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Lawsuit: Maryland District Court failing to make bail bonds insurers pay up

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A company that insures bail bonds is suing Maryland's District Court for being too lenient on its own industry.

What gives?

Lexington National Insurance Corp. says the playing field on which it's competing with rival companies is not level. The Cockeysville company alleges in a lawsuit filed last month that the state courts have thrown away as much as $3 million by defying state law and not making competitors pay up when defendants jump bail or miss their court dates.

Lexington National says in its lawsuit that the practice puts them "at a distinct competitive disadvantage" with noncompliant insurance companies because it regularly pays forfeited bail bond bills, as required by a 2011 law.

Representatives for the District Court and Chief Clerk Roberta L. Warnken, who is listed as a co-defendant, declined to comment on the lawsuit. The attorney general's office, which is representing the courts, also declined to comment.

But in a February memo, District Court Chief Judge Ben C. Clyburn said corrective action was being taken to make sure clerks were following the law.

Lexington National Insurance insures bail bond businesses, which put up money for criminal defendants who can't afford bail.

The bond amount, typically much less than the full bail amount, is returned to bail bonds agents once a defendant shows up for hearings. When they don't, the bail bonds businesses are required to pay the full bail amount. That payment is often made by insurers such as Lexington.

But between Oct. 1, 2011, and May, Lexington National Insurance claims that District court clerks failed to make some companies pay for forfeited bonds. The suit says they either ignored and erased the amount owed when defendants finally showed up after a legal deadline had passed or they failed to enter judgments ordering insurance companies to pay at all.

"Other companies are getting away without paying because the Clerk failed to timely implement protocols or has consciously chosen not to enforce the law," Lexington National president and CEO Brian Frank wrote in an email. "Lexington National was aware of the law from its enactment and we implemented policies and procedures to comply, and continue to comply, regardless of the Clerk's inactions or failure to enforce."

jgeorge@baltsun.com

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