People v. Landon White Bail Bonds

Decision Date18 September 1991
Docket NumberNo. A051405,A051405
Citation285 Cal.Rptr. 575,234 Cal.App.3d 66
CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals Court of Appeals
PartiesThe PEOPLE of the State of California, Plaintiff and Respondent, v. LANDON WHITE BAIL BONDS, Defendant and Appellant.

James P. Botz, County Counsel, Richard M. Flores, Deputy County Counsel, Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, for plaintiff and respondent.

BENSON, Associate Justice.

This appeal from an order in a bail forfeiture proceeding raises two issues: (1) May a bail bond agent be held liable in a summary judgment of bail forfeiture under Penal Code section 1306? (2) May a summary judgment of bail forfeiture be amended more than 90 days after the day it could first be entered, in order to explicitly state that it is rendered against the surety as well as against the bail agent? We will conclude that a summary judgment purporting to name a mere bail agent as a judgment debtor is, to that extent, void on the face of the record, but that under the circumstances shown here such a judgment may be corrected at any time to reflect the trial court's manifest intent to name the surety as a judgment debtor.


Diego Quiroz was charged with burglary and was admitted to bail in the sum of $10,000. American Bankers Insurance Company ("Bankers") issued a bond in that amount, undertaking Quiroz's appearance. Two rubber-stamped impressions on the bond indicated that the "bail agent" was Landon White Bail Bonds ("White").

Quiroz failed to appear on November 4, 1988. Bail was declared forfeited and notice of forfeiture was duly given to Bankers and White. On September 13, 1989, after having granted an extension of time to seek vacation of forfeiture, Judge Jamar entered summary judgment pursuant to Penal Code section 1306. 1 The opening paragraph of the judgment recited that the defendant had "posted bail bond AB10-00783292 in the amount of $10,000.00 with AMERICAN BANKERS INSURANCE COMPANY as surety of such bond." The final paragraph of the judgment stated, "IT IS HEREBY ORDERED, pursuant to the provisions of Section 1305 and 1306 of the Penal Code, that Summary Judgment be, and the same is hereby rendered against Landon White Bail Bonds in the sum of $10,000.00 and in favor of the People of the State of California." Five days later, county counsel served Bankers and White with a demand for payment which recited, among other things, that judgment had been entered against both of them.

On October 3, 1989, White and Bankers appeared jointly in a written motion to vacate the summary judgment. 2 Their papers relied entirely on substantive grounds, asserting that they did not collude in the nonappearance of Quiroz and that adequate efforts had been made to secure his attendance. When the motion was heard on November 30, 1989, movants appeared through counsel, who asserted for the first time that the judgment was defective because it was entered against the bail agent instead of the surety. The motion to vacate the summary judgment was denied. No appeal was taken from the summary judgment or from the denial of the motion to vacate.

On May 9, 1990, Judge Jamar entered a "Corrected Amended Summary Judgment (Nunc Pro Tunc) Amending Summary Judgment Filed September 13, 1989." The amended judgment was substantially identical to the earlier judgment except that the final paragraph explicitly stated that it was rendered against Bankers as well as against White. 3

On May 29, 1990, Surety and Agent jointly filed a motion to "Vacate Summary Judgment and Exonerate Bail." They contended that (1) the original summary judgment was defective, and indeed "void," because it was entered against the bail agent and not the surety; and (2) the "nunc pro tunc" judgment was also void because entered after expiration of the 90-day period specified in section 1306.

Although both the original and the amended judgment had been entered by Judge Jamar, the motion to vacate was heard by Judge Antolini. 4 By order dated July 3, 1990, he granted the motion to vacate the summary judgment "as to the surety American Bankers Insurance Company ONLY." Bankers and White then moved the court to "clarify" this ruling. The stated thrust of this motion was that there was no outstanding judgment against White because the amended judgment had superseded the earlier judgment, and had in turn been vacated. Therefore, movants argued, "in order for Landon White to file a Notice of Appeal, the court must state whether it intended to reinstate the earlier summary judgment against Landon White Bail Bonds." By order dated September 13, 1990, Judge Antolini ruled that (1) the amended summary judgment was vacated, (2) the order of July 3 was vacated, and (3) the original summary judgment was reinstated. On October 22, 1990, White filed a notice of appeal from the order of September 13, 1990. On November 9, 1990, county counsel filed a notice of cross-appeal "from that portion of [the order of September 13, 1990] that vacated the Court's prior Corrected Amended Summary Judgment Entered Nunc Pro Tunc and filed on May 9, 1990."


