Electronic Statuses

Here, Bob gives a little insight to our Web Package system we offer.

Aside from this Web Package system our clients have access to 24/7, they also receive electronic statuses from us as soon as they are entered into our database. Each time our servers make an attempt on a paper, they provide this to our office staff, and we physically enter it in the system. These status updates generate automatic e-mails that go to our clients so they are aware of what’s happening with their papers. Once a job is closed out and a paper is served and a signed affidavit is scanned into our system, an automatic e-mail is generated and sent to the client as an alert. In this e-mail, along with the service details, a link is provided that gives the client access to a digital copy of their return of service.

Clients can also call us at any time during business hours, and we respond to their requests and inquiries right away. If an address we are attempting is unsuccessful and further instructions are needed, this is relayed to the client in the status e-mail that is generated. It’s our duty as professionals to make sure they are kept abreast on their services. At the end of the day, they are trusting us to perform a service for them, so we do everything in our power to get the paper served. ♦

Service in a Courtroom


Service in a courtroom is usually only condoned in certain circumstances, and, of course, the rules of service of process vary by state.

In this opinion piece shared by Mark Shapiro, we see that service while court is in session is frowned upon. And this is understandable for common sense reasons, such as disruption. However, Mark also mentions that people can usually be served as they are walking in and out of court.

At Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., we have had to serve individuals at the courthouse a number of times because this was one of the only, if not the only, ways service would have been successful. If someone is in deep water and knows documents are going to be on the way at some point, he or she may try and avoid service, although, all this does is prolong the overall process; it doesn’t grant the person immunity from facing consequences just because service was not completed.

However, if an attorney knows the defendant is going to be at a specific courthouse at a specific time, he or she may request that we send out a process server to catch the person entering or leaving the courtroom. A description is ideally provided so the server knows who to look for. This approach serves as a surefire way to obtain service because when someone has a court date, that person will usually show up to avoid future consequences. Therefore, although Bob tells us service in a courtroom is not allowed, in some instances, as process servers, we are able to bend the rules.

Service on Military Bases

As we shared in a previous post, service of process cannot take place on federal property.

Service on military bases can be tricky. Individuals cannot be served straightforwardly on military bases. Unless service is authorized, there is no guarantee it will be successful. However, sometimes, members of the military must be served, just as anyone else.

According to the Code of Federal Regulations for the Army (32 C.F.R. § 516.10):

“DA officials will not prevent or evade the service of process in legal actions brought against the United States or against themselves in their official capacities. If acceptance of service of process would interfere with the performance of military duties, Army officials may designate a representative to accept service. DA personnel sued in their individual capacity should seek legal counsel concerning voluntary acceptance of process.”

As Bob mentions in this video, the provost on the base is usually the point of contact and determines whether service will be authorized.

For more information regarding service of process on military bases, visit How to Serve Legal Documents to Members of the U.S. Military. ♦

 

Social media evidence is actually a thing.

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

If you’ve ever been called for jury duty, you know the process of selecting jury members is lengthy.

First, you report to the general area with the members of the large jury pool. Then, you wait.

And wait.

After what feels like forever, you listen for the names that are called, in hopes that you don’t hear yours. At least, that’s the typical person’s wish. When I served on my first jury a couple years ago, I had a gut feeling I was going to be selected, even if it wasn’t for the finalized jury. And I was. I was chosen for the initial group that was introduced to the trial, and I was also chosen for the final jury. I didn’t mind, though, because I actually was interested in the experience and wanted to see what it was like. However, the entire trial lasted a week, and it seemed as though it was dragging.

After the first set of people are selected to hear what the trial is about and be interviewed by both the plaintiff and the defendant attorneys, six to twelve jurors are chosen along with alternates. The alternates stay throughout the duration of the trial, but they do not participate in the deliberations unless they end up actually replacing a juror.

