FARGO - It's 3 a.m. on a Wednesday when Glen Pederson's work phone goes off.
A woman in Cass County needs to bail her boyfriend out of jail on charges of driving under the influence.
"I'll meet you at the jail in 20 minutes," Pederson tells her.
When he arrives at the jail, he's greeted by the jailer who says, "Glen, we might have a problem." In the time it took Pederson, a bond agent with A-Affordable Bail Bonds in Moorhead, to get to there, the girl managed to get a DUI, too, right in front of the jail. Her mother went through Pederson to bail her out, leaving the boyfriend behind.
That's a typical day - rather, wake up call - in the life of a bondsman.
Thankfully for Pederson, his job isn't much like the reality television show "Dog the Bounty Hunter" because he doesn't spend the majority of his time tracking down defendants who skip out on future court appearances.
A-Affordable Bail Bonds, owned by Adam Buffington and based in Brainerd, Minn., has been doing business in North Dakota for about six years, but has been posting bail for people in Minnesota for 15 years, with about 15 agents across the state.
Buffington said there have been a couple of cases where recovery agents, also known as bounty hunters, are sent to find defendants in Texas or North Carolina. And about five years ago he said a recovery agent caught a client from St. Louis County, Minn., at hotel in Las Vegas on their way to Mexico.
But in North Dakota, fleeing hasn't been a concern for the bond company. Judges in Cass County District Court share a similar outlook.
"I would say we have a very low percentage of no-shows," said Judge John Irby.
Business for A-Affordable Bail Bonds is slower in Cass County. That could be due to the infrequent use of surety, or bail bonds, compared to other types of pretrial release used in the county.
Bail is a sum of money set by judges to ensure a person's appearance in court. A bail bond is similar to an insurance policy where defendants pay a premium, typically 10 percent of the total bail amount.
Cass County District Judge Wade Webb said of the thousands of cases Cass County judges handle in a year, a small fraction deal with surety. Most cases involve cash or a defendant's promise to appear in court, known as personal recognizance, or a combination of the two. Every case is different and can involve a variety of release conditions that consider employment, ties to the community, severity of the crime, the weight of evidence and dangers the defendant poses to the community.
"Bondsmen are used in a minority of cases," Cass Judge Webb said. "Most folks come up with cash."
And "for most folks, a majority of them do appear."
When bail is posted by a bondsman, it's the bond agency's responsibility to monitor the defendant to make sure they remain law-abiding and appear in court. That requires agents like Pederson to regularly call defendants or bond co-signers. If a defendant misses a court date, the bondsman is required to find them within 90 days or the bonding company has to pay the full bail amount to the courts.
By staying in contact with the defendant, reminding them of future court appearances and taking other proactive measures, Buffington said his company hopes to "avoid the ultimate consequence" of having a client flee.
Pederson said of the 75 cases he's currently working with from the area he covers, including Cass and Clay counties, about three clients have failed to appear and the company's agents are working on tracking them down.
Defendants on financial release were more likely to make all scheduled court appearances compared to release on recognizance, according to a 2007 report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The report looked at state court processing from 1990 to 2004, which found that those with an active criminal justice status at the time of arrest or those with a history of failing to appear were more likely to not appear in court.
Both Cass County judges and the bond company agree that when a defendant does miss a court date, it's not done with the intention of fleeing; rather, they just forget.
"Generally people miss court because they weren't aware of when court was," Irby said. "The type of folks that often appear in court haven't lived life in a responsible manner to begin with."