White contends that since it was a not a surety but a mere agent for one, it cannot be liable for a forfeiture of bail, and summary judgment was erroneously rendered against it.

Proceedings for the forfeiture of bail are governed by sections 1305 through 1309. These statutes are "strictly construed in favor of the surety to avoid the harsh results of a forfeiture." (County of Los Angeles v. Surety Ins. Co. (1984) 162 Cal.App.3d 58, 62, 208 Cal.Rptr. 263, quoting People v. Surety Insurance Co. (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 556, 561, 186 Cal.Rptr. 385; see People v. United Bonding Ins. Co. (1971) 5 Cal.3d 898, 906, 98 Cal.Rptr. 57, 489 P.2d 1385.) Where they require the court to " ' "exercise its jurisdiction in a particular manner, follow a particular procedure, or subject to certain limitations, an act beyond those limitations is in excess of its jurisdiction." ' " (County of Los Angeles v. Surety Ins. Co., supra, 162 Cal.App.3d at pp. 62-63, 208 Cal.Rptr. 263; People v. Resolute Ins. Co. (1975) 50 Cal.App.3d 433, 435, 123 Cal.Rptr. 246.)

Section 1305 provides that when a defendant fails to appear, the court shall declare bail forfeited. Notice of the forfeiture must be given to "the surety on the bond" and to "the bail agent or solicitor who posted the bond." (§ 1305, subd. (a).) The forfeiture may be set aside within 180 days after its entry in the minutes, or the mailing of notice, provided specified conditions are met. (Ibid.) If the forfeiture is not set aside, then upon expiration of the period for doing so, "the court which has declared the forfeiture ... shall enter a summary judgment against each bondsman named in the bond in the amount for which the bondsman is bound." (§ 1306, subd. (a).)

Agent contends that he is not a "bondsman named in the bond" as being "bound" in any "amount." Therefore, he contends, the trial court had no power to impose liability on him, and the judgment purporting to do so was void. We agree. The statute only authorizes summary judgment against the sureties, i.e., those who, by the terms of the bond, explicitly bind themselves to pay a stated amount. The intent to hold only the surety is reflected in section 1278, which declares that an undertaking of bail should provide in part as follows (emphasis added): "If the forfeiture of this bond be ordered by the court, judgment may be summarily made and entered forthwith against the said (naming the sureties), and the defendant if he or she be a party to the bond, for the amount of their respective undertakings herein, as provided by Sections 1305 and 1306."

The conclusion that the statute must be understood as empowering the court to enter judgment only against those who expressly assume liability in the bond accords with the one published decision to consider the issue. (County of Los Angeles v. Wilshire Ins. Co. (1979) 103 Cal.App.3d Supp. 1, 163 Cal.Rptr. 123.) It also accords with the fundamental principle that the entire bonding procedure rests on the "contractual aspect of the bond." (People v. Cox (1988) 202 Cal.App.3d 574, 580, 249 Cal.Rptr. 1.) The court alluded to this point in County of Los Angeles v. Wilshire Ins. Co., supra, at Supp. 3, 163 Cal.Rptr. 123, where it stated that the bail agent "is not a bondsman at all. He is clearly designated in the bond itself as the agent of the bondsman and he made no undertaking at all." (Id. at p. 3, 163 Cal.Rptr. 123.) Exactly the same is true of White.

We acknowledge that the term "bondsman" is often employed in common usage to refer to a bail agent or solicitor such as White. Traditionally, however, the term referred to the issuer of the bond--the surety. (Black's Law Dict. (6th ed. 1990) p. 181.) In any case, we need not linger over the meaning conveyed by the term when it stands alone. The question here concerns the sweep of section 1306, and the Legislature has explicitly limited that statute to persons "named in the bond" as "bound" to pay money. White is not such a person, and cannot be subjected to liability under the governing statutes.

The County offers no plausible grounds for reaching a contrary result. It vaguely suggests that a legislative intent to impose liability on bail agents emanates from the allusion in section 1308 to summary judgment against a "person or corporation." 5 In that statute, however, the phrase "person or corporation" explicitly refers to sureties. The use of "person" merely reflects the fact that a bail undertaking may be executed by a private individual as well as a corporate insurer. (See §§ 1278, 1279; 4 Witkin & Epstein, Cal.Criminal Law (2d ed. 1989) Proceedings Before Trial, § 2011, p. 2372.) By no reasonable interpretation does the term "person" refer to bail agents.

We conclude that the rendition of summary judgment against ...

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