Sometimes, background checks are performed on potential jurors in a case by the attorneys arguing the case. This is done specifically to determine whether they’ve been involved in previous lawsuits, if they have criminal backgrounds, if they hold gun permits, or if they have bad driving records, for instance.

“It helps attorneys weed out people they don’t want or to accept people they do want based upon their background,” Bob, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., says.

But not only background checks are performed; social media searches are also done, and attorneys have their own reasons for wanting these.

Our company does jury selection background checks about once or twice a month, depending on how busy our clients are. The attorneys who use Bob trust that the information he obtains is accurate. Several of them have selected jurors based on social media evidence we have provided.

A number of our client law firms use us to perform checks for every trial they’re involved in. They’ll provide us a list of potential jurors, and we then execute background checks and social media searches and provide our findings to them while they’re in the jury selection process. All the jurors on the list are researched, even the backups. And these requests are time sensitive. Sometimes, Bob will even have to research these individuals from home on an overnight basis, sending this information to clients so they have it first thing in the morning.

What we do is find the person’s social media footprint and copy all their Facebook input, postings, and dialogue with Facebook friends. (Remember, this is all public record that is not covered under the Privacy Act because it is posted online.) What’s being looked for is potential abuse of information by the juror, who may be talking about or inquiring about the case or even mentioning the fact they’re involved in jury duty.

Many of us have gone on people’s Facebook pages and other social media platforms and have been able to gather information about them, even if it’s something as simple as viewing pictures of them and reading comments. Some of us have privacy settings enabled, but even then, not everything is hidden from the public. By doing something as simple as visiting someone’s social media page, we can get a brief insight on who we are looking at.

“Sometimes, in jury selection, I’ll do the background checks, and I’ll do the social media checks, and everybody is squeaky clean and it is a good jury,” Bob says. “And you gotta live with the verdict.”

As simple a procedure it may seem, to look at someone’s social media footprint and gather information, what is found can have a great impact and can sometimes be potentially very damaging for the case.

Attorneys use what is discovered based upon whether they need to challenge the verdict and based upon the juror’s use of social media about decisions or their decision-making process or evidence. Some information we have found from potential jurors has been significant in assisting several attorneys in petitioning the court to set aside a verdict based upon the behavior of the juror through social media.

Recently, a client of ours lost a case. He didn’t listen to his gut feeling. There was something inside him that led him to believe something was going on and that one or two of the jurors had done something to sway the other jurors. After doing a social media search on these individuals, we found evidence that was presented to the attorney, who was then able to have a mistrial declared. Now, they’re pending another trial.

So, this type of search can be helpful at times.

But it can be damaging as well. It depends which side you’re on and what you’re looking for in the jurors you’re selecting.

There’s even a whole industry in the legal profession where professionals are hired to select jurors, especially in high-profile cases. These professionals are looking for bias from all angles. What will be helpful all depends on which side of the case they’re on.

If someone is looking for bias against his or her client, this may show up in social media through events that jurors attend or through their comments about similar situations. If bias can be proved, if the case does not go your way, you can then go back and submit a request for retrial because of that bias. If you have the proof through social media, most judges may grant this request.

Use what you’ve got. The Internet is there for a reason. Why not take advantage? ♦

We CANNOT serve on federal property.

As Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigators, Inc., explains, any facility owned by the government, such as a courthouse, cannot have service take place there. It’s the law.

This is something that is common knowledge among process servers and should be known by attorneys. However, in special circumstances, certain rules may apply. ♦

Service on Incompetent

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

What comes to mind when you think of the word “incompetent?”

According to dictionary.com, “incompetent” has some of the following definitions:
– Lacking qualification or ability
– Incapable
– Being unable or legally unqualified to perform specified acts
or to be held legally responsible for such acts (law)
– A person lacking power to act with legal effectiveness (law)
– A mentally deficient person

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

Although service of process and investigations deal with legalities, mental health does play a role in executing these services. To be more specific, if someone is declared “incompetent,” special measures must be taken when serving documents on the individual.

