ANNAPOLIS – The chief sponsor of legislation to preserve Maryland’s current bail system took to the Senate floor Tuesday to denounce a Washington Post editorial that strongly insinuated his support for the bill was spurred by donations he received from the bail-bonds industry.
“We can have a difference of opinion and we can do that without questioning motives or intent,” Sen. C. Anthony Muse, D-Prince George’s told his colleagues. “Because I want to be cautious and question something is no reason for one to question my integrity.”
Muse’s Senate-passed measure would maintain the status quo by blocking a pending Maryland Judiciary bail-reform rule’s requirement that judicial officers give preference, beginning July 1, to non-financial conditions for a defendant’s pretrial release.
Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh and Public Defender Paul B. DeWolfe support the rule, saying bail often results in low-income defendants being remanded to custody simply because they are too poor to pay. But Muse said non-financial conditions of release – such as wearing an ankle bracelet with a homing device – can be more burdensome on defendants than an expensive bail.
The Post’s April 1 editorial said the legislation would undermine the Judiciary’s rule and criticized cash bail as “disproportionately” affecting low-income minorities. The editorial, citing a Post news article, stated that Muse had received $5,000 from the bail-bond industry – a pay-to-play link the senator called baseless.
“How about I supported the bill because I believe in it?” Muse told his colleagues. “How about I supported the bill because for reasons that would suggest that we are not in any way helping poor people by shifting funds from one (bail bonds) industry to another” that makes ankle bracelets?
Muse acknowledged receiving campaign donations from the bail-bond industry but said he has also been supported by teachers, nurses, doctors, firefighters and even a stingy uncle.
“I do not believe … the bail bondsmen are bad people,” Muse said.
“If you want to know the truth, the bail-bonds companies would never have any customers if judges and prosecutors weren’t sending them the customers,” he added. “And if they are so concerned about poor blacks who are sitting in jail and they know that they are sitting in jail and they should not be sitting in jail, then they’re the prosecutors, they’re the judges. Why don’t they go and rescind the bail and let these poor people out?”
Addressing the Post’s editorial, Muse added that “we all have a right to our opinion without having our motives brought into question.”
Sen. Robert A. “Bobby” Zirkin came to Muse’s defense, telling fellow senators that he, too, supports Senate Bill 983 and was cited in the Post’s editorial as having received $21,000 from the bail-bond industry. Zirkin, D-Baltimore County and chair of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, called the editorial’s link between the donations and the senators’ support “ignorant and demeaning and lazy.”
SB 983 is now before the House of Delegates’ Rules Committee, where it faces opposition from the Legislative Black Caucus, of which Muse is a member. The caucus voted 31-5 last week to oppose the bill.