Author: Dustin Taber from Falcon Investigations
Disclaimer: The following is not intended as any form of legal advice. The thoughts and opinions expressed are merely that of the author. The author is not an attorney and does not represent himself as one. If you require legal assistance of any kind, please seek the advice of a properly licensed attorney at law.
An extremely important part of nearly any litigatory matter involves the completion of effective process service. Simply put, this is a formal process where a person authorized by an issuing body, delivers court related documents to an individual or business; A legal mailman of sorts. The delivered documents can include but are certainly not limited to Summons, Subpoenas, and Temporary Restraining Orders. Most of us at some point in our lifetime, if not already, will likely be on the receiving end of this. Others will assuredly be on the issuing end. Service is typically made on matters such as divorce, custody issues, civil torts (wrong-doings), and evictions. Without proper service (lawful delivery to the necessary party), court proceedings can be greatly complicated and/or handicapped. Resulting consequences of improper service can range from date continuances to complete case dismissals. Sometimes parties in these lawsuits elect to represent themselves (Pro-Se) or hire legal counsel. Should legal counsel be sought, botched process service can and often has caused great harm to attorney-client relationships. Indeed, the choice of a skilled process server can wind up quite literally, making or breaking a court case.
So, why is process service so important? Before answering this, first allow me to ask you some further questions. If you were wrongfully accused of something that you didn’t do, would you not want the opportunity to defend yourself? What if your accuser is lying? Should a judge take an accuser’s word as fact without any sort of evidence? I should hope that you’re saying to yourself, “Absolutely not!”
In short, process service ensures that all parties have a voice. It ensures civil due process. If a party isn’t properly notified that they’re being taken to court, then how are they to defend themselves? They can’t. Unfortunately, not all service recipients understand or appreciate this. In an effort to prolong or avoid the legal conflict at hand, some individuals choose to dodge service. When this happens, process service converts from a simple act to a form of science.
In choosing who is to deliver such important documents, a choice will need to be made between utilizing a Sheriff’s Department or Special Process Server. Each has their own set of pros and cons. Just as in all other professions, there are good servers and bad servers from both sides. Generally speaking, however, there is one major difference between the two; A Sheriff’s department has no vested interest in seeing service through to completion. Special Process Servers on the other hand NEED to get the papers served. Their reputations and livelihoods depend on it. A good Process Server will go the extra mile to make their clients happy. This means true 24/7 ability and a willingness to stop what they’re doing and re-prioritize a daily agenda at a moment’s notice. While not conducive to maintaining much of a social life, it’s an absolute necessity. If a server isn’t willing to make some level of comparative personal sacrifice, then they are in the wrong business. As an officer of the court, a process server has an obligation to do their due diligence on each matter, regardless of client size or relative case significant.
Be forewarned, this next part is where I boast and try to convince you to hire me.
Since starting Falcon Investigations LLC in 2013, I’ve had the privilege of being entrusted with the service of thousands of documents from a vast array of clients. To date, I estimate my successful service rate to hover around 98%. This success stems from experience and determination. Every time, I go out to serve a paper, I treat the matter as its own independent investigation. It’s subsequently important to me that each one of these investigations gets its deserved attention and reaches some sort of favorable conclusion. The more challenging the matter, the more it calls to me. I truly love being told, “You won’t get this guy; He’s dodging. The Sheriff’s tried multiple times and couldn’t get him.” While I can’t say that I enjoy investing lots of time in any singular matter, I will absolutely do what it takes to get the job done and render my clients satisfied; even to the point of financial loss. While quite rare, there have been several matters where I’ve lost money with the amount of time spent attempting service. Contrary to many special process servers, I do not charge an hourly rate for Surveillance. I charge only a reasonable flat fee, regardless of time spent or number of visits made (when located in the St. Louis area). Fortunately, most people that I encounter accept service without incident. So many easy serves have a way of making up for the more complicated ones.
What does a complicated serve exactly consist of, you ask? I’m glad you did. The following example is taken from two past encounters that I’ve blended together into one for the sake of simplicity. Names and addresses, of course, have been changed.
