FAIRFIELD — In August, with the deft touch of his pen to paper, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a landmark bill into law abolishing cash bail for folks who are arrested and jailed.
Suddenly the eight to 10 bail bondsmen operating locally in Solano County found themselves looking at the near certain turning upside-down of their livelihoods.
The change in the law, which is set to take effect next year, surprised many observers at the time, according to Tom Toler, a longtime bail bondsmen with an office off of West Texas Street in Fairfield.
But the insurance companies who find the bail business lucrative and profitable rallied. Signatures were gathered for a referendum and now a ballot measure will be on the 2020 ballot.
Toler says he’s actually looking forward to the change in the law.
“The faster they flip the switch, the faster they’ll see whether a lot of these guys will show up to court on their own,” Toler said of the judges and others who advocated for the change in the law for people who get rounded up by police. “For a lot of my clients it’s a recurring lifestyle. . . . The people I rub shoulders with get bail more often than they get haircuts.”
Toler, 60, defends the current bail system, saying the pressure from family members on a lot of his clients to stay on the straight and narrow once they bail out of jail can be “priceless.”
Toler remains pragmatic about the possibility he may be out of a job in the next year or three. He is not yet feeling nostalgic.
“I’ve been shot at, stabbed, punched and had my Suburban rammed twice,” Toler recounts of the tracking down of his clients who skip out on court who he then has to track down.
“I don’t put up with any nonsense while they are out on bail,” he said. “I refuse to stand by and do nothing if it’s somebody I’ve helped put back out on the street.”
Toler takes pride in not coddling his clients. He sometimes goes out of his way to seek to talk with his clients’ alleged victims, particularly in domestic violence situations. And when he gets word of new lawlessness about his clients, Toler does not hesitate to intervene and return them back to the care of the sheriff and the jail.
“A lot of bail agents will tell somebody, ‘He has committed a new crime? Go call a cop.’ ”
That’s not Toler’s style. He drives a black Chevrolet Suburban with crash bars on the front bumper. He packs all the tools of the trade, including mace, a body camera, cuffs, body armor and frequently one or more of his four Belgian Malinois dogs with him as he looks for scofflaw clients. The dogs are all trained to be K-9 cops to police agency standards.
“The only satisfaction (the job) gives me at this point is I can keep an eye on some crime victims by keeping an eye on the suspects I have out on bail,” Toler said.
He has recently cut back on the scope of his business dealings. He used to take bail for people in jail in 22 counties. That is now down to three counties, including Solano.
Besides, Toler, a single father of two adult children, is used to career changes.
When talking with Toler in recent days, one can not help but notice one finger on one hand is gnarled and stitched up. He explained that occurred recently at 4 a.m. in Allan Witt Park as he was searching for one of his customers and encountered an unfriendly pit bull who stood between him and his client.
Such are the risks of the job.
Before starting in the bail bond business in 2003, Toler spent 17 years in the Army, is a former helicopter pilot and a former a small-town police officer.
He has tried twice unsuccessfully to run for sheriff of Solano County and takes pride in having taken on local officials and bureaucrats who have taken him on.
Solano County paid $230,000 to Toler in 2011 in exchange for his agreement not to sue county officials for their conduct against him since 2005. Toler won a $90,000 judgment in 2009 in a federal jury trial against former Solano County District Attorney David Paulson and the county.
Toler also racked up more than $430,000 in lawyers fees that were paid for by the county for the trouble of going into court against him.