Department of Insurance Enforces Regulations Over Bail Bonds as Discussions of Reform Move Forward

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By Hannah Ohman

On July 15, 2020, the Department of Insurance (DOI) issued a press release stating that an investigation by the Department of an unlicensed immigration bond company led to a $5.5 million settlement. After an investigation and subsequent Cease and Desist Order on December 11, 2019, Libre by Nexus, Inc. agreed to stop transacting immigration bonds in California, cease the use of GPS ankle monitors, issue credits of $420 to some participants, and submit oversight of its business practices to DOI, a total value of $5.5 million.

As outlined in the press release, the immigration bonds system is prone to abuse by taking advantage of Spanish-speaking immigrants in detention and their families, who do not know how the bond system functions. Libre specifically misled immigrants by telling them the money went to pay off their immigration bond when it was only for the GPS tracking device, forcing the participants to pay excessive and unnecessary costs, without making payments towards their bond amount.

This enforcement action occurs as DOI attempts to push for reforms to the bail industry, including licensure of the agents. Bail bond agents must be licensed through DOI. In February 2018, former DOI Commissioner Dave Jones issued recommendations for reforming California’s bail system, including that California needs to address its inequitable bail system that detains people who are unable to afford bail while releasing wealthier people who are able to pay bail, and that California needs to improve the oversight and regulation of the bail industry.

The Department of Insurance regulates the bail bond business in accordance with the Bail Bond Regulatory Act, passed in 1937, and incorporated into sections 1830 to 1830.42 of the Insurance Code. According to the Department of Insurance webpage on bail bonds, “a bail bond is a surety bond, which is posted by a bail bond company to the court as a guarantee for an arrestee’s appearance at all court dates. The court will release an arrestee from detention upon posting of the bail bond. Bail bonds are underwritten and issued by licensed bail agents which act as the appointed representatives of licensed surety insurance companies.”

On August 26, 2020, the California Supreme Court issued an order requiring trial courts to take into account an individual’s circumstances and ability to pay when setting a defendant’s bail, instead of using bail schedules. This order binds trial courts to a portion of In re Humphrey, 19 Cal. App. 5th 1006 (2018), pending final resolution of the case. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined the request to require the individualized assessments.

On November 3, 2020, California voters defeated Proposition 25, which would have upheld SB 10 (Hertzberg) (Chapter 244, Statutes of 2018), ending the cash bail system for defendants awaiting trial.

Interested persons can view bail enforcement actions and file complaints through the Department of Insurance website.

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