County Counsel Is Eligible to Recover "Costs" But Not "Attorney Fees" In Bail Bond Forfeiture Matter

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In People v. United States Fire Insurance Co., 2012 DJDAR 15367 (2012), the California Court of Appeal for the Fifth Appellate District declined to award fees to county counsel in proceedings arising out of bail bond forfeiture proceedings.

County Counsel prevailed in bail bond forfeiture proceedings. The outcome resulted in the bail bonds being forfeited. County Counsel then moved the trial court for an award of attorney fees. The trial court denied the motion for attorney fees in its entirety.

County Counsel appealed the denial of fees, arguing that recoverable “costs” in bond forfeiture proceedings should include “attorney fees” too. The court of appeal declined to award any fees and affirmed the decision of the lower court.

The court noted that under Penal Code Section 1305.3, County Counsel may recover “costs” incurred in successfully opposing an adversary’s efforts to overturn the forfeiture of bail bond proceeds. The court cited to the general American rule in civil litigation that “costs” do not include “attorney fees.” The court reasoned this rule applied to bail bond litigation as it is predominantly a civil action.

The court concluded that pursuant to controlling case law and public policy, “costs” should be given its typical meaning, which excludes “attorney fees.” The court felt this was also appropriate as there was no contract, statute, or other legal basis to allow attorney fee awards in this context.