But let’s back up a little.

First off, the court is the only entity that can declare an individual incompetent. This declaration is a medical opinion based on someone’s medical history, mental health issues, or physical health issues. And this is usually determined by a doctor.

“Your husband, your wife, your sister, your brother, your aunt, or your uncle can’t declare you an incompetent without a legal proceeding,” Bob Fischer, president of Professional Process Servers & Investigations, Inc., explains.

When it comes to court cases, anyone has the potential to be involved in one. We have served people who have been deemed incompetent, and they’re usually the defendants in a case. Sometimes, the attorneys for the plaintiff don’t know of the person’s condition until the process server actually goes out and tries to serve him or her. All this being said, there are specific ways to handle these services.

Guardians ad litem are those who sort of act as a voice for the incompetent, in general terms.

“The guardian ad litem is like a power of attorney, in a really broad sense,” Bob says.

They are usually appointed by the court for someone who is declared incompetent and has to be involved in a court proceeding. They usually have the best interest of those they are representing at heart. In order to become a guardian ad litem, you must be appointed by the court by going through a special procedure, proving you can handle the different legal practices for an incompetent person.

Florida Statute 48.042 outlines how these types of services should be handled. As a process server, when you know the individual is incompetent, you must serve under this statute. Two copies of the documents must be served on the person who has control over the incompetent, whether it’s a family member, a hospital administrator, a mental health hospital administrator, or a guardian ad litem. However, a process server who attempts to serve an individual may not have any idea that the person is incompetent. The address the server attempts could be a facility where the person is being kept or a residence, where the person lives. When the server is advised of the person’s condition, this must be verified by documentation provided by the court.

As in any situation, the server must use his or her discretion when seeking to obtain service in a hospital or a mental facility. A process server should know not to just go in and try to find the person and serve the documents at his or her bedside.

Bob says that when he goes to the facility, he makes contact with one of the directors, whether it’s the director of nursing or someone in the facility who has control. He explains why he’s there and the documents he has. Usually, the administrator can be served. Bob typically tries to determine the person’s condition and reason for being at the facility before he tries to serve the documents.

Sometimes, people will be in the hospital to try and avoid service, which has happened to Bob several times. One time, a person faked a heart attack and had the ambulance come and take him to the hospital. Luckily, a neighbor knew what hospital he was in. So Bob found this out, took matters into his own hands and went to the hospital and contacted the local security official. He explained what was going on, and the security laughed a little and said the guy he was looking for did not have a heart attack. He told Bob what bed he was in and where he was located in the hospital. As soon as Bob served him, he got up out the bed and walked out of the hospital, cursing and screaming and hollering at Bob.

“Be very careful,” Bob advises. “Tread very carefully. It’s a very thin line.”

If someone has a real problem, you don’t want to just walk into the hospital and try to serve him or her; the service can potentially put the individual over the edge. But if he or she has not been declared incompetent and is in a hospital, the server can go up to the individual’s hospital room and try to serve the documents.

Say the servee has a heart condition, for instance. Bob would contact the head nurse at the station and make a determination of the severity of the person’s condition, such as if something like serving process could trigger an episode. Therefore, being careful is key. Once he discovers this information, he usually goes back to the client to confirm what should be done next.

For additional information on serving documents in hospitals, check out the following link: How to Serve Papers in a Hospital.

Some mental health facilities will not grant servers access. Some rehabilitation facilities, such as drug rehab and substance abuse rehab centers will not let servers in, either. At times, they won’t even confirm or deny if the person being sought is there. And this is legal, especially if it’s a Federal Class A facility.

“You’re not gonna get anywhere near that individual,” Bob warns.

With halfway houses and some of these facilities, it’s up to the process server to use some ingenuity to get people served. For instance, if it’s an outdoor facility with people hanging out on the street corner or out in front of their apartments, it would be smart for the server to go up and ask for the person.

