Community Portrait

Community Portrait - She's enjoyed 21 years in bail bond business

By: Michael Kirby, Auburn Journal
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Innocent or guilty, spending time in jail until court dates are attended is not fun. Priority one is being released. Melissa Zimmerman of Frank Calabretta's Bail House is the calm, reassuring, knowledgeable voice on the other end of the collect phone call you have just made from jail. Posting bail is like an insurance policy guaranteeing court appearances, and if you call the bail house, Zimmerman or owner Frank Calabretta will pick up the phone ready to help 24 hours a day, seven days a week, every day of the year. Raised in Auburn since 1974, Zimmerman graduated from Placer High School in 1987. For the last two years of high school, she participated in a program called Work Experience, similar to today's ROP program in high school, that offers on-the-job training while earning school credits and an hourly wage. In 1985, through Placer High School, she worked as a file clerk, answering phones, and assisting legal assistants at a local law firm in Auburn. So I would leave Placer at about 11:30 a.m. and would go over to work at the law office of Bill Lipschultz, Zimmerman said. At the suggestion of one of the law partners, she started helping Calabretta at night, setting up a new computer system at the Bail House entering defendant information into a bail bond management program. Zimmerman liked the work and thought it could be an interesting job. In 1988, she passed a state test for her bail license and entered a field she still finds fascinating after 21 years. Frank asked if I wanted to get my bail license, and I got it just one year out of high school when I was 18 years old, she said. Bail bondsmen are licensed through the California Department of Insurance, and after studying insurance and penal codes and passing a test, you can be licensed to work for a bail bond company. Very few women enter the bail bond field and stay 21 years. Zimmerman has nothing but praise for and enjoys working with Calabretta, Frank is just a wonderful boss and a great man. It's been an amazing education and there's never a dull moment, she said. Here's how bail works: After an arrest, bail is set, usually pre-assigned by the courts in most cases. Ten percent of the bail amount is paid to a bail bond company, along with someone who vouches that the defendant will make all his/her court appearances. The bail bond company posts a bond at the jail and the defendant is released to later make all their court appearances. We don't have a lot of skips, some people miss their court dates, but usually it's something like their car broke down, they were sick or they just forgot, said Zimmerman. As far as actual skips, we try to keep that low. It's part of being a good underwriter, but we have had loses. Over the years, Zimmerman learned from Calabretta how to get a good indication if a client could be a poor risk. You kind of get a feel for it, you ask questions and it depends on the charges and if the person has been arrested before, she said. You pretty much interview them and make a decision. The Bail House serves Placer, Nevada and Sacramento counties, and nationwide service is available. The job can be stressful and the nights long ” a busy night can be arranging bail for eight to 10 individuals and on a slow night she takes no calls. I'm the night owl and Frank's the early bird so it works out great, Zimmerman said. Zimmerman releases job tension by working out at a local gym and gardening when she is not working. She lives in Auburn and her car license is a hint to her profession, LDY BAIL. I've met a lot of nice people in this business and everyone has a story, Zimmerman said. Bail services can be needed by anyone, it's not just repeat customers.