NEW ORLEANS -- Accused serial car burglar Ronald J. Johnson can’t stay out of jail.
But thanks to New Orleans Criminal Court Judge Frank Marullo, Johnson can’t seem to stay in jail either.
Court records show that despite dozens of prior arrests and at least three recent criminal convictions, Johnson has been the beneficiary of three free jail releases by Marullo.
In each case, Marullo has been able to spring Johnson from Orleans Parish Prison by placing a phone call requesting his release.
"This case highlights a fundamental flaw that exists in the criminal justice system," said Rafael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission. "What this particular defendant was able to do was to bypass the entire system and through some mechanism, was able to reach out and contact Judge Frank Marullo and get a get-out-of-jail-free card. Not once, not twice, but three times."
Police say Johnson, 27, is a career burglar and car thief, and two of his arrests this year came on exactly those types of charges.
Records show that Johnson was arrested in August after police say they spotted him driving a stolen truck in Jefferson Parish and caught him after a high-speed chase that ended near Johnson’s home on Gayoso Street.
Johnson was booked with possession of stolen property over $500 and a magistrate judge set his bail at $50,000. But a week later, Marullo ordered a reduction of Johnson’s bond to a $10,000 release on recognizance, commonly known as an R.O.R.
With an R.O.R., a defendant gets a free release from jail by agreeing to pay the bond amount if the defendant misses a court date.
Johnson was making his court dates on the stolen property charge when last month he was arrested again at his home. Police say they found Johnson with a laptop computer stolen in a car burglary.
Johnson again was booked at OPP on a charge of possession of stolen property, but Marulllo called in an R.O.R. even before Johnson hit magistrate court for a bail hearing.
"Why did he still release him on a free bond when here he is arrested, essentially on the same thing after he's already been released on a free bond?" Goyeneche asked.
But that's not all.
New Orleans Traffic Court records show that Johnson has racked up at least 18 arrests over the past few years, with citations totaling more than $21,000 in possible fines.
The records show that after Johnson repeatedly missed court dates, he was arrested on multiple attachments in October and his bail was set at $12,500. Bail bondsman Matt Dennis of Steve’s Bail Bonds covered the bail, but that relationship didn’t last long.
Dennis said he was forced to drop Johnson as a client when he continued to miss court.
"I got him out because he missed court. So he missed court again,” Dennis said. “And then he missed it again. And then we washed our hands of him. We were forced to do this by his own actions and, I guess, his lack of respect of the system."
Despite being dropped by the bail bond company, Marullo stepped in and granted Johnson another free release.
Records show that Marullo freed Johnson from jail by using a “parole,” the traffic court equivalent of an R.O.R.
Goyeneche said Marullo failed to adhere to a provision in state law that requires a judge to consider a defendant’s past failures to appear in court, as well as the defendant’s likelihood of committing more crimes.
"This is a judge that failed to follow the law and as a result, no consequences have been imposed on this offender," he said.
Johnson's two most recent free releases came after he was sentenced to probation in Jefferson Parish after pleading guilty to aggravated flight following the August high speed car chase. He is now facing two years in prison on a probation revocation based on his recent New Orleans arrests.
Marullo did not return several messages seeking comment.
Johnson, reached at his home, denied any connection to the judge. He said all of releases from jail were arranged by attorneys and bail bondsmen, but he declined to provide any names.