Updated: 12:30 p.m.
A company that trains North Carolina bail bondsmen will soon be forced out of business because of a new law, but the owners aren’t going down without a fight.
Lynette Thompson is a partner at the Rockford-Cohen Group, which founded the N.C. Bail Academy in January last year to compete with the N.C. Bail Agents Association, a longstanding provider of training required to become a bondsman or retain a license that previously operated without competition.
Thompson has filed a lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court, seeking an injunction to delay the law's effective date so her company can continue providing training after the end of this month. In an affidavit, she levels an array of allegations against the Department of Insurance and its commissioner, Wayne Goodwin, and the Bail Agents Association.
Central to Thompson's complaint is her claim that the law created by Senate Bill 738 – passed overwhelmingly by the General Assembly earlier this year and signed by Gov. Bev Perdue – is unconstitutional because it allegedly creates a monopoly.
In a statement distributed by Department of Insurance spokeswoman Kerry Hall, Goodwin said acts of the General Assembly are presumed constitutional.
"We will move forward in accordance with the law unless otherwise directed by the courts," Goodwin said. "I contend this lawsuit contains allegations that are irrelevant, inadmissible, and even false."
At the time of the bill's passage, advocates of the measure like Mark Black, a lobbyist and lawyer for the Bail Agents Association, characterized the change as a step to professionalize the industry.
Bail bondsmen “are able to arrest, detain and transport people across state and county lines. There’s federal law that they must comply with, and complicated standards,” Black told The News & Observer in July. “It’s so significant what these guys do, and we don’t want the training to get diluted or to risk spreading (the Department of Insurance) so thin that there’s no oversight."
Now Black is among those mentioned in the lawsuit.
Thompson alleges in her affidavit that documents discovered in a public records requestmake it "apparent that Wayne Goodwin has been acting in concert with NCBAA to eradicate us since shortly after our approval."
Thompson accuses Goodwin, whose department oversees the industry, of working with Black and lawmakers to reshape an unrelated bill during the waning hours of the legislative session in a way designed to keep her from being at the table or from most lawmakers being made aware of the issue.
In an earlier form, SB738 addressed Alochol Beverage Control insurance, but it was reworked late in session. Thompson claims in her affidavit that a subcommittee meeting to consider the revised bill posted public notice two hours before passing it through, and that even then it maintained its previous name. The practice is common, but Thompson believes it is misleading.
"Anyone interested in a bill regarding bail bond education would never have known that was the bill they were looking for," Thompson wrote. "I find the underhanded methods and outright lies used in order to get this bill passed to be truly appalling."
She also takes issue with the silence of Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson. Moore is a lawyer and previously represented NCBAA, and the group has been a campaign donor to Apodaca, who is a bondsman.
During the vote, the two lawmakers "knew to abstain from voting so as to keep their hands technically clean, yet remained silent while observing their colleagues act on legislation they knew to be harmful and unconstitutional," the affidavit claims.
After reading the affidavit, Moore said on Tuesday he and Apodaca did nothing wrong.
"I recused myself both procedurally and substantively," he said. "I didn’t get up and say something on the floor, because when you have a conflict and you’re excused, you’re not supposed to say anything about it."
Apodaca is recovering from a recent surgery and has not responded to a request seeking comment.
Thompson said in an interview that she has a simple reason for filing the suit.
“All we ever wanted to do was give an alternative,” she said. “I don’t want this to happen to anyone else. You should be able to compete with a business without being stopped by special interests.”