My role is going to differ somewhat from my predecessor’s role. Where the Bail Administrator previously worked at the Suffolk County Superior Court, it now reports to the Executive Office. I will have the unique job of working with the Bail Committee, which is chaired by Superior Court Judge Tina S. Page, and reporting to Trial Court Chief Justice Carey and Court Administrator Harry Spence.
What’s your vision of what your role should be?
My goal is to be as visible as possible, so people know whom to contact when bail issues and questions arise. Part of that means I’ll be reaching out to the Clerks, Assistant Clerks, and the private Bail Commissioners. I’ll also be meeting with the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, the Massachusetts District Attorneys Association and the like to introduce myself as the liaison between the courts, various organizations, and bail personnel. Such a point person is important and timely, especially with the new Domestic Violence statue, now in effect.
I’m coming into this role at a critical time. Updated bail rules became effective in July. The Recognizance Form also changed. One of my first goals is to ensure that the people who perform the bail function are familiar with the new rules and forms, and are following them. It’s important that everyone operates under the same guidelines. It will be my job to ensure that things are done correctly.
How do you see the relationship between bail, judges, probation, and attorneys?
One of my goals is to strengthen communications at each step of the bail process. My job now, with Chief Justice Carey’s directive, is to open up the channels of communication between everyone involved in bail: court personnel, police, district attorneys, sheriffs, attorneys, and so on, to have them become more aware of the bail process. Not every aspect of the bail process falls entirely on the bail magistrate’s shoulders. For example, police calling a bail magistrate in the middle of the night must be able to correctly read a defendant’s record to the bail magistrates, give bail personnel all the information they need to set a well-reasoned bail. Communications – and how we use technology to communicate – will be key in how we determine accurate bail. That also means we need to make bail information readily available to each party when they need it.
Bail guidelines are heading in a new direction. Can you share some of the changes underway, including how you plan to improve or streamline the bail process?
The use of technology is going to be critically important in helping us be more efficient and effective in how we administer bail. Bail information needs to be readily available, to all involved parties, at any time, not just when the courts are open for business. Launching some of the forms as fillable PDF files can help us save time and increase accuracy. We’re working with the District and Juvenile Court Departments now to update the recognizance forms. Other solutions can be as simple as putting bail magistrates’ and bail commissioners’ emails on one master list, so when an issue arises, we can quickly share information and solutions.
What do you expect will change for staff, attorneys, and the public?
The use of technology and data around the bail process will be the most noticeable change. In just the past couple of months we’ve developed and distributed a new form that tracks how many people are released on bail after hours and the amount of bail that was posted, if any. We’re also compiling more detailed statistics on collections of court fees and fines, and the number of defendants released on bail after hours. Having more access to data will enable us to make the bail process more transparent.
Can you talk about how bail works, and discuss some of the popular misconceptions about bail?
Bail is changing: up until now, the purpose of bail was to ensure an arrestee’s appearance in court, usually the next day if bail is administered overnight. Bail ensures that defendants go to their next court appearance. Remember: bail is not punitive. Bail is not based on the crime that is alleged to have been committed.
A Bail Magistrate, after reviewing the facts, determines whether a defendant will or will not appear in court the next day. If the magistrate’s determination is that the defendant will not appear, the Bail Magistrate must then determine whether or not a cash bail would ensure that the person appears the next day.
We’re not determining whether or not a defendant is guilty or not guilty—that’s for the judge to determine. Some of the factors a bail administrator looks at include whether or not a person is a flight risk. We also look at their BOP (Board of Probation) record; whether or not the defendant has a history of defaults – in other words, if they have a history of not showing up at court when they’re supposed to; the severity of the crime charged; again, depending on the defendant’s record.
In terms of how bail is changing, or is set to change, I can point to the recently enacted domestic violence statute. The legislature specifically wrote into that statute that the Bail Magistrate must make a determination whether or not the defendant’s release will harm the community and the victim. The Bail Magistrate must set conditions or bail that will among other things, ensure the safety of the victim and the community – this is a huge change, and one that I’ll be working to implement with my colleagues across the Commonwealth.
The Judicial Institute is introducing new mandatory bail training for bail administrators across the state. Where and when will the next training be held?
The next mandatory full-day training session on bail is coming up on December 11th at 10 Winter Place in Boston for anyone in the state who does bail. The session covers the rules that were instituted in the spring regarding the Domestic Violence [DV] statute and its reporting requirements. Also, the Clerks Association, in conjunction with the Judicial Institute, is hosting three half-day presentations on the DV statute alone – and will cover how to bail these defendants.