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Class action demands Cook County refund bail bond fees retained by circuit clerk before 2016

Friday, April 01, 2016
Cook County Record
by Scott Holland

A man who was acquitted of murder charges stemming from a 2014 Palatine bar fight has sued the offices of Cook County’s circuit clerk and treasurer, alleging they kept far too much of his bail bond fees – and he believes they likely did the same to potentially thousands of others who have posted bond in recent years.

Michael Platt named county Circuit Clerk Dorothy Brown and county Treasurer Maria Pappas in the complaint he filed March 31 in federal court in Chicago. He argued the old bail bond fee process in Cook County, under which the county was allowed to keep as much as 10 percent of any posted bond, violated the due process clause of the state and U.S. constitutions “because it imposes the burden of paying ‘costs’ that goes far beyond the actual costs incurred by the clerks of court.”

Further, he argued the fee violated constitutional equal protection and uniformity clauses because it was places “a greater burden upon accused persons for whom a higher bail is set,” even though the county’s actual bail processing costs were the same, no matter the bail amount.

Before a new state law took effect Jan. 1, the state placed no cap on the amount the clerk’s office could retain from processing a bond. The complaint quoted Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey, who in an interview told CBS Chicago, “If the charges against you are dropped, you (are) still required to forfeit that 10 percent to Cook County.”

Platt’s complaint noted the circuit clerk’s office retained $5.6 million in bail bond fees in 2013, “though its actual costs were only a fraction of that amount.”

In August 2015, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 1119, capping the bail bond fee that circuit clerks could retain at $100. While speaking at the April 2015 Cook County Board of Commissioners meeting that ended with a resolution supporting HB1119, Fritchey referred to the old fee structure as “regressive,” “punitive” and “antithetical to criminal justice reforms.” Further, Platt’s complaint noted Fritchey also called the fee an egregious “revenue source” that acts as a “tax on poor black and brown people.”

Platt noted that at the same meeting, Brown’s Chief of Staff Wasiu Fashina stated the clerk’s office had no objection to the resolution of support.

After being involved in a 2014 Palatine bar fight that resulted in a fatality, Platt faced first-degree murder charges in Cook County with bail set at $2 million. He posted the required $200,000 bail bond deposit on Aug. 19, 2014. He was acquitted in a jury trial, and when he requested return of his $200,000 was given $180,000 — the county kept the remaining 10 percent for costs, under the state law.

Platt figures the “actual bail bond costs were far less than $20,000,” and in fact “were $100 or less.”

The proposed class would include anyone who had more than $100 withheld from a Cook County bail bond deposit — perhaps thousands of people. In addition to class certification and a jury trial, Platt asked the court to declare the previous bail bond fee structure unconstitutional, to order Cook County to fully refund all money paid as bail bond fees, less $100 per bond, plus legal fees.

Platt is represented in the action by the firms of Siprut P.C., of Chicago; Drost, Gilbert, Andrew & Apicella, of Palatine; and Vake Low & Associates, of Palatine.

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