A Superior Court judge in Raleigh has granted a preliminary injunction delaying the enactment of a new state law which makes the N.C. Bail Agents Association the only group allowed to provide training that is required to become a licensed bail bondsman in North Carolina.
During the waning days of the legislative session, the General Assembly passed Senate Bill 738 overwhelmingly to approve the change, and Gov. Bev Perdue signed the bill into law.
The law would have taken effect on Oct. 1 if not for a decision that day by Judge Donald W. Stephens. He sent notice of the injunction to the state Department of Insurance, which was named a motion calling for the injunction and an accompanying lawsuit, and to Lynette Thompson whose N.C. Bail Academy is set to close its doors.
Thompson's Rockford-Cohen Group founded the N.C. Bail Academy in 2011 to train aspiring bail bondsmen, as she said the Bail Agents Association had lagged in quality without any competition.
Thompson and her lawyer, Randy Doffermyre, have argued that the new law creates a monopoly, and Stephens' decision shows there is at least enough to the claim that the law will have to wait until the court takes a closer look.
Stephens wrote in a decision sent to both groups Monday that the Bail Academy and Bail Agents Association "are in competition and have been providing satisfactory private, mandated bail bond education in North Carolina without any cost to the State taxpayers."
Thompson "has standing to properly challenge the Constitutionaliy of the subject legislation," Stephens added.
Monopolies are allowed only with respect to necessary public services, but Stephens said in his decision that training bail bondsmen does not fulfill that requirement.
"Bail education providers approved, authorized and given certificates of authority to teach courses of instruction to licensed bail bondsmen ... are no different than any accredited technical or community college providing approved courses to police officers for their mandatory continuing education," Stephens said.
The Department of Insurance has already filed a motion to dismiss the claims; Thompson, along with Doffermyre and Tim Mathis, has filed a complaint to push the matter forward.
"We're excited that the judge agreed with us," said Thompson. "There's still a long way to go."
In a statement released through spokeswoman Kerry Hall, Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin said his department was following the General Assembly's decision.
"An overwhelming majority of state legislators enacted this law, not the Department of Insurance," said Goodwin in a statement. The department "will follow the court's order; however, we maintain that allegations in this lawsuit are false and irrelevant."