Seventy-four-year-old John Herman Strobridge has been bailing his son out of jail for years. But a change in state law – and the way Pinellas County officials interpreted it to apply retroactively – caught him unaware..
Is New Bail Law Justice?
By Waveney Ann Moore
Published February 19, 2006
when he put up his own money to get his eldest son, John Allan Strobridge, 45, out of jail one more time.
Using money he got from refinancing his home to pay debts, he presented a $5,000 cashier’s check from Bank of America to release his son from the Pinellas County Jail. He thought he would get his money back after his son’s court appearance in January. He got a check in the mail, but it was meager: $122.30. No explanation…
“I thought I would get all my money back,” said the distraught retired truck driver, sitting in the living room of his small north St. Petersburg home.
Two other sons, one of whom had traveled to St. Petersburg to celebrate their father’s 74th birthday on Feb. 13, took up the cause. What they learned made them angry.
The bail had been posted back in March 2005, months before a new statute took effect on July 1. That rule authorizes court clerks to collect “any unpaid court fees, court costs and criminal penalties” from cash bonds posted on behalf of a criminal defendant by a person other than a bail bond agent.
The court took the new rule and applied it retroactively. Ironically, the father avoided a bail bondsman to save money. A bondsman would have charged a fee of $500 – 10 percent – and might have required collateral as well.
In Pinellas, the statute is being interpreted to mean that the clerk can collect outstanding fines and fees dating back before the statute went into effect. In John Allan Strobridge’s situation, money was owed as far back as 1991. The grand total was $4,877.70.
When the elder Strobridge posted bail in March, it was because his son had slugged a bicyclist for running over the family dog. The 15-year-old pet died.”He killed my dog,” said John Allan Strobridge, as he sat in his father’s home.
In the end, the younger Strobridge was charged with felony battery and given probation. Out of the $5,000, the cost for this case was $917, a fraction of the total the court eventually deducted for years-old cases.
His brother Joseph Strobridge, 44, is outraged. He said his father was like any other parent, simply trying to help his son. “He has no retirement savings. All he has is his home. I don’t see how they can interpret the law to allow them to take money from previous cases that were not under that statute. … They’re getting greedy,” he said.
Joseph Strobridge said his father has been helping his brother for many years, but wanted to avoid using a bail bondsman last year to save money.”He never had the money to do that before. To me, this is a crime against the elderly. This is not about my dad anymore,” he said, adding that other elderly parents will also lose money. “They’re all in for a big surprise, because it can take up to two years for something to go to trial.”
Ken Burke, Pinellas County clerk of the circuit court, said he understands why Strobridge is upset, but there is nothing he can do.”I sympathize with him. I agree with him. Unfortunately, my role as clerk, it’s not a policy role. … The way the state looks at it, here’s an opportunity to collect fines and there’s money there that should be paid,” he said.
Burke added that county attorneys say the statute contains no language limiting its application to bonds posted after a certain date. “It just said that any money we returned should have the deduction for outstanding fines and costs,” Burke said. Others interpret the statute differently.
“Typically, every case has a separate cash bond, and that’s how we’ve been handling it here in Pasco,” said director of court services Rosalyn Fenton.
“We would not take a case arriving out of a separate incident at another time. That is not how we are applying that change in procedures. The only way other cases would be taken into account would be when those cases are counts in a main case. We would apply that cash bond to the case the bond was issued on.”
Dale Bohner, legal counsel to the clerk of the circuit court in Hillsborough County, said the statute is being applied according to the date the bond was given. “We don’t do the deductions unless the bond was issued after July 1,” he said. It’s the same in Brevard County.
“We only do it with a cash bond that is posted after July 1,” said LeAnn Sparks, traffic accountant for Brevard County clerk of the courts. “We just do it that way because we don’t think that’s the way the law is supposed to be imposed,” said Scott Ellis, Brevard County’s clerk of the courts.
Joseph Strobridge agrees. His brother, who has had legal problems for years, is a drug addict and bipolar, he said. Their father has always felt the need to rescue his oldest son, he said.
Records show his brother’s crimes have included felony battery, possession of cocaine, burglary and grand theft. The brother, who receives Supplemental Security Income disability pay and lives in his father’s home, expressed regret that his father lost his money. “I feel for my dad,” he said.
Some of the fees, including the year and the charge, that were paid out of the father’s $5,000 check:
1991 possession of cocaine: $275
1991 burglary: $305
1993 DUI: $750
1995 criminal mischief: $500
1998 felony battery: $405
2003 grand theft: $666
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.
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