Grow a heart.

That’s the advice Bob has for some attorneys who just don’t care. Some want the server to go in and deliver documents, regardless of the servee’s medical condition or reason for being in the hospital, when there are other ways to handle the matter. ♦

Risky Business

by: Johnelle Rodriguez

It’s dangerous.

Think about it. Imagine you’re home alone and someone you don’t know approaches your front door and starts to knock. The average person will either answer the door with caution or will ignore the knocks if he or she does not know the person; I’d probably do the latter. If it’s dark out, even worse.

Being a process server is a risky job that comes with its own set of hazards.

Just two years ago, a 36-year-old process server was killed from an attack by several dogs (Dangers of Process Serving Hit Home in Texas). After she made an attempt at a rural location, she was walking back to her car, which was parked on the road, and was mauled. Her body was not discovered for several hours, when the caretaker of the dogs finally arrived and called the police.

Another situation in 2016 highlights a sheriff who was shot and killed when serving eviction papers to a man (Deputy killed, 2 deputies injured, serving eviction notice in Park County; Suspect shot and killed). Two other deputies accompanying him were also shot but survived. The recipient of the eviction was known to authorities and had even posted on Facebook that the cops wanted him dead.

Therefore, it helps to know who you are serving. Know if this person has a criminal history. Know whether there is a possibility that this person is going to be hostile toward you. If something happens, try to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible.

Bob has had guns pulled on him. There was one instance where if he had not disarmed someone, he would have gotten shot.

Service was taking place with out-of-state papers at an office in Miami-Dade County. Bob had a U.S. Marshal with him along with another process server. The marshal was there to repossess John Doe’s boat. The other process server was there to make sure things went smoothly.

They were taking precaution.

When they entered the office, they saw the Mr. Doe behind his desk, talking on the phone. The receptionist was hostile toward Bob and the two individuals with him. She told them the guy they were looking for was not in and that she didn’t want them in the office. She told them to leave.

The marshal identified himself with his credentials. At this time, Bob went into the office and identified himself as an officer of the court. Mr. Doe reached over to his left-hand side into a duffel bag, and Bob could immediately tell he was pulling out a gun. Mr. Doe racked a round into the chamber, and as soon as Bob saw this, he went over the desk and knocked over the chair.

Mind you, Bob is a tall guy, well over six feet. So his height was to his advantage.

Bob stood on Mr. Doe’s hand that was holding the gun, and then the marshal ran in and put Mr. Doe in handcuffs.

“The man lost his boat and lost his freedom,” Bob said.

Aside from dealing with guns, Bob has had people hit him with their cars and throw hot coffee on his face.

As crazy as all of this may sound to us, process servers can face this sort of thing every day; it is the norm. People may get up in their faces and will sometimes put hands on them. And this is considered assault. Sometimes, the local authorities step in and come to the scene in assistance.

However, process servers aren’t well liked by a lot of different agencies, especially sheriff’s departments, since they take a lot of work off their hands.

According to Florida Statues, papers can be served 24 hours a day, 6 days a week (Sundays are not included). Depending on the time of year, when it starts to get dark outside earlier, process servers may have a certain cut-off time when they will stop attempting papers. If not, they run the risk of people becoming afraid. For instance, a single mother most likely would not open the door during later hours of the evening.

However, there have been instances where service has had to take place in the middle of the night because that’s the only time the recipient was accessible. There was once a gentleman, John Smith, who was here from the Carolinas, on the beach. The client was with Bob, and they later discovered Mr. Smith was hiding in the dumpster at the back of the hotel parking lot. They knew Mr. Smith only went out at night and would return to the hotel around 1:30, 2:00 in the morning. So he got served at this hour.

All this being said, process servers accept their duty with a grain of salt. All they can do is to be prepared and use proper judgment with each service. From the outside, we don’t see all the dangers process servers face. They are to be highly respected. ♦