Harris County In Bondage
Suck-Up from Our Favorite DJ

Another APV Solution
The Tim Fleck coverage of the current Allen Parkway Village situation constituted good journalism for providing a history of the site from the '40s to the present [News, "Lanier Village," May 11]. But where Fleck may hope for a solution from the political structure now in place, I have suggestions of a different character:

1) Give up on the idea that city government has the foresight (or even the right) to anticipate (and direct) growth.

2) Get an act of Congress to sever HUD and the Housing Authority from control over the land.

3) Sell the land to the highest bidder. It would no longer be the public's problem, and whatever a developer would or could do with it, it couldn't be any worse for all concerned than the ghost town that's resulted from 50 years of public-sector effort.

Pete Jamison

Unhappy Trails
I thought the article by Claudia Kolker [News, "Biked Out," May 11] presented a balanced view of the recent discussions between Houston Area Mountain Bike Riders Association, the Parks Department and the advisory committee (on Memorial Park). As we have emphasized, HAMBRA is seeking to find a compromise and we are willing to concede a significant portion of the current trail network in Memorial if those trails that remain can be adequately maintained. While keeping the trails in Memorial Park is not the exclusive reason for our existence, it has been our primary focus for several years now. We are looking for other promising locations for the trail development around town and we believe this effort will ultimately take most of the pressure (and riders) off Memorial Park trails.

We are more than happy to meet halfway with a reasonable and thoughtful compromise acceptable to all parties. But if anyone involved in the current discussions believes for even a second that we will simply take our bikes and go home if mountain biking in Memorial is outlawed, then they are mistaken.

David K. Smith

A "Used to Be" Weighs In
George Gundry, general manager of Birraporetti's, should find out how more "used to be" customers feel about his food, drinks and service before blaming Alison Cook [Letters, "Upset Tummy," May 18].

I gave Birraporetti's five different chances, and my friends and I still had mediocre food, bad service and indifferent drinks for an expensive tab.

I enjoy Alison Cook's reviews on the restaurants in and around Houston. We have gone to several that she recommended highly only to find the food and /or the service bad. We have also found a lot of very enjoyable places to eat where food and service are very good.

Just because Birraporetti's does a lot of business (like some others) does not mean the food is good.

Keep up the good work, Alison Cook.
Name Withheld

Harris County In Bondage
We wanted to compliment Steve McVicker's thoroughness in his article on the criminal bail bond forfeiture issue in Harris County [News, "Bonds Away," May 25]. He provided an accurate description of how monies owed to the public by bondsmen, who often claim that they pay 100 percent of every bond forfeiture, go uncollected. There are two points, however, that may need clarification.

The first point is the notion -- touted by the commercial bail industry and in this case espoused by local bondsman Johnny Nelms -- "that the (Harris County Pretrial Service Agency) ... owes more in forfeitures than the bondsmen." Unlike surety bonds -- which exist as contractual agreements between the defendant, the bondsman and the court, promising the defendant's appearance in court -- personal bonds are agreements between the defendant and the court. The Harris County Pretrial Services Agency (PTSA) simply provides information to the court, coordinates the necessary release paperwork, and monitors defendant compliance with the conditions of release. For that reason, forfeiture judgments are not taken against the PTSA; the judgments are taken directly against the defendant who signed the agreement to appear in court. At the time a forfeiture judgment is taken, the PTSA slips into a background role in which it continues to provide information to other components of the criminal justice system. That occurs not because of the PTSA's attitude toward bail, but because the PTSA does not have the statutory authority to arrest fugitives or to pursue the collection of forfeiture judgments. Those functions are performed by other agencies, and the PTSA is cast in a supporting role.

The second point which we believe deserves clarification is that when Harris County judges forfeit a personal bond, they generally assess (take judgment on) the full amount of the bond, plus any associated costs. For example, one report suggests that for the 1992-1993 biennial period, the liability for final judgments on personal bond forfeitures was 107 percent of the face value of the bonds themselves. Defendants released on personal bonds usually cannot get their forfeiture judgment amounts reduced; commercial bail bondsmen, however, usually benefit from an ability to negotiate the amounts of their forfeiture judgments downward. The same report cited above (which was compiled in May 1994) suggests that for the same period, the negotiated final judgments (forfeiture and costs) taken against commercial bondsmen in Harris County amounted to less than 40 percent of the original amount of the bonds that were forfeited. From that perspective, one could easily infer that the amounts owed by commercial bail bondsmen prior to negotiation were as much as two and a half times as great as the cited figures. Thus, an aggregate negotiated final judgment figure of $12 million would suggest that the bonding industry was able to negotiate itself out of some $18 million in additional indebtedness. In short, promises were made, but when they became too expensive only a portion of the promises were kept.

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