An agent for one of the busiest bail-bond companies in Hamilton County has been reinstated to work after a recent outburst in front of a judge that got him suspended for a week.
Dexter Higgins, of Key Bonding, can return to work following an apology Wednesday to Hamilton County's three Criminal Court judges. Without being ordered to, Higgins said he would also take 12 weeks of anger management classes, which he previously did in 2013 on an unrelated criminal stalking allegation, court records show.
"I just lost it, I'm sorry, and I apologize," Higgins said. "I was worried about my [sick] mom, my four kids. Without work, I don't think I could have made it. It'll never happen again, ever."
The issue began on Feb. 11, when Hamilton County clerks put a number of area bail-bondsmen on notice for failing to complete their continuing education. That education is required on a yearly basis under state law. On April 9, the bondsmen and Criminal Court judges gathered for their monthly meeting to discuss any outstanding issues with defendants who had skipped town.
At that time, the judges circled back around with three bail-bond agents, including Higgins, who had not yet gotten the education. After they announced the bail bondsmen would be suspended, Higgins became upset. He explained that he'd stayed back to run the business while his other three colleagues got their education and said the suspension wasn't right.
After Judge Barry Steelman asked what wasn't right about it, Higgins pushed back and said the punishment was "personal." Eventually, Steelman asked Higgins to leave the court altogether.
Bondsmen, essentially, get people out of jail after they're charged with a crime and are then responsible for ensuring that person returns to court. Although it's not a written rule, bondsmen typically charge a person or their family 10% of the overall bond. So, if a person's bond is $60,000, they would have to post $6,000. There are roughly 35 bail-bond companies in Hamilton County, though, and officials have noted for years that intense competition is leading some bondsmen to undercut others by making a person post a substantially smaller amount of their bond.
Bondsmen are also guided by several state laws, and in this case, one of them favored Higgins, said Chattanooga attorney Bill Speek, who represents Key Bonding. TCA 40-11-403 says agents have 60 days to complete their education after getting notice from a clerk. On April 9, Higgins had been alerted for 57 days and still had three days to correct the issue.
During Wednesday's meeting, the judges also recognized that law and accepted Higgins' apology. They said they were primarily concerned with decorum in the courtroom and wanted Hamilton County's bonding agency to be viewed in a professional light.
"I commend the judges for allowing us to reconsider the issue in light of the specific requirements of the bonding statutes," Speek said in a statement after the meeting, adding that Higgins will take care of his education requirements before the next meeting.
Contact staff writer Zack Peterson at email@example.com or 423-757-6347. Follow him on Twitter @zackpeterson918.