Shooting straight: Smith has spent her life professionalizing bail bonds industry

ROSSFORD — The small woman with the bright happy smile is as close to being the opposite of what one would expect from the pop culture stereotype of the bail bondsman.

The little-understood industry has been Mary Frances Smith’s business, Smith Bonds and Surety, for 34 years. She has led a crusade, actually writing a handbook to help change the negative images and tout what she believes to be a positive service to her clients and the public good.

In addition to running her business and insuring 40 agents in four states (Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and West Virginia), she is the immediate past-president of the Ohio Professional Bail Association.

Smith started off as an insurance agent, but moved into more specialized insurance.

“Surety is my specialty,” Smith said. “I started teaching the courses because I wanted to professionalize the industry. I felt, when I first got in, it that there was not much education.

“The 6-shooter with a 10-gallon hat is all people have known,” Smith said.

She teaches attorneys, and the pre-licensing to anyone who wants to become a bondsperson.

The surety business is when one takes responsibility for the performance another person’s undertaking. With bail bonds, that is appearing in court. But Smith also backs other types of performance, like builders with construction projects who have required backing with a city project.

“It’s a field that is over 200 years old and what we are really trying to do is professionalize the profession.”

She does know Dog the Bounty Hunter, and was friends with his wife, who she had a lot of respect for.

Smith has served on boards on the state and national level. She has testified on the bail issue in Washington, D.C., and across the country.

“We, the bondsmen, do the best job that can be done, when it comes to bail, and the taxpayers do not have to pay for it,” Smith said.

She said that the modern state of the field has both public and private sides. The public end is called pre-trial service. She said that Lucas County pays almost $5 million per year for it, and they recommend nothing to with cash bail, “either catch and release, or detain.

“Then there is us, who will have nothing to do with the recommendation of bond, but we will service the client, when the bond is set.”

When someone fails to appear in court, that is the “recovery, and very rarely do we have that, because we have people who sign for them who will help us locate them, or just say ‘come on buddy, you failed to appear. I got a call from the bondsman. Let’s go back to court with the bondsman.’ Our loss ratio is about 1%,” Smith said.

She cited a speeding ticket as an example. When the officer hands over that ticket, that is technically an arrest, with a release on personal recognizance. There is the option of paying the ticket, or fighting it in court.

Bail is for making sure of appearance in court, and it is part of the Eighth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Smith added that in the Ohio Constitution, “all persons shall be bailable by sufficient surety. When you show up in court, that is sufficient surety. When you fail to appear you are no longer sufficient surety.”

The incentive to show up to court is a judicially issued bond, which is returned when the court system is done with the case, minus possible fines and costs. If the individual does not have the money to pay the bond, then the bondsman is called in. The bondsman is paid 10% of the bond, a charge set by law. If it is a $1,000 bond, the bondsman pays $100. If the individual fails to show up, then the person owes the full amount.

“The issue with the bail reform movement is that they are not doing anything with the smaller charges, but the smaller charges are just as important as the larger charges. Momma used to say that ‘if I punish you on the smaller things, the bigger things don’t happen.’ Well, what’s happening is that they are releasing people on (lesser changes, like driving on suspended licenses),” Smith said.

She added that it is not fair for the person who follows the law, by having proper license plates and driver’s license.

“There are guys out there that are driving on suspended licenses that just get released, and released from the court. Bail is for appearance and they are not showing up.”

The bounty hunters become involved when an individual fails to show up for court. They can cross state lines, even for misdemeanors. She said that the problem happens with the pre-trial service situation. Warrants are issued to pick the person up and it is only an in-state warrant. The person serving the warrant cannot cross state lines.

The bail bondsman pays for the extradition to court for out-of-state pickups. There are some variations by state, but it still happens.

‘The taxpayers don’t have to pay anything. It’s a one-on-one type of thing. You failed to appear and we have to bring you back. If we don’t, we have to pay the $1,000 to the court,” Smith said.

Her son Jonathan, who is president of Perrysburg Council, is also a bondsman.

Smith’s business is in Rossford, at 513 Superior St., where they moved into earlier this year.

“If I could leave this business one day, better than I how found it, then I would have succeeded. And it doesn’t have to do with the money. I’ve always wanted to professionalize it and I’ve tried very hard to do so,” Smith said.