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In re A-Action Bonding Co.

Court of Criminal Appeals of Tennessee, Nashville

October 15, 2014

IN RE: A-ACTION BONDING COMPANY

Session July 15, 2014

Appeal from the Circuit Court for Maury County No. B-100 Robert L. Jones, Stella L. Hargrove, Jim T. Hamilton, and Robert L. Holloway, Judges

Samuel L. Patterson, Columbia, Tennessee (at hearing); and Robert E. Lee Davies, Franklin, Tennessee (on appeal), for the appellant, A-Action Bonding Company.

Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Attorney General and Reporter; Sophia S. Lee, Senior Counsel; and Mike Bottoms, District Attorney General, for the appellee, State of Tennessee.

Alan E. Glenn, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which Thomas T. Woodall, P.J., and Norma McGee Ogle, J., joined.

OPINION

ALAN E. GLENN, JUDGE

FACTS

This case stems from the actions of A-Action president, James Bloss, and A-Action employee, Debbie Farris, in having gone to the Maury County Jail to speak with an inmate who, along with a co-defendant, was being held at the jail on a murder charge. In a letter to the Maury County Circuit Court, Kendall Vandiver, President of Stoney's Bail Bonding, and Billy Hood, President of ABC Bonding, Inc., complained that A-Action had improperly solicited their client, Billy Shouse, at the Maury County Jail on February 7, 2013. They stated that they had reviewed the videotape of the jail conversation between their client and the A-Action employee and were including a copy of the videotape, along with supporting affidavits, with their complaint.

The trial court subsequently forwarded the letter and its attachments to the district attorney's office, which responded with a May 1, 2013 motion to suspend/strike from the rolls of professional bondsmen in the district James Bloss, President of A-Action Bonding, and Debbie Farris, A-Action Bonding employee, for having engaged in the unprofessional conduct of soliciting a client at the county jail.

At the evidentiary hearing, Chief Deputy Nathan Johns of the Maury County Sheriff's Department testified that Kendall Vandiver asked to view the jail's videotape of a competitor's conversation with inmate Billy Shouse. He said he viewed the videotape first, which was of Ms. Farris, Mr. Bloss, and another female in the bonding room having a conversation with Shouse, and then allowed Vandiver to view and record it on his cell phone. He stated that only Farris' and Bloss's side of the conversation was audible on the recording but that, as he recalled, it "appeared that they [were] . . . trying to get that inmate out and . . . there was some confusion as to . . . if they [were] supposed to be there or if maybe somebody else was supposed to be there." After the disc of Vandiver's cell phone recording was played, Deputy Johns agreed that it appeared to be an accurate representation of part, but not all, of the conversation contained on the original jail recording. The recording was subsequently admitted as an exhibit to the hearing.

On cross-examination, Deputy Johns testified that Vandiver contacted him about viewing the recording two or three days after the February 7 conversation between the inmate and the competitor bail bondsmen took place. He said that the jail's recording system, which was "data driven, " saved videos on the computer for approximately seven to ten days. He testified that the clock visible on the bottom of the screen in the recording was fairly accurate. He described the jail's computer recording system as "pretty antiquated" and said that it recorded action in three-minute segments, which meant that "if you want to view something, then you have to click on – you have to watch three minutes, and then the system stops, and then you have to click on the next three minute segment and then the system stops." There should not, however, have been a seven or eight-minute lapse in the recording, as was visible on Vandiver's cell phone recording, unless there was a seven or eight-minute period of time during which there was no motion in the room, as the system was "set up on motion." Finally, he testified that he had no way of knowing whether Vandiver recorded every section of the jail video on his cell phone.

Kendall Vandiver testified that on February 6 he met with Billy Shouse's father, uncle, and cousin for two to three hours about bonding Shouse out of jail. He said that when Shouse's father left his office that day, he told him that he would be back the following morning. The next morning when he returned, Shouse's father told him that he was ready "to get Billy out" but had to go to the bank to obtain the funds. Vandiver said that while he was gone, one of his agents, Candice Conner, contacted the jail to make sure there were no holds on Shouse from other counties and was told that A-Action Bonding Company "had Billy Shouse at the bonding window talking to him about getting him out of jail."

Vandiver testified that when Shouse's father returned, he told him that neither he, nor, to his knowledge, any of his family members had contacted A-Action about bonding his son out of jail. Vandiver said that his company bonded Shouse out of jail approximately an hour later. The next day, he contacted Deputy Johns to voice his concerns about A-Action's behavior. Approximately an hour later, Deputy Johns called to ask him to come to the jail to look at what he had found on the jail videotape.

Vandiver testified that he viewed the jail's videotape of the encounter at the jail and copied it on his phone. He said he heard no discussion by Bloss or Farris on the videotape "concerning getting [Billy Shouse's co-defendant] Joe Truett out of jail[.]" He stated that the video contained on the disc he submitted in connection with his complaint against A-Action was not a complete tape because he had lost one clip of the video he recorded on his cell phone. The lost clip consisted of "Farris leaning up on the glass in the bonding room, the hole that you would speak through . . . [and] whispering through that hole." According to Vandiver's testimony, it was impossible to hear what Farris was saying during the portion of the clip that had been lost. He had no idea how he had lost that particular clip and, to his knowledge, it was the only portion of the original recording that had been lost.

On cross-examination, he testified that Shouse's neighbor, Nicole Scott, had contacted one of his agents, Candice Conner, about bonding Shouse out of jail. Although Scott did not currently work for his company, he had sent her to school in order for her to be qualified to write bonds in the district. He claimed he had no knowledge of her having business cards indicating that she was a licensed bail bondsman for Stoney's Bail Bonding or of her having advertised herself as such on her Facebook page. Finally, he testified that he watched and recorded what Deputy Johns showed him of the jail video; he had no idea how the jail recording system worked and was not controlling the system at the time he made his recording.

Candice Conner, a seven-year employee of Stoney's Bail Bonding, testified that Nicole Scott contacted her on February 6 about posting Billy Shouse's bond and later that afternoon came into the office with Shouse's father, "Baby Ray" Shouse, to fill out the appropriate paperwork. Conner said she informed Mr. Shouse that Stoney's could not write the entire bond because it exceeded their bond limits and asked if it would be all right for her to contact another company to write $100, 000 of the bond. The next morning, Mr. Shouse returned to the office and made the bond. Conner testified that she and Billy Hood of ABC Bonding then went to the jail to post Billy Shouse's bond. Before making that trip, she called the jail to find out if Billy Shouse had any holds on him from other counties and learned from the booking officer that Farris was at the bond window talking to Billy ...


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