Johnny the Process Server
For those who don't know, a process server is the unfortunate guy who goes door to door giving written legal notice that you're being sued, divorced, or all other kinds of stuff that basically mean you have to go to court. For a period of five months I was one of these individuals. With a car full of subpoenas, interrogatories and warrants, I drove through the streets of Denver in an effort to keep our court system running smoothly (well, as smoothly as possible). During the course of this brief career I ducked two punches, got called any and every name in the book, and actually got thanked a very small number of times.
The job seems pretty simple at first. You get a bunch of legal crap from someone (in my case the guy who ran the process server outfit I worked for), figure out where the unlucky target is living, drive out there and knock on the door. They open the door, you hand them the legal crap, they say "fuck" and you walk away. But that's an easy serve. It can get a lot tougher.
First, people change residences, and it seems that they do so far more often when they are about to get sued, which I find funny since I would want to start saving some cash so I could pay up before a court judgment goes on my credit report. But while running into an empty house is a pretty common problem, more often then not you find out that someone has already moved into the place. At this point you refer to the description of the person you are looking to serve, if you're lucky enough to have one. If the person now living there even slightly resembles the person you're looking for, you've got to ask for some ID, and that's were people really get pissy.
Usually when you tell them that if you don't see any ID that you'll serve them they whip the driver's license out, but sometimes they still refuse. That's usually a good sign that you have the right person. Out of the three or four people I served like this only one showed up to court and showed his ID, at which point the judge asked why they didn't just show it to me in the first place.
The next problem you run into is that most people don't want the paper that you're trying to give them, and they will try to get out of it in all sorts of crazy ways. Usually they won't answer the door, at which point I go to the neighbor's house, ask if they can tell me if my target is home or not.
"Oh sure," the old guy next door says, "he just got there five minutes ago. Car's still in front of the house and everything."
This is when the job gets fun --- service by refusal. If someone won't take the papers or if you get positive identification on someone who claims not to be who you're looking for, you pound on the door, tell them that you're are serving by refusal, and name the papers that you are giving them. Drop it on the doorstep and walk away.
If someone doesn't feel that ignoring my knock at the door isn't enough, they like to run out the back. Now I could waste time jumping fences and chasing them, but I always like to ask a relative if they will accept the papers for them, which usually they will. Joe Nutbag may think he's clever, bolting out the rear like that, but he forgot to tell grandpa to refuse the summons.
Once upon a time I went to this house to serve a guy who bought a Ford Mustang he couldn't afford. His mom answered the door, I identified myself and this guy in the living room jumps up from the couch and runs out the back door. He doesn't come around the side of the house and mom doesn't want the papers, so I decided to come back the next day with a friend. My friend went to the front door with a phony stack of papers while I waited on the street behind the sprinter's house. My friend knocked, my mark ran out the back and I was right there to meet him. Good stuff.
Then there are the criers. They open the door, tell you that they are in fact Bill Q. Buttocks, and you hand them the papers. Divorce papers are the worst. They start crying, moaning about how bad things are and that the world's ending. I always feel the need to be sympathetic but at the same time I'm not very good around crying people and just want to get out of there. I usually combined the two, saying that I'm sorry, then walking away.
That's another part of the job that's tough, what do you say once you've handed the papers over? "Have a nice day" is no way to go, that's why cops say "drive safely" when they've handed you a speeding ticket. I could just tell someone I'd served to drive safely and enjoy their confusion, but that seems lacking. I tried "good luck in court" a few times, but it didn't seem to fit either. Best thing might have been to walk away, but that's just too cold, not my style.
Once you get past the people who break into tears, then you have the bewildered. "What do I do? What's all this Latin nonsense mean? Will you represent me in court?" When I first got the job my boss told me it was important to never try to give advice, since the Bar Association doesn't look kindly on wannabe lawyers. I usually just advise the person to do what the papers tell them, which is go to court on a specific day. If they ask if they need a lawyer I tell them that's entirely up to them. If they want to know a way out of being sued, I just say that I have no clue.
So people accept the papers, they run or hide, they cry and they ask questions. Is anyone ever happy? You bet, but it's damn rare. I once served a guy with divorce papers, and he thanked me, shook my hand and said that he was expecting the paper any day. One lady being sued said it's about time, that the plaintiff could garnish her and she could just get the whole mess over with. One guy took a look at some papers I forked over which said he was getting sued for selling a lemon of a house. He just grinned, said "bring it on!" and closed the door.
In addition to all these varieties of people you still have those who answer the problem with brute force. These are the rarest of them all because most people know that popping the process server is just going to add to their legal troubles, and that they would just be shooting the messenger. More often you get people who look like they're about ready to throw down and start knocking you around, but then they drop it.
