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School Boards Trying to Collect Forfeited Jail Bonds

Fines and forfeitures of jail bonds account for more than $60 million in school funding across the state.

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LILLINGTON, N.C. — Fines and forfeitures of jail bonds account for more than $60 million in school funding across the state. But collecting that money was not always such a high priority.

In the criminal case of James Marvin Johnson, for example, his brother, Donald Johnson, put up his home and Lillington business, C&J Auto, to cover the $225,000 bond.

James Marvin Johnson remains on the run after skipping out on bond in the 1999 rape of a 12-year-old girl. By law, Donald Johnson was supposed to pay the full amount when his brother bolted.

A well-known businessman, Johnson pleaded with the court and school board for relief, saying he spent about $50,000 to track down his brother.

Court records show Johnson eventually paid $10,000 of the $225,000. He said he feels like he got off easy.

"They could have took everything I had. My business and all," he said.

Johnson's gain was the schools' loss. In 2006, Harnett County took in more than $549,663 from fines and forfeitures, while Wake County raked in close to $6 million. So far in 2007, Johnston County has gained approximately $600,000 from bail bonds.

Johnston County Board of Education attorney Jim Lawrence said school systems are working harder than ever to collect.

"That's $600,000 for classrooms. ... And why not follow them up and get whatever money we can?" he said.

Durham bondsman Tony Woods, president of the North Carolina Bail Agents Association, said a change in the law makes it much tougher now to get relief on forfeited bonds.

Still, Woods believes that many courts treat family and friends with far more leniency.

"The layperson is not held to the standard of the bail bondsman when it comes time to pay," Woods said. "No, that's not (fair)."

There have been signs that courts are toughening up on those kinds of forfeitures. Harnett County School Board Attorney Duncan McCormick, who approved the reduction in the Johnson bond, said he probably would not have allowed it today.

As for himself, Donald Johnson said he has learned his lesson about ponying up for bonds.

"I will never sign a bond again as long as I live," he said. "If you run, you're guilty. ... The Bible says to forgive, but I never forget."


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