As you may know, in addition to private investigation work, I also serve process to defendants and witnesses. If I am serving a defendant in a Missouri court, typically, a court signs off on me being the process server under a document that might be called “Motion to Appoint Private Process Server for Service of Process”. This is a document prepared by an attorney and approved by a judge or court clerk for each individual case.
When I try to serve someone at a place of business (which may or may not be current information), I try to be very discreet. As I have told folks many times before, I get paid the same amount to be nice as being a jerk, so I try nice first. I will quietly tell the receptionist that I would like to see “John Doe”. If they ask, I tell them I have court documents to serve them. Sometimes they bring them out; other times the human resources (HR) department gets them for me. If HR brings the person out, sometimes they ask me to go to a conference room for privacy. Otherwise, when the servee arrives, I turn my back on any other persons and quietly explain they have a summons to appear in court, show them the date and time, and who is summonsing them.
Today was one of those days I dread: an HR person who thinks they can concoct a company policy that supersedes a judge and the law. After HR cut out early yesterday, I called them today, explained what I had, and asked if I could email them a copy of the summons faceplate, as well as the page where the court appointed me to serve the employee. I asked if they could confirm the person was still an active employee and their work hours to save myself a second 60 mile round trip.
After I made this super easy, the HR person agreed. Then, HR called back later saying company policy prohibited anybody but a sheriff from serving their employees. I explained that they had the document where I, as a registered process server with this court, was appointed to do so. After some initial give and take, I told them if I showed up and was not allowed to serve the employee (still not confirmed if their employment was current, but probably so or this would all be moot), I really did not want to call the police department. The HR person said that would be fine because then I would have law enforcement with me. As if the local police have nothing better to do than to baby sit a simple serve.
I explained to her that Kansas Statute 21-3808 says: Obstructing legal process or official duty. (a) Obstructing legal process or official duty is knowingly and intentionally obstructing, resisting or opposing any person authorized by law to serve process in the service or execution or in the attempt to serve or execute any writ, warrant, process or order of a court, or in the discharge of any official duty.
I then pointed out that the court documents were initiated in a Missouri court, which Missouri revised statute 575.170 spoke similarly about obstructing the service of process. So, I was covered on both sides of the state line. She referred me to a security guard (oh yay) and I was left with a voice mail.
I, then emailed her a copy of both statutes and told her I meant no disrespect but I did not know why a judge would appoint me to serve a summons if they did not expect me to do so. In an obvious effort at the proverbial HR paper trail, she emailed me back and said, “Thanks for the follow up. I will continue to get confirmation and follow up with you.” I still await cooperation.
I write this blog because this happens far too often with companies in my 20+ years at process service. Some HR person, receptionist, or security guard thinks they can trump a judge. What? What happened to the day that when a judge issued an order and people abided by it, or at least made an effort. If a judge ordered me to do something, I would do my best to do it and would not want to anger the judge. Am I in the minority?
These kind of things happen all over the country and, sometimes, we see stories of private citizens aiming firearms at process servers. This is in spite of laws that claim to give us the legal authority to do what a court has asked us to do. But when it comes time for the court to back us up, the companies and, many times, individuals get by with it without recourse.
I take pride in my work and I like to do my best to complete an assignment. Do the courts not care and want us to walk away? You rarely hear of someone facing legal consequences for assaulting a process server or obstructing them from doing their job in spite of state and federal laws that are in place.
The alternative is not to let sheriff’s departments serve process exclusively. The reason process servers exist is because we can attempt service during times the plaintiff thinks are the best times to catch the servee, not when a deputy just happens to be in the neighborhood. Process servers have a closer working relationship with the plaintiff in order to have a higher rate of complete service.
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