State v. Cash, ___ N.C. App. ___, ___ S.E.2d ___ (Mar. 17, 2020)

The defendant’s bond was forfeited after he failed to appear for court. After the defendant was served with an order for arrest for failing to appear, the surety on his bond (1st Atlantic Surety Company) filed a motion to set aside the forfeiture pursuant to G.S. 15A-544.5. The motion was signed by a corporate officer of the surety who was not an attorney. The local Board of Education, as a party in interest on the forfeiture, objected on the grounds that filing the motion was the unauthorized practice of law. The trial court agreed and denied the surety’s motion, and the appellate court affirmed its ruling. Although a surety is permitted to file such a motion under the statute, it is a legal document and petition for use in court and therefore filing it constitutes the practice of law. While an individual bond agent could have filed this motion pro se, G.S. 84-5 dictates that a corporation must appear in court through a licensed attorney and cannot proceed pro se.

The trial court also granted the board’s motion for sanctions against the surety, as allowed by the statute if the motion to set aside the bond forfeiture “was not signed.” The appellate court reversed this part of the order, holding that although the corporate officer’s signature on the motion was not authorized, that is not the equivalent of a motion bearing no signature at all.