SANTA MARIA, Calif. - Two years of court ordered frustration forced a Santa Maria couple to call our NewsChannel Three Tipline for help.
It all started when their son was arrested and they used their property to cover the bond. What they didn't anticipate is how much trouble that would cause.
James Savoy gave us a tour of the property that he says is being hijacked by Santa Barbara County.
"You know people complain all the time about the city and county about not serving the people, not doing things right and this is an example of not doing things right," said James Savoy.
In July, 2010, James and Darlene Savoy used their home on Eileen Lane as security in lieu of $100,000 bail after their son was arrested. The court accepted it and placed a lien on the home.
In April, 2012, the Savoy's say the case ended, their son paid a fine and went on with his life and the court was supposed to release the property back to them. But that didn't happen.
"I asked, what is the policy and procedure? Do you have a written policy and procedure on how to release property or take property? They say we have nothing on it," said James Savoy describing his conversations with court clerks.
For almost three years, the Savoy's fought to get their property back. They even considered what would happen if they died? Would the county get to keep the home? As crazy as it sounds, they wondered if that was the county's plan all along.
"You have no recourse whatsoever. They can kick you around, do anything they want. Where's the recourse? You can't sue them," said Savoy.
Instead, he called the NewsChannel Three Tipline for help.
We met the Savoy's and James showed us years of documentation, frustration and exasperation.
"I think it's these egos that say, you can't tell me what to do, you can't tell me," said Savoy.
NewsChannel Three started working the phones, researching the problem and getting advice from people with years of legal experience. You would expect, if the county had a procedure to accept the property, it would have a clear procedure to return it.
But, from my experience that's not the case.
No one at the Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria wanted to talk on camera about the Savoy's case. However, in an email from Darrell E. Parker, CEO of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court, he appeared to blame the Savoy's and their attorney, Tom Allen, for not completing the necessary documentation.
The Savoy's said they asked the court many times about the process and what they had to do to get their property back and they claim they could never get an answer.
NewsChannel Three also spoke with the Savoy's attorney, Tom Allen, who said Judge Patricia Kelley should have just released the property back to the Savoy's when the case was over. He doesn't know why that didn't happen.
Finally, after dozens of calls, many false alarms and getting our hands on the correct paperwork, the Savoy's got their property back.
On May 21st, almost five years after they put the property up to post bond, the Superior Court in Santa Maria released the lien.
"I think without you guys getting involved, I think this thing would have gone on for quite a while and we'd be fighting it. Yes, I think you did a very good job in getting it solved," said James Savoy.
What may have complicated things, is that bail-bond companies handle the bond transactions many times and that did not happen in this case. It was processed directly through the Court.
Here are the responses we received from Darrel E. Parker, CEO of the Santa Barbara County Superior Court to our questions for this story:
1) What happened in the Savoy's case?
PARKER: The record speaks for itself. I can't really comment on the case.
2) Why didn't the court/judge just release the property back to the Savoy's when the case was over?
PARKER: The necessary documentation had not been completed.
3) Why did it take almost three years to return the property to them?
PARKER: The clerk's office is prohibited from giving legal advice and referred Mr. Savoy back to his attorney. I don't know why it took them three years to complete the process.
4) Why take the property when you don't have a clear process in which to return it?
PARKER: The process for accepting and returning real property in lieu of cash bail was completed successfully.
5) Is the court still accepting property for bond/bail in lieu of cash?
PARKER: The Court accepts real property in lieu of cash bail.
6) Would the judge want to comment, too?
PARKER: It is inappropriate for the Court to comment on the case.