Eazy Bail Bonds and two other bail bonds companies posted an appearance bond on behalf of a criminal defendant. The defendant failed to appear for a settlement conference, and the court issued a bench warrant and scheduled a bond forfeiture hearing. The defendant did not appear at the bond forfeiture hearing. Hilda Zamora, president of one of the bail bonds companies, appeared at the hearing and announced that she was the agent for the three companies. The companies were not represented by an attorney. When the court asked whether the companies wanted to be heard, Zamora presented their position: apparently the defendant had been kidnapped and was now presumed dead, and the companies wanted the court to find good cause existed to exonerate the bond or to continue the hearing to allow the companies to gather documentation of the defendant’s death. The court granted the continuance, and two other continuances, at Zamora’s request. The hearing was eventually held, and Zamora appeared again without counsel and presented evidence to the court. On the merits, the court declined to exonerate the bond, and Zamora asked to make an argument. The court did not allow argument, but told Zamora that the companies could file a motion for reconsideration. The court denied the companies’ motion for reconsideration, which was filed through counsel.
The Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s ruling, but on different grounds, concluding that the trial court “should not have entertained any argument or evidence presented on behalf of unrepresented entities.” The Court first concluded that Zamora’s conduct amounted to the unauthorized practice of law – she was not a licensed attorney; she engaged in the practice of law by representing the companies in judicial proceedings and expressing legal opinions; and none of the exemptions in Supreme Court Rule 31(b) applied to authorize her appearance on behalf of the entities. The Court then noted the well-settled rule that “[a] corporation cannot appear in superior court except through counsel.” The companies did not appear through counsel until after the court had already rendered judgment. Applying the Rules of Civil Procedure, then, which apply in bond forfeiture cases, the Court concluded that because the companies effectively had not appeared and prosecuted their case, and because they bore the burden of proof in the bond forfeiture proceeding, forfeiture of the bond was warranted.
PRACTICE NOTE: In their supplemental brief to the Court of Appeals, the companies identified the “significant systemic problem” of courts throughout the state “enforce[ing] Rule 31 in bond forfeiture proceedings with varying degrees of rigor.” At the companies’ urging, the Court published this opinion to provide guidance for future cases.
Judge Swann authored the opinion; Judges Norris and Barker concurred.
Posted By: Kathleen Brody O'Meara