crisis and resulting stay-at-home order is a mixed blessing for the criminal justice system.
Calls are down, the number of people on the streets is down, as is the number of people arrested and brought before courts.
But while police, attorneys and court personnel see their workloads and cases slow down, so does another important cog in the system: bail bondsmen, who help defendants post bail and often look for them if they skip a court appearance.
Tom Cimmento, of Mobile Bail Bonds on West Boardman Street, and Ronnie Metz, who owns Ace Bonding and Worldwide Bonding in Trumbull County, are both seeing a significant decrease in business.
Cimmento said he has had to lay off all of his staff as he waits for the criminal justice system to return to normal.
Metz closed his office two weeks ago and said he still writes some bonds, but not very many.
“It has had an effect,” Metz said.
Metz said if he needs to write a bond now, he wears a shield, mask and gloves when meeting a client.
Cimmento said he has also written a few bonds but not very many.
They both also said as of now, anyone who has skipped out on their bond is not being sought because authorities do not want them to be exposed to anyone who might have the virus.
“You just don’t know what you’re getting into,” Metz said, who added he has “a few” people who have skipped their bonds.
In Mahoning County, Cimmento said the courts have extended bond in those cases 30 days, so people can still comply if they are not now.
“The courts have been great,” Cimmento said.
For a typical surety bond, the client will give the bondsman 10% of the money needed for the bond while the bondsman guarantees the rest.
If the person misses a court appearance, however, the bondsman is then on the hook to pay the remainder of the bond unless they can find the person to secure their appearance in court, which is what a bond is for.
Both men said they are also in a kind of limbo, acknowledging that while their staffs and offices are shut down, they themselves remain on call.
“There’s still felons out there and they’re still selling bonds,” Cimmento said.
“We’re closed, but we’re open,” Metz added.