A Row on the Row
In the spring of 1998, bail agent Jolene Martinez and her brother, bounty hunter Duane "Dog" Chapman, were allies in a cantankerous price war on Denver's Bail Bond Row. Siblings united to protect the family business.
What a difference a year makes.
This past April, Chapman and his common-law wife, Beth Barmore, were leaving a restaurant in the Golden Triangle neighborhood when they were confronted by Martinez and her husband, Jerry. Relations between the two couples, who were friends last year, had frayed.
"What the fuck are you looking at?" Barmore demanded.
"You, fat face," Jerry replied.
Then, she claims, he spit on her.
She called Jerry a "fucking spic punkass motherfucker" and spit back at him, even though it was one of those spits, she says, that was more air than spit. Martinez pulled out a tape recorder to catch the divisive comments for posterity. (If carrying a tape recorder around sounds like paranoia, you haven't spent much time on the Row. "You know how the bondsmen are--they're saying things, they're growling," Martinez explains. "It's called preventive medicine. It's like if you get arrested, you call a lawyer.")
Barmore looked to Chapman to step in. But Chapman saw visions of his father then, urging him to keep a level head. Plus, the charismatic bounty hunter was trying to ink a Hollywood deal to film a pilot for a reality-based TV show; in it, Dog would chase down fugitives from justice. He was not about to screw that up. Jerry showed restraint, too, Martinez says, in not trying to punch Barmore's lights out.
The parties split up; the police were called. Jerry and Barmore were both ticketed, though Jerry claimed he never spit on anyone. He and Martinez then filed a restraining order against Chapman and Barmore.
Welcome back to Bail Bond Row, the block of multi-colored Victorian houses along West 13th Avenue, where the slightest offense is blown out of proportion and people habitually accuse each other of lies and corruptions. The rules are different here. Someone is always threatening to harm or kill someone else, and while no bodies have turned up yet, such words are taken seriously. Cameras and tape recorders--the tools of the spy-on-your-neighbor trade--are common. A competitor's simple stroll across the street generally means trouble.
But first, the recap. Troubles began about two years ago, when Martinez began charging a 10 percent commission on the bonds she wrote ("Bondage and Domination," April 2, 1998). Her competitors, who charged 15 percent, felt she was deliberately undercutting them, and they tried to force her to raise her commission to 15 percent. Then, as now, bitter words, hidden tape recorders and arrests ensued.
To the main group, charging 15 percent was an inalienable right. "You can't take it away from them," one bondsman claimed in a meeting that was, of course, recorded. "Just like our forefathers fought a war for freedom." During that same meeting, on January 15, 1998, Martinez's competitors contemplated collectively dropping their commission to 10 percent (or lower) to force Martinez out, a move Martinez felt was evidence of price-fixing.
Barmore, a bail agent herself, started out as a 15-percenter, but after she started dating Dog, she wound up on Martinez's side. Eventually, the Professional Bail Agents of Colorado, to which everyone belonged, splintered into two rival clans. The months-long feud reached a peak at a February 1998 meeting, during which the 10-percenters claim they were physically pushed out of the room and then maced. When all the smoke had cleared, Martinez kept her 10 percent rate and most of her competitors stayed at 15 percent, although some advertised 10 percent down with approved credit--meaning they could charge the extra 5 percent later.
But Barmore and Martinez never much cared for one another. Barmore says Martinez is a bad bail agent; Martinez doesn't like the way the busty Barmore used to come into her office "half-dressed."
With the bail war over, the two began their own battle. The real break came last November, when Barmore and then Chapman began to gravitate toward the 15 percent side. Whereas the year before Chapman believed that bail agent Mary Ellen Pollack had engineered his ouster from that February meeting, he now pleaded with Pollack to bury the hatchet. "Mary Ellen, may I tell you that I love you?" he asked her at a meeting late last year. He says she responded thusly: "And I love you, too, Doggie."
What a difference a year makes.
Martinez says her brother "demanded" that she raise her commission to 15 percent. "I realized then he was already over on their side. I was kind of shocked," she says.
"She felt we had flipped sides," Barmore says. "But you know what? We're Christians. The Bible says you are to forgive thy neighbor."
But the catalyst for the Martinezes' complete isolation from the Row came earlier this year, when a bill worked its way through the legislature that would force bail agents who are insured to pay their own forfeiture judgments when a client skips bail.
Bail agents felt that was the job of insurance companies. So they began backing a separate bill that would reinstate cash bonding in Colorado. What that means, essentially, is that bond agents with enough money and enough years in the business would no longer have to be insured and pay premiums to insurance companies. Both bills eventually passed.
Martinez testified against the second bill before a legislative committee this past spring, much to the "shock" of her brother and the rest of the Row, who supported it.
Soon after, the first of several restraining orders were filed. In addition to the allegations of spitting, Martinez says her brother made a series of "domestic threats" from December through April: "threats to kill, rape, deface property, blow up my dad's house, my office, slit tires and car roof, kill my children, threaten my job..."
Chapman says his phone calls to his sister were merely warnings that there were criminals out there who felt she had taken their money and then sent them back to jail for arbitrary reasons; he says he told her those criminals might try to harm her.
Nevertheless, Denver County Court Judge Arthur Fine issued a temporary restraining order against Chapman and Barmore, ordering them to stay away from Martinez and her place of business and not to threaten or injure the Martinez family. That same day, a second restraining order was issued against Chapman and Barmore by Martinez's son, Jason, alleging harassment.
Chapman and Barmore deny the vaguely worded claim. A hearing is scheduled for August 25.
In an unrelated spat of restraining orders, Elizabeth Hartney, the girlfriend of Chapman and Martinez's brother Michael, filed restraining orders against Chapman, Barmore, Michael and his two daughters. Hartney says a fight with one of the daughters ended with a clump of Hartney's hair in the daughter's hand and Chapman tossing her out of the house.
"We never kicked her out," Barmore responds. "Liz left 'cause she wanted to break up with Mike over the daughters. The restraining order had nothing to do with us other than we had the lease on the house."
John Chanin, a lawyer who represented the 10-percenters last year, says that the disputes are all in the family and that "everyone realizes the squabbles and the business wars are destructive.
"It seems to be better than it's been," he adds. "These restraining orders are petty bullshit on both sides."
Maybe. But Barmore and Chapman have turned their attention to the man who signed all the restraining orders: Judge Fine.
The couple filed a motion for recusal on July 26 that reads, "Judge Fine is very familiar with Duane Chapman and Alice Barmore, Duane Chapman's common-law wife and business partner. In light of Judge Fine's previous dealings with Duane Chapman and Alice Barmore, Respondents have grave concerns relating to Judge Fine's ability to remain impartial in the herein referenced matter."
Judge Fine declined the motion.
Meanwhile, Barmore and Chapman have left the Row to set up shop in Edgewater. Dog dreams of the "D in the sky" as he awaits the arrival of a Hollywood film crew in the next few weeks. He claims that a book deal about his life's story is also in the works, as well as a possible second TV series, this one a drama based on his exploits.
Chapman grows teary-eyed recalling a recent dream in which his deceased mother asks an angel how her son Duane has fared in life, and the angel tells her that Dog has his own TV show.
Martinez says she prays for her brother and admits, "I'm too nice. I never sue anyone."
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