Tuesday, May 14, 2019

County of Orange v. Seneca Ins. Co. (Cal. Ct. App. - May 14, 2019)

I'm glad the Court of Appeal published this opinion.  Not just because it's correct on the merits, as it surely is.  But because it implicitly publicizes a limitation on the enforcement of certain judgments that seems bizarre to me, and that I think the Legislature should abrogate.

A surety posts a bond for a criminal defendant, and the guy doesn't show.  So the bondsman is liable on the bond, and is ordered to pay the $100,000 bond.  The bondsman doesn't.  Simply doesn't pay.

Which, ordinarily, would lead to rapid enforcement action, etc.  But, here, for whatever reason, the County of Orange doesn't seem to be particularly worried.  Years go by with no attempt to force the surety to pay.

Here's the crazy (to me) thing:  Apparently there's a statute (Section 1306) that says that you can't enforce a judgment on a bond after two years.  (“The right to enforce a summary judgment entered against a bondsman pursuant to this section shall expire two years after the entry of the judgment.”)  Which just seems to me a crazy short period.  For a regular civil judgment, you've got like 10 years to enforce it.  Why the government should have a shorter time period -- for a debt arising in a criminal case, no less, with its corresponding public policy implications -- is simply beyond me.

Maybe there's a secret reason behind Section 1306 that I can't presently fathom.  But unless someone persuades me otherwise, were I a member of the Legislature, I'd almost definitely vote to amend Section 1306 to extend the time limit of two years to, like, ten.  (Unless, of course, the various sureties and their lobbyists paid me a substantial bribe; err, I mean, contributed to my campaign.)

Ultimately, here, the Court of Appeal enforces a different statue, which states -- totally reasonably, IMHO -- that if a surety has an unpaid judgment against it, it can't be a surety in the interim.  Totally fair.

But in the perfect (or at least better) world, the surety would be precluded from writing new bonds and have to pay the $100,000 it owes.  Rather than just change its name, get a new license, and then go back to writing bonds that it has no intention of ever paying.

Hopefully someone in the Legislature will eventually pick up on this.