Thursday, February 08, 2018

People v. Int'l Fidelity Ins. Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - Feb. 8, 2018)

Dealing with bail forfeitures isn't exactly my area of expertise.  But I nonetheless read a fair number of appellate cases about it.  So I'm generally aware of what's going on (and at stake).  Generally.

But today, when reading this opinion, I learned about a dynamic that I hadn't previously understood.  One that makes sense.  But that I hadn't thought about before.

It's not what the opinion is about.  But the factual recitation is what clued me in.  Basically it's about a guy who disappears after he's convicted of lewd or lascivious acts against a child under the age of 14 years.  That's bad for him, but it's also bad for the bail bondsman who posted his $300,000 bond.

So the surety tries to find him and bring him back in, then gets an extension for another six months.  But the clock's ticking.  One day after the bail's going to be forfeited, the surety comes into court and asks for another extension, which it seeks basically on the grounds that they've caught him in Mexico and he's in the process of being extradited.

Except arguably that's not really true.  There's a fight about whether the surety really has the guy in custody in the manner the law requires (or even at all).

And who's on what side of this dispute is what's interesting.

Obviously the surety wants more time.  What's not so obvious -- but what makes sense -- is that so does the District Attorney's office.  Because if the bounty hunter gets more time, he's likely to keep on working (perhaps successfully) to bring the guy in.  Whereas if the bail is forfeited, there's no incentive to keep looking (or keep trying to extradite), since the money's already down the toilet.

By contrast, County Counsel wants the bail forfeited.  Because the forfeited money -- no chump change -- goes to the County once it's forfeited.  And the County wants the dough.

So you've got the D.A. and County Counsel on opposite sides in a criminal case.  Not something you see every single day.  (Or at least not something I see.)

So that taught me something new.

Plus, in the particular case at hand, the Court of Appeal reaches a result with which no one's probably really happy.  Except the surety.  I can summarize that holding with a single paragraph from the opinion:

"Respondent’s frustration in the case is not unwarranted. The time of the hearing was changed by the court and it appears to have been obvious to all present that the defendant would not be appearing. Had the court waited the 42 minutes until 10:00 a.m., when the defendant was legally required to appear, before declaring the forfeiture, there would have been no question that the forfeiture was valid. Instead, by virtue of the court’s error in proceeding as it did, appellant will avoid liability on the bond despite having failed to locate the defendant and return him to court during the period of more than a year between the declaration of forfeiture on January 24, 2014, and the trial court’s April 23, 2015 denial of the surety’s motion for tolling and subsequent entry of summary judgment. Nevertheless, respondent’s argument that waiting until 10:00 a.m. before declaring the forfeiture would have been “the epitome of an idle act,” while understandable, is untenable."

The net result of which is that the decision below is reversed, the bail bond is exonerated, and the guy stays in Mexico (or wherever he is) because the surety no longer has any incentive to bring him back, since it's now got it's $300,000 back for good.

Ouch.  For want of a nail, the kingdom was lost.  Only this time the nail is 42 minutes.