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County of Los Angeles v. Bankers Insurance Company

September 20, 2011

COUNTY OF LOS ANGELES, PLAINTIFF AND APPELLANT,
v.
BANKERS INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT AND RESPONDENT.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Terry A. Bork, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SJ3481)

The opinion of the court was delivered by: J. Doi Todd

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Reversed with directions.

The trial court declared forfeited the bail bond posted by Bankers Insurance Company and entered summary judgment against Bankers. Bankers moved to set aside the forfeiture and judgment and to have its bail exonerated pursuant to Penal Code section 980, subdivision (b) (all statutory references shall be to the Penal Code), on the ground that the defendant's warrant was never entered into the national warrant database. The court granted the motion and exonerated bail. The County of Los Angeles appealed, contending that Bankers's motion was untimely and that it failed on the merits. We agree and reverse.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On August 4, 2008, Bankers, through its agent, posted bail bond No. 5550357762 in the amount of $50,000 for the release of criminal defendant Donald Garrett. On September 9, 2009, Garrett failed to appear in court at a pretrial conference and the bail was declared forfeited. The minute order stated that Garrett was in custody in Sonoma County on another matter. The court ordered that a felony bench warrant be issued, but the warrant was never entered into the national warrant database, National Crime Information Center (NCIC). The court clerk mailed a notice of forfeiture to Bankers and its agent on September 10, 2009. The court noted in its September 9, 2009 minute order that 185 days from the date of notice of forfeiture was March 14, 2010.

On March 18, 2010, the court issued a demand for payment of bond. On April 26, 2010, the court granted the clerk's application for judgment, and entered summary judgment against Bankers on the forfeited bond. The clerk mailed notice of entry of judgment and demand for payment the same day.

On May 11, 2010, Garrett appeared in court with his attorney for arraignment, and the court recalled the bench warrant.

On May 26, 2010, Bankers served the County with a motion to vacate the forfeiture and summary judgment and to exonerate bail,*fn1 on the ground that the failure to enter the felony bench warrant for Garrett into the NCIC database prevented him from being held on this case while he was in custody on another matter. The County opposed the motion on the grounds that it was untimely and that Bankers provided no evidence showing why Garrett could not otherwise be surrendered.

The court held a hearing on the motion on June 25, 2010. After hearing the arguments of counsel, the court granted the motion to vacate the forfeiture and summary judgment and ordered the bail exonerated. The court set forth its reasons: "Penal Code section 980(b) unambiguously tells the court, with jurisdiction over the bail, which includes this court, that upon petition, the court is to set aside the forfeiture and declare all liability on the bond to be exonerated. The County has not cited a statute or case that imposes a time limit on this, nor has the court's own research recovered such authority. The County is correct that the court must find that the failure to enter the bench warrant into NCIC prevented the fugitive from being taken into custody. However, it seems likely that if there's no NCIC warrant in the system for the other county to see, that there would be no arrest on it. So you can, therefore, say the lack of the warrant in NCIC prevented the defendant from being arrested on the warrant and transported to Los Angeles County." This appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Timeliness of Motion.

The County contends that Bankers's motion to vacate the forfeiture and summary judgment and to exonerate bail was untimely because "the motion should have been filed within the 185-day period specified in section 1305 and in the form of a motion to set aside bail forfeiture only."

Section 1305 essentially provides that if a defendant appears or is arrested in the underlying case within 180 days of the date of forfeiture,*fn2 the court shall vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail. If forfeiture has not been set aside within the 185-day period, the court then has 90 days to enter summary judgment against each bondsman named in the bond or the right to do so expires and the bail is exonerated. (ยง 1306, subds. (a), (c).) "Section 1305 allows the surety 180 days, a generous period, to obtain relief by locating the defendant and bringing him or her to custody, or by showing the court that the defendant's absence is due to disability or out-of-state custody. The ...


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