Press takes issue with commissioner being released without bond

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By The Staff

When District 3 Campbell County Commissioner James Wendell Bailey was arrested for DUI recently, the arrest report created more questions than answers.

Jacksboro police allegedly found Bailey, 50, with a spilled beer can lying in the driver’s side floorboard of his truck and 23 empty beer cans in the back, near the intersection of Butter and Egg Road and Lays Lane in Caryville.

Bailey reportedly admitted to drinking several hours earlier that day, according to officer reports, and reportedly told the officer he “had a lot on [his] mind, but knew better than to drive while drunk.”

Bailey was arrested and taken to jail. He is scheduled to appear in court May 30.

His bond — that’s the amount an alleged offender must pay to be released from jail as a surety they will return to court — was listed as $0 on jail intake sheets and court documents.

We wanted to know why the county commissioner was seemingly exempt from posting bond, so we exercised due diligence to find out.

We called the arresting agency. We contacted the jail. We contacted the courts and the district attorney’s office. We even left a message for Bailey last week, although he didn’t return our calls.

Most of those whom we spoke with in the process, couldn’t — or wouldn’t — say why Bailey did not have to post bond. And when we further pressed a representative of the courts to explain why Bailey was released on a simple jail citation, she told us this: “[DUI] is like the equivalent of walking into Walmart and stealing something.”

We disagree — and we bet most of our readers do, too.

We also question if a private citizen would be afforded the same immunity from posting bond as Bailey, if they faced the same charge in Campbell County.

We highly doubt it.

In fact, we searched past jail intake sheets to see how much the average person charged with DUI had posted as their bond to be released from jail.

Readers can compare charges by looking at our arrest log on 4A.

Sure, court officials assess certain factors when calculating any offender’s bond. They surely assign risk to a person based on prior convictions or the likeliness they may not return for court.

In this case, it was Bailey’s first DUI offense, according to arrest records. Bailey was also previously employed by the sheriff’s office and is an elected public official. So it’s presumed he likely understands the stakes in this criminal case and wouldn’t be an inherent flight risk.

But the system should not show blatant favoritism to elected officials charged with crimes.

Any bond amount would have been more appropriate than none — especially in an election year when this newspaper is in heightened “watchdog mode.”

When elected officials are perceived to get preferential treatment because of their rank or status it makes ordinary citizens — those people for whom we advocate — lose faith in the system.

The solution to the problem is simple. Government officials — whether elected or appointed — must be transparent in their actions and must always be able to justify their deeds to the public for whom they work.

Pressing Issues represent the opinion of this newspaper’s five-member editorial board.