Three Criminal Court judges, in an unusual procedure in which they held a joint hearing on Tuesday, said after a day of testimony that there are problems in the bonding procedures, but they found no wrongdoing.
Judges Barry Steelman, Don Poole and Rebecca Stern heard complaints brought by other bonding companies against Key Bonding and bondsman Carlos Jones.
The cases mainly revolved around a situation April 13 in which numerous defendants were brought to the county jail following a raid of a high-stakes poker game on Gunbarrel Road.
It was testified that Clifford Billups, who was shot during the raid but who suffered only a minor wound, advised a number of cellmates, including some of the gamblers, to use the services of Key Bonding.
Agents of Huckabee Bonding and ABC Bonding said they were set to make bonds for several of the Billups cellmates, then found that Dexter Higgins of Key Bonding had beat them to the punch.
Don White of ABC Bonding said he had written up a bond for Martin Matthews, who was in a cell with some of the gamblers after picking up a DUI charge. He said he had dealt mainly with the girlfriend of Matthews, Kayla Warren, and that she came to the office and paid for the bond. He said he called the jail continually to see when Matthews could be released, and he finally learned that Dexter Higgins had already made the bond.
Chad White of ABC said he found out about the unexpected turn of events when he went to the jail with Ms. Warren and saw Matthews already out in the fresh air in the company of Higgins. He said it was the second such incident of the day, and he said Huckabee Bonding was also scooped by Key Bonding. He said he and a Huckabee representative, who declared, "it's happened again," met with jail officials and were advised to let the court decide who should get the money on the disputed bonds.
Ms. Warren said she was surprised to find that Matthews already was bonded out by someone else after she paid $262 to ABC. She said, "He's a dummy, but he's a cute dummy."
Judge Steelman directed ABC Bonding to return the money paid by Ms. Warren.
Key Bonding took Matthews back to the jail after finding it was not going to be paid.
ABC Bonding officials said they also were set to make a bond for Brian Holmes, also on a DUI charge, and had been paid by his brother, Conner Holmes. Then it was found that Key had the bond.
Charles Key, operator of Key Bonding for 26 years, said Brian Holmes called several times to his office, saying he was anxious to get out of jail. He said he sent Dexter Higgins to make that bond.
Conner Holmes acknowledged that he never spoke directly with his brother about the bond, and went to ABC Bonding "after seeing their sign."
Will Fix of AAA Bonding complained about Carlos Jones, saying he was contacted by the wife of Anthony Avery on making a bond for him. Then he said he learned that the Jones firm had made the bond.
Mr. Jones said his oldest son lives in the same apartment complex with the Averys and he believes he got a call from someone there asking him to make the bond.
There were questions about whether the magistrate on duty had anything to do with the bond going to the Jones firm. Yolanda Mitchell, a magistrate at the time, said Carlos Jones did not have her cellphone and she never helped bonding agents get business. She also said she would not have known how much money a defendant had with them at the time they were arrested.
Charley White said it was the first complaint about another bonding company he has filed, and he said he only did so at the recommendation of the sheriff officials.
He said he is among the old-line companies who are conservative about setting bonds and thoroughly check out their clients. He said other firms get wind that they are about to make a bond and, knowing they are good risks, undercut their price.
Judge Steelman said he has concerns about "the race to the jail" among bonding agents, and he said the price undercutting was also "a threat to public safety" with those with high bonds being able to pay small amounts to get out of jail.
Sheriff Jim Hammond, who sat in on the lengthy hearing along with many of his top brass and District Attorney Bill Cox, said there is a new procedure that a bond cannot be approved until the person in jail signs that this is the bonding company he or she wants.
Mr. Key, whose firm gets the lion share of local bonds, said he does not file complaints against other firms, though he said in many cases he finds he has been beaten to the jail by competing firms.