Audit faults Dot Court on its bail procedure

A report from State Auditor Joseph DeNucci’s office has admonished Dorchester District Court for incorrectly processing bail money, a result of the small staff at the busy court.

Bail money is used by defendants to obtain release; the court uses it to ensure their appearance at their next court date. Bail is supposed to be returned when defendants adhere to the terms of release. A judge can rule the bail to be forfeited, or abandoned, leading it to be sent to the state treasurer’s office.

In its 15-page report, the auditor’s office estimated that the court, located in Codman Square, had been holding $147,605 – the equivalent of 488 cases - in abandoned or defaulted bail and $14,200 in abandoned small claims deposits, the equivalent of 142 cases. The court conducted a review and transferred much of the money to State Treasurer Timothy Cahill’s office, as the law requires, last September.

The report, which covered 18 months between 2006 and 2007, a time when the court handled 2,586 bail cases, said the court did not notify defendants that their bails were available for pick-up. Thirteen cases that were over a year old and dismissed did not have documentation advising defendants that they could collect their bail.

Additionally, ten cases that were over three years old – and presumed abandoned – had not been sent to Cahill.

The state’s administrator of bail, Michael McEneaney, told the Reporter that the auditor’s report was intended to be “remedial” and par for the course for most courts. Management of bail funds was addressed in a February memo to all courts by Chief Justice Robert Mulligan that advised district courts to look at bail issues more frequently, such as on an annual basis.

“This is a remedial attempt and it goes back many years that this has been an issue in all courts,” McEneaney said of the report.

Officials from the auditor’s office said they had spoken with the court’s clerk-magistrate, Anthony Owens, who has served in the position since 2004.

“He explained that the backlog of bails has existed because the office is shorthanded, with only one bookkeeper and a back-up assistant who helps her only intermittently because he is also a back-up cashier,” the report said. “With the bookkeeper constantly busy with having to attend to the day-to-day activities, there remains little time to devote to the extensive bail inventory.”

However, after being told of the problem, the clerk-magistrate said that “he would endeavor to begin processing old bails and send forfeited and abandoned bails to the treasurer. Additionally, he stated that he would send letters to owners reminding them of their unclaimed bail.”

Dorchester District Court officials did not provide a written response in the auditor’s report, despite being offered the opportunity by the DeNucci’s office.