How one little mistake can cost you your liberty

Our office had a little excitement today when a DUI client called up to say that he had received a notice from the Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County, informing him that there had been a “bond forfeiture” entered against him, because he failed to appear on the previous court date.

This was a problem.  Especially since my client did appear on that last court date.  I know, because I was standing right next to him.

A bigger problem occurred when I called the Clerk’s automated phone system to verify the bond forfeiture.

It was even worse.  The automated line said that a bond forfeiture warrant had been issued for his arrest.

It was not a pleasant phone conversation when I told my client that it appeared that there had been a warrant issued for his arrest, and that in order to clear this matter up, he would have to appear at the courthouse, be taken into custody (as is the procedure there) and sit in the lock-up for an undetermined amount of time, before being brought in front of a judge.

Thankfully, before we did this, I got on the phone and called the Clerk’s office.  They pulled the file and determined that someone had typed the wrong code on their computer, entering “bond forfeiture” instead of “continued by agreement” and that no warrant had actually been issued.  Much to my client’s relief, the Clerk corrected their computer record without either of us having to appear in court.

So no damage done, except for a few heart palpitations.

But this reminded me of another case that I had a couple of years ago.

This client and I had appeared before a recently sworn-in judge, who was still getting used to handling a high volume court call.  The case was continued for one reason or another.  Instead of writing 12/17 (or whatever the date was going to be), the judge omitted a digit and wrote 12/7.

On 12/7, the case turned up on the court call.  When no one appeared, a bond forfeiture warrant was issued.  (For some reason, no one ever looks through the court file to get the attorney’s phone number and give him or her a phone call when something like this happens.  I don’t know why that is).  Two days later, my client was arrested on the warrant.  As I recall, he sat in jail for a few days until his mother came up with the money to bond him out (for some reason, she didn’t call me either).  She had to use her Christmas money to pay the bond.  I didn’t find out about any of this until I went to court on December 17th, to find no client, no court file and no case on the docket.  Ultimately, a (different) judge had the entire bond money refunded to the client and apologized to him on behalf of the system.  The client wanted to sue, but Judges have immunity from negligent acts performed in their official capacity, so an apology and bond refund was all he got.

Unfortunately, in a high volume courtroom, mistakes can happen.  And when that mistake happens to you, it can be real bad.  Getting arrested and sitting in jail bad.

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