Most people will only file a small claims lawsuit or any type of lawsuit for that matter, once in their lifetime. Many people don’t know at the outset that court documents must be served on the opposing party (more commonly known as the defendant or respondent) named in their case. Service of Process on the defendant is MANDATORY in all courts in the United States of America. Many people don’t know this until they reach the Clerk’s window at the court house. Many people ask the Clerk, “How do I get my documents served.” In Sacramento, California, the Clerk’s response is always “The Sheriff can serve your documents.” or “Go to the Sheriff’s Department.”
What the Clerk doesn’t say to the unsuspecting plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) is that the Sheriff’s office has much higher priorities than serving court documents. Process serving is more than likely the absolute lowest priority of the Sheriff’s Department. The Sheriff of any county or city has a first priority of addressing crime ie; keeping the people who live, work and visit their jurisdiction safe from unsavory and criminal elements. Because process serving is not the first priority, or even close to the first priority of any Sheriff’s Department, when a plaintiff forks over hard earned cash to the Sheriff’s Department to serve their court documents they should be told up front, “We may, or may not get this served for you. We will absolutely not attempt to serve your documents before 8:00 am nor after 5:00 pm, nor on weekends or holidays.” Most plaintiffs think that the Sheriff will show up to serve documents wearing that stylish Sheriff’s department uniform, maybe throw an ice cold scare into the defendant, that will ultimately guarantee their documents get served. I wish you could see me sadly shaking my head… not so. The Sheriff’s Department can no more guarantee service than anyone else who takes it upon themselves to serve process.
The Sheriff can’t arrest someone for evading service. In my experience, the Sheriff doesn’t expend a great deal of energy getting a serve completed. Here in Sacramento, they go out once, the initial attempt. If they can get it served then, great, if not, they’ll contact you and tell you, “We couldn’t get your documents served”. Where does this leave the plaintiff you ask? Well, it leaves the plaintiff out of whatever money they spent paying the Sheriff to serve their documents. It also leaves them dipping into their cash again, hopefully to pay a Registered Process Server to get their documents served. Process Servers serve documents, period. They may offer a few other services that go hand in hand with process serving, but Registered Process Servers serve legal documents pertaining to a court action. As a result, a Process Server worth his or her weight is very well versed in the rules that govern process serving in their state, and they know a few tricks or three that enable them to serve defendants who actively evade service.
When a Registered Process Server takes possession of your documents for service, they are already prepared to visit the defendants location at least 2 times, the first time, maybe no one is home, the 2nd time, hopefully the serve is completed, definitely the server will get an indication whether or not the defendant is evading, which means the Server will utilize one of those tricks I spoke about earlier to affect service. Here in California, Registered Process Servers must exercise due diligence, we have to make repeated attempts to serve documents personally before we can look at other means of service. Diligence is vague and rests with the Judge in the case, but the unwritten number of diligent attempts is 4 -5 attempts, at different hours, on different days. So, the question is, are you comfortable with the Sheriff’s Department running around your town or city, performing diligent attempts to get your documents served, or would you prefer to have a Registered Process Server take care of that, so that the Sheriff’s Department can focus on it’s higher priorities?
When accepting payment for services of any kind, the service being provided should be the highest priority of the service provider. In most California Counties, Sheriff’s Departments have stopped providing process service because of budget restraints, and strained resources. The question becomes, what is more important, fighting crimes and apprehending criminals or serving court documents?