During my time as a process server I had two people take swing at me. I'd like to say that I busted out some Steven Segal moves and stuffed the papers up their ass, but that would be a lie. All I really did was ducked, pushed them on the hips (you move the center of gravity and you move the whole person), tossed the papers in their face and got out of there. You may think I'm a coward for not fighting, but I'm a lousy boxer so I handled it my way.
The most common reaction I got when I just handed over a fresh steaming pile of legal mumbo-jumbo was anger. This is understandable, since a lot of people get pretty upset over money. Someone threatening to forcibly empty their bank account? Not too many people look forward to this.
For the most part the angry people just want to vent. They know I'm just the messenger, but they need to complain to someone and I'm right there. I didn't mind this too much --- just let them get it off their chest before moving on. Then there are people who think I'm the one suing them. I would try to explain that papers have to be served by an uninterested third party, and that I worked for a company who served papers and not a legal firm, but they don't listen.
"What's your problem, trying to garnish my paycheck? I have kids to feed and rent to pay!"
"I'm not the one suing ---"
Let's face it, this job is about delivering bad news to people all day. Maybe some people would like that, but not me. I prefer helping people, not ruining their day.
The best part of the job was learning to investigate basic stuff. If my target has moved somewhere else, I'm talking to the neighbors. It's incredible how much help the next-door neighbors are, even more so if they didn't like the person I'm after. I ask if they know where my mark has moved, they have an address, photos of the house and the names of the children ready for me. I ask where they work, they're willing to draw me a map to the office.
Poking around in curb-side trash is pretty useful too. If they have moved it out to the curb then it's considered discarded, no longer wanted, open to the public trash. Someone says that Jimmy hasn't lived at this house for years and that he no longer gets his mail there, a quick rummage through the garbage might have something else to say. And if you catch someone in a lie they tend to give up right there.
So now that I've given you a rundown of what I did, and why I didn't like it, someone reading this might want to know a good way to dodge the process server. Well, I can't help you there. For starters, it might constitute obstruction of justice. If I told the nation right here on Acid Logic how to never get served ever again, the civil courts could halt and I would be in some serious trouble. (Don't worry, Johnny. No one actually reads acid logic --- ed.) Another reason: I just don't have a good answer.
I was a process server for five months. You take an experienced one who has been at it for years and they make a good chunk of cash on it, they know all sorts of tricks to find you and nail you with some papers. They will show up at your work, at a friends house that they think you might be at, or in a parking garage, hiding next to your car. See that pizza guy though the peephole? Does he have a delicious mushroom and black olive deep dish waiting for you, or a less-tasty stack of summons? Is the guy with the package really from UPS, or did a lawyer send him? Oh, I loved the fake package ruse when I was on the job.
The best advice I can give anyone is don't put yourself in the position to be sued in the first place. Don't take on more debt then you can handle, pay the debt you do have in a timely fashion, don't get divorced and use the full-disclosure rule when selling a house. If the process server doesn't get paper with your name on it you won't have to hide from him.
So one more story for the road (I'm omitting some details because I'm not sure if giving too much information could land me in trouble. When in doubt, cover your ass). There I was, last stop of the night, trying to serve some lady. I go to the door, knock, and I can hear voices inside but no one answers the door. I knock again and the peephole on the door goes dark then light again. Someone looking out at me, but not answering the door. I knock again, saying "Bimbo McSchmuck, I have a delivery for you." No answer.
I go to the neighbor's houses. Guy on the east says he doesn't know her, that he just moved in. No one home in the house on the west. Hmm. Seems like I'm going to have to try again when she's leaving for work the next morning. Always a good time to hit someone if you have the chance.
I jump in my car and start writing my report when a man walks out from around the back of the house, wearing overalls and a cap. He hops into a service van for some company, looks up and down the street. He spots me sitting in my car and waves me over.
"Hey there," he says, nice and friendly. "You looking for Bimbo McSchmuck?"
No answer. She glances through the peephole again, but no answer.
Now when serving by refusal you have to call out, in a loud enough voice which you reasonably believe that your subject can hear, what exact papers are being delivered. I like to shout loud enough for the neighbors to hear as well, since by the time I get to this step I'm in a pretty foul mood.
I hadn't looked at what papers I was carrying earlier, since I usually don't care enough to check. Now I had to. Not paying child care. Interesting.
"Bimbo McSchmuck, you are being served by refusal. I am leaving this stack of crap in relation to you not paying child care on your doorstep, and now everyone in the neighborhood knows why you're being sued. Should have opened the door, huh?"
I laughed the whole way home.
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