Let’s take for example John Smith who is thought to currently reside at 123 Main Street in St. Louis, MO 63141. I’ve been hired to serve papers concerning a personal injury case to Mr. Smith. This was the address that he provided to the police six months ago at the scene of a vehicular accident. The police report also noted that he was operating a black Harley Sportster. Upon visiting the residence one extremely cold December evening, no lights are found to be on and the home’s exterior is free of any personal items. No vehicles are in the driveway and there is no indicator that the home’s heating unit is even turned on. All signs here would seem to point to a high probability that the residence has been vacated. Based on these findings, I go back to my office and conduct a Social Media search and an in-depth skip trace. For reference, Skip Tracing is essentially a process where known facts are put together to identify and link together previously unknown information on a subject. The goal, of course, is ultimately to get a good address on the subject.
Despite looking at a seemingly endless number of John Smith’s in the St. Louis area on Facebook, I’m unable to find a match that I feel comfortable is the right one. Since “John Smith” is such a common name, I’m essentially forced into doing a detailed skip trace. This skip trace is then done on a special industry database that has up to date and accurate information. The information in the database is compiled from numerous public and private sources.
The skip trace winds up producing some positive results. Several addresses, phone numbers, court records, and associates are listed in 12+ pages of miscellaneous information. Unfortunately, none of the addresses that populated are new. His most recent one still shows as being 123 Main Street.
Found civil court records indicate that Mr. Smith had been evicted from 123 Main Street four months ago. After looking up the docket history on the case, I discover that Mr. Smith failed to show up to court and received a default judgment against him in the amount of $1500. Additionally, there was another party listed on the suit named Mary Herst-Jacobson. She is discovered to have lived with Mr. Smith at several other residences. I turn my attention towards her and perform another skip trace.
Records indicate that Mary Herst-Jacobson had recently moved to 1313 Mockingbird Lane in St. Louis, MO 63123. The timestamp indicates that she started using this address around three months ago. Next, a Social Media search for Mary Herst-Jacobson is run and turns up only one match on Facebook. Unfortunately, this account is found to have very high privacy settings and I’m only able to see a profile photo. The photo is of a middle-aged Caucasian woman with distinctive green and purple hair. Clicking on her profile photo shows that it was “liked” by 33 people. Of those 33 people was one profile belonging to a “Jon-Jon WalkinTall’ Smith”. Upon clicking on this profile, I find that it has nearly no private settings whatsoever. His most recent photo was posted only three days ago. In the photo is a man posing on a black Harley Sportster parked in the driveway of a menacing two story Victorian House. Along with the photo is the caption, “home sweet home. Loving the new house.” Using Google Street View, I pull up the address for 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Sure enough, it appears to be the same house that “Jon-Jon WalkinTall’ Smith” was posing in front of just three days ago. Content that I have the correct guy, I leave my office to attempt service at the new address.
As I arrive at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, I see the same black Harley from the Facebook photo in front of the house. Additionally, the garage is open and the man from the profile photo is seated on a chair inside listening to music and drinking a beer. I approach him and say that I’m looking for John Smith. “Who are you?”, the man says to me. I then identify myself and he says, “I don’t know any John. You got the wrong address.” I advise him that I know who he is and have some paperwork to serve him. He refuses to comply and refuses to discuss the matter. After using a few choice words, he proceeds to close the garage door as I’m speaking. As he does this, I inform him that he’s been officially served and toss the paperwork at his feet. The garage door closes and I go back to my car. As I start my engine, a woman that I recognize as Mary Herst-Jacobson comes angrily running towards me. Holding her bathrobe closed with one hand and the paper held up in the other, it’s clear that she’s on a mission for vengeance. Not wanting to be on the receiving end of her vigilante-style justice, I quickly drive away. I hear shouting and I see only two middle fingers and a head of purple and green hair in my rear-view mirror. The whole thing is captured on my dash-cam. Along with my Affidavit of Service, I include detailed information and photos proving service.
As odd as some elements of the above story are, I assure you that they are all very true. Even typical. The weirdness and chaos that I encounter on a near daily basis is what makes my job so intriguing. Blended with this madness, however, is a strange degree of scientific application which I hold dear. There is a non-trivial amount of deductive and inductive reasoning that must often be employed. It’s not just handing papers to someone. The clear majority of process servers out there will disagree with many of my methods. Why? Because it’s just too much work for them. The ability, willingness, and determination of a process server can drastically alter the course of any legal situation. In choosing a skilled process server, it’s possible to steer that course in a favorable direction. If in a position where you need to hire one, it’s in your best interest to choose wisely.