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Dane County's "Revolving Bail Fund" Operated Without Statutory Authority
MADISON - Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen today issued a formal opinion stating that neither counties nor county sheriffs possess statutory authority to operate a revolving bail fund. The formal opinion was issued in response to a request from Dane County District Attorney Brian Blanchard, who had concern over the program's legality.
Under Dane County's revolving bail fund, county money was lent by the Dane County Sheriff's Office to eligible persons who were booked into the county jail for certain offenses in which bail was set by the court at $250 or less. In return, the charged person signed a promissory note and was required to return the amount loaned from the bail fund to the county upon satisfaction of the conditions of bail.
Van Hollen's opinion concluded there was no statutory authority to permit the lending of county funds to persons booked into the county jail. Neither the statutory provision stating that the sheriff has charge and custody of the jail nor the statutory provision requiring the sheriff to keep a record of when any prisoner is liberated expressly or impliedly authorizes a county sheriff to establish a revolving bail fund or otherwise exercise discretion in determining which prisoners will be released on bail.