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People v. Accredited Surety Casualty Co.

California Court of Appeals, Fifth District

October 9, 2014

THE PEOPLE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
ACCREDITED SURETY CASUALTY COMPANY, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Fresno County, No. F11903429 Alan M. Simpson, Judge.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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COUNSEL

E. Alan Nunez for Defendant and Appellant.

Kevin Briggs, County Counsel, and Evan A. Merat, Deputy County Counsel, for Plaintiff and Respondent.

OPINION

Franson, J.

A surety on a bail bond appeals an order denying its motion to set aside summary judgment, to discharge forfeiture, and to exonerate the bond. The surety contends it should have been given a 20-day extension to file its motion because it satisfied the “good cause” requirement of Penal Code section 1305.6, subdivision (b).[1] The surety further contends that exoneration is appropriate because the defendant was returned to custody within the 185-day appearance or exoneration period.[2] Specifically, the surety claims the defendant (1) was arrested in Sacramento County on new charges within three months of his nonappearance in Fresno; (2) had a hold from the Fresno County Sheriff placed on him while in jail in Sacramento County; and (3) was convicted and sentenced in Sacramento County and then transferred to state prison where he remains incarcerated.

We publish this opinion because section 1305.6 was enacted recently and its good cause requirement has not been addressed in an appellate decision. Based on the record before us, we conclude (1) the appropriate test for good cause contains an objective component (i.e., reasonableness) and subjective good faith component. In determining whether a surety acted reasonably and in good faith, courts must consider the totality of the circumstances and evaluate the reasons given by the surety for not filing a motion within the 185-day appearance period.

In this case, the evidentiary showing presented by the surety was insufficient to establish that it acted reasonably in waiting until after the

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expiration of the appearance period to seek exoneration of the bond. For instance, the record does not show why it was reasonable for the surety’s bail agent to believe (1) the defendant would be returned to Fresno County and (2) that return would occur before the appearance period expired. Also, the surety failed to show that an objectively reasonable bail agent would have been misled about the status of the bond by the copy of a minute order provided by the clerk of court’s office. That minute order apparently exonerated another bond, but we cannot evaluate the reasonableness of the bail agent’s interpretation of that document because the surety did not include it in the appellate record. Consequently, the trial court correctly determined the surety failed to establish good cause for the 20-day extension contained in section 1305.6, subdivision (b).

We therefore affirm the judgment.

FACTS

On August 16, 2012, Accredited Surety and Casualty Company, a Florida corporation, through its bail agent California Capital Bail Bonds (collectively, Surety), posted bail bond number A50-00621044 in the amount of $25, 000 (Bond #044) for the release of defendant Christopher DVaughn Williams in Fresno County Superior Court case No. F11903429.

Williams was scheduled for arraignment on August 21, 2012, but failed to appear. As a result, the trial court issued a bench warrant for Williams and ordered Bond #044 forfeited. The bail forfeiture notice signed and mailed by a deputy clerk of court stated the court “may consider setting aside the forfeiture if within 185 days of the time of forfeiture, defendant surrenders to the court or is brought to court by bailor, and is able to offer sufficient reason for the failure to appear as cited. At the expiration of 185 days, if the forfeiture is not set aside, the bail amount is due and payable to the court.”

The 185-day period referenced in the bail forfeiture notice, if not tolled or extended, would have expired on February 22, 2013.

On November 9, 2012, Williams was arrested by the Sacramento Police Department on unrelated charges and held in the Sacramento County Jail. Records Supervisor Xai of the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office certified in writing that a hold for Fresno County Superior Court case No. F11903429 was placed on Williams with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department on November 9, 2012, the same day as his arrest.

Later that November, the bail agent investigating the location of Williams received a telephone tip that Williams had been arrested in Sacramento, California. Williams was in the hospital and it took time for him to show up as in custody.

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On December 7, 2012, a bail agent for Surety accessed the Sacramento County Sheriff's Department's Web site and printed an updated inmate details sheet from the Sacramento County inmate information system. The sheet indicated Williams (1) was in custody on local charges, (2) had outstanding warrants from Marin, Solano and Fresno Counties, [3] and (3) had no projected release date. The bail agent, based on his prior experience with defendants in custody, believed that Williams would be shipped to Fresno once his case in Sacramento was completed.

On January 7, 2013, Williams was sentenced to two years in state prison for the Sacramento County charges.

In January 2013, the bail agent phoned the office of the Fresno County clerk of court to determine if Williams had been returned to Fresno County and if Bond #044 had been exonerated. The clerk told the bail agent she would confirm and call him back. About five days later, the bail agent phoned the clerk of court again to determine if the bond was exonerated. He spoke with a clerk who told him the clerk’s office was behind and had not had a chance to confirm the status of the bond.

The bail agent then went to the clerk’s office on the second floor of the courthouse, spoke with the clerk, and was told they could not find Williams’s file. The clerk printed a minute order showing the exoneration of a bail bond and gave it to the bail agent. The bail agent subsequently learned that the exoneration related to a prior bond issued for Williams by All Pro Bail Bonds.

The bail agent returned to the court and asked whether Bond #044 was exonerated. He was informed by the clerks that they still could not locate Williams’s file. The bail agent followed up with the clerk’s office over the next two weeks to see if Williams’s file had been located. The clerks informed him that they could not confirm whether the bond was exonerated until they found the file.

On February 22, 2013, Sacramento County transferred Williams to the custody of California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. When Surety filed its motion in this case, VINELink[4] showed Williams was in custody at the Deuel Vocational Institution in Tracy, California.

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PROCEEDINGS

On March 5, 2013, the trial court entered a “BOND SUMMARY JUDGMENT” against Surety in the principal sum of $25, 000 on Bond #044. A copy of the judgment was mailed the next day to Surety.

On March 6, 2013, the bail agent went to the clerk’s office at the courthouse, asked if Williams’s file had been located, and was told it had been located and there was no exoneration in the file for the bail agent’s bond.

On March 7, 2013, Surety filed a motion to toll time or vacate the forfeiture and exonerate the bail bond. Four days later, counsel for the County of Fresno filed an opposition to the motion and argued that the motion was untimely because it was not filed within the 185-day appearance period.

On March 15, 2013, Surety filed an amended notice of motion, which added a request that the March 5, 2013, summary judgment on Bond #044 be set aside.

In May 2013, the trial court held a hearing on Surety’s motion. At the end of the hearing, the trial court stated: “The motion is denied. The bail agency has not established good cause as to why the motion was not filed within the appearance period. It’s also denied [because] there’s no competent evidence the ...


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