In civil court matters, a process server is someone who serves or delivers legal documents, ie. subpeonas, summonses, court orders, various legal notices and in some cases writs. Process servers normally fall into one of four (4) categories:
1. Registered or licensed process servers: In most states, process servers are registered by their county. In some states, like California a process server, once registered in one county can serve papers in any other county within that state. In some other states a process server can only serve papers in the county in which he or she is registered. Most, but not all counties, when registering a process server require the applicant to be bonded or insured.
2. Private detectives and investigators: In most states private detectives and investigators are licensed by the state and exempt from registering as process servers. They and anyone in their employ can serve legal process and when doing so are considered officers of the court.
3. Sheriffs, Marshals and Constables: Sworn peace officers.
4. Non registered or licensed individuals: Friends, relatives and others.
In many states as in California a non registered individual may serve up to ten (10) legal documents each year provided that individual is not a party to the action at hand. ie: a plaintiff or defendant, etc.. When the service of the paper has been completed the server must sign an affidavit that the paper was served properly. That affidavit must usually be signed under penalty of perjury.
It is not usually a good idea to have a non professional serve process. They do not normally know the laws and rules involved in process serving nor do they usually know how to fill out a proper proof of service. Either of these can cause a service to be declared invalid and possibly cause you to lose the case or at the least force you to start over. Additionally many people attempt to evade service and a professional has a better chance of completing service. Finally, process serving can be very dangerous. Many people get very angry when served and attempt to take it out on the process server. Over the years I have had many servers beat up and attacked with knives or clubs or hit with thrown rocks.
I have had several servers that were non fatal victims of vehicular attacks and three servers that were shot, several more were shot at but not hit.
At one time, Sheriffs, Marshals and Constables were considered good choices for serving papers, however that is not now usually the case. Most Marshals no longer serve papers and many Sheriffs and Constables are so busy doing other things that your papers may sit for weeks or longer before or if they are taken out for service. Additionally, many people, when the see a Marshal’s or Sheriff’s uniform, just do not answer their door. The Sheriff or Marshal walks away and the papers are returned unserved.
Licensed private detectives and investigators can sometimes make the best servers, however not all of them serve papers and many believe that since they are “big shot” investigators they should charge far more than registered process servers. Others serve so few papers that they sometimes “make a mountain out of a molehill” and turn a fairly easy service into a difficult one. Other investigators turn every service into an investigation in order to run up billable hours. Then again, if you find a good detective agency, they will have numerous service assignments and investigators that can serve papers fast and efficiently for a reasonable fee.
Most licensed investigators can be trusted to be honest about the papers they serve. It is not easy to obtain a license and if they get caught commiting perjury by saying they served a paper when they did not or if they get caught billing a client for work that was not done, they can lose their license. If they lose their license they are out of business as they usually can not get a license reinstated. Additionally, in most states, complaints can be filed against a licensee and those complaints are investigated. Prospective clients can contact the state licensing board and obtain a record of adjudicated complaints.
Registered process servers usually know the laws and rules and for the most part are honest and hard workers. In most counties it is, however, easy to register and there is usually no licensing body to keep an eye on them. Therefore, if the registration is revoked the server can usually get a friend or relative to register and then the server can list himself or herself as an independant contractor working for the new registrant. Also there is no experience required in order to register. Finally there is usually no place where a prospective client can check for or file a complaint against a registrant. The only recourse a client usually has against a registered process server is to file a law suit against the party and then if a judgment is obtained to go against the registrants bond. Note, however that not all registering counties or states require a bond and those that do usually require a bond of $2000.00 or less.
When searching for a process server take care. Do not choose just anyone. Never use a friend or relative. If you find a server over the internet do not just go by the looks of the web site. A person can be a poor web site designer and a good server or vice versa. Call the server and ask questions based on the foregoing information in this article. If the server refuses to speak with you do not use his or her services. If the server is a licensed investigator check out the license. Contact the Better Business Bureau and see if they have any information. Try not to use a one person operation as he or she may not be able to keep up with the workload or may be forced to charge high fees in order to make up for a lack of steady business.
When making your choice do not go by price. Expensive servers are not necessarily the best just as inexpensive servers are not necessarily the worst. Hallstrom Detective Agency was considered to have one of the best process serving divisions in the United States, yet we charged less than almost any other service in the country. Ask about addirtional fees. Many companies quote a low initial fee and then tack on a fortune in incidental fees.
For links to directories listing process servers, private investigators, detective agencies, court reporters, people finders and more, offered for attorneys and other legal practitioners visit a directory of directories listing links to services of use to the legal profession.
The foregoing information is not given as legal advice. It is instead given as information and opinion gathered and developed through experience over the last thirty years. David G. Hallstrom, Sr. is the owner of Hallstrom Detective Agency and although the agency no longer offers process serving services, it has, through it’s servers, completed service of several hundred thousand legal documents. Although the author believes the information to be accurate no guarantee is made or implied.
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