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County of Los Angeles v. Fairmont Specialty Group

April 21, 2009

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
FAIRMONT SPECIALTY GROUP, DEFENDANT AND APPELLANT.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Luis A. Lavin, Judge. Reversed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SJ-2977).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Manella, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Appellant Fairmont Specialty Group raises the issue whether the forfeiture of a bail bond which occurs when a defendant fails to appear at a scheduled criminal hearing should be set aside under Penal Code section 1305, subdivision (c)(2) when, within 185 days of the declaration of forfeiture, the defendant is arrested on an unrelated offense, the outstanding bench warrant is discovered by the arresting authorities, but the defendant is released at the behest of law enforcement officials in whose jurisdiction the original crime occurred.*fn1 We conclude that under the facts presented, the defendant was under "'arrest'" or on "hold" within the meaning section 1305, subdivision (h), and that Fairmont's motion to vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bond should have been granted.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On January 3, 2006, Bad Boys Bail Bonds, acting as an agent of Fairmont, posted bond for the release of Yolanda Patrice Davis in case no. YA063302.*fn2 On July 12, 2006, Davis failed to appear at a scheduled hearing. The court declared the bail forfeited and issued a bench warrant. The clerk mailed notice of forfeiture to Fairmont on July 14, 2006. The notice stated: "Your contractual obligation to pay this bond will become absolute on the 186 day following the date of the mailing of this notice unless the court shall order the forfeiture set aside and the bond reinstated. You may within 185 days from the date of the mailing of this notice surrender the defendant to the court or to custody or appear in court to make a motion to set aside the forfeiture of bail/bond."*fn3

On motion of Fairmont, the court extended the period within which to surrender the defendant or set aside the forfeiture to August 1, 2007.*fn4 On August 7, 2007, the court entered summary judgment on the bond.

On August 29, 2007, Fairmont moved to set aside the summary judgment, discharge the forfeiture and exonerate the bail. Fairmont presented evidence that on August 21, 2006, approximately one month after Davis failed to appear and the court declared bail forfeited, Davis was arrested by the Culver City Police Department for shoplifting. The booking officer learned of the bench warrant. She called the Inglewood Police Department and was advised, according to her report, "to release [defendant] on the above warrant due to medical concerns."

In opposition to Fairmont's motion, respondent County of Los Angeles presented a declaration from the Culver City booking officer, Heidi Hattrup, who stated: "Davis was transported to Culver City Police Department and booked on [charges] stemming from the [shoplifting] incident . . . [¶] At Culver City Police Department it was discovered that [Davis] had an outstanding Inglewood warrant . . . . Sergeant Salcedo of Inglewood Police Department was contacted and advised us not to arrest Davis on the above warrant due to medical concerns. The outstanding warrant was not discovered until after Davis was placed in custody on the new burglary charge; therefore I never placed her under arrest for the outstanding warrant."

The court denied Fairmont's motion. This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

An order denying a motion to vacate or set aside a forfeiture and exonerate the bail is an appealable order. (People v. Ranger Ins. Co. (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 1379, 1382.)*fn5 The resolution of such a motion "is within the trial court's discretion and should not be disturbed on appeal unless an abuse of discretion appears in the record." (People v. Legion Ins. Co. (2002) 102 Cal.App.4th 1192, 1195; accord, People v. American Contractors Indemnity (1999) 74 Cal.App.4th 1037, 1043.) However, where, as here, we review the trial court's interpretation of a statute on uncontested facts, the issue concerns a pure question of law and is subject to de novo review. (People v. American Bankers Ins. Co. (1992) 4 Cal.App.4th 348, 351; see People ex. rel. Lockyer v. Shamrock Foods Co. (2000) 24 Cal.4th 415, 432.)

B. Exoneration of Bond Under Section 1305, Subdivision (c)(2)

"'The object of bail and its forfeiture is to insure the attendance of the accused and his obedience to the orders and judgment of the court.'" (People v. American Contractors Indemnity Co., supra, 33 Cal.4th at p. 657, quoting People v. Wilcox (1960) 53 Cal.2d 651, 656-657.) "A bail bond is in the nature of a contract between the government and the surety, in which the surety acts as a guarantor of the defendant's appearance under risk of forfeiture of the bond. [Citation.] 'In general the state and surety agree that if the state will release the defendant from custody, the surety will undertake that the defendant will appear personally and at a specified time and place . . . . If the defendant fails to appear at the proper time and place, the surety becomes the absolute ...


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