The Case For Using Professional Private Process Servers Instead of Sheriff's Deputies

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The Case For Using Professional Private Process Servers Instead of Sheriff's Deputies

As things stand today, Sheriff's deputies have traditionally competed with private Process Servers in the practice of service of process, but we think that there's a strong economic and ethical case to be made for phasing that out, in all but the most rare cases.

To begin with, we've heard over and over again, that sheriffs deputies usually go out from around 9 AM to around 3 PM to serve their papers, then come back and write up their paperwork, before leaving at 5 PM. This does not facilitate the serves that need to be done in the evenings and on weekends, when residential servees are most likely to be home. But unlike private Process Servers, who have a stake in doing the best work possible for their clients, and building their businesses with happy clients, the Sheriff's Process Servers are working a 9-5 government job.

We even had a client call us in a panic at 4:20 PM one day, who said that he had given the sheriff a same day rush serve, which had to be served that day, and the deputy had gone to the defendant's work place at 12:30 PM and was told that the defendant was out to lunch. So at 4:10 PM, this poor man was told that the sheriff hadn't been able to serve his summons, they took his money, and he had to go calling around for a private Process Server who could help him.

But outside of the usual technical and ethical arguments against having governmental agencies compete with private industry, subsidized by taxpayer ( your ) money, there are additional economic factors to be considered.

I recently had a pro se client mention to me, that she'd tried having the sheriff serve her ex-husband with child support documents first, because she didn't have much money and it was “free”. But the use of that word bothered me, because no matter what the government does, someone must always pay for it. My late grandfather used to tell us about an old sign they had in bars when he was a kid. It seems that, back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, bars would have signs that said;

Beer 5¢
Free Lunch

But then he told us that there came to be an old saying about that, when people realized that it wasn't really “free”: “TANSTAAFL”, meaning, “There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch”.  The lunch, which consisted of salty food that made them drink more, was paid for by selling them beers. ( Ever wonder why establishments that serve alcohol, often offer free salty pretzels? ) 

Well, there ain't no such thing as “free” when government does things, either. Is it ethically right to take tax money from the single mother who's working hard to make ends meet and feed her two kids, and subsidize the Sheriff's Department, so they can compete with private Process Servers?

And let's consider the costs involved. Say our fee for standard service is $70. For that fee, we may have to make up to three or four attempts and drive a total of an hour or two, then do the paperwork, not to mention the notary, the costs for the vehicle, gas, car insurance and Errors & Ommissions and General Liability insurance...

So when the government hires a sheriff's deputy to go out and serve process, first they have the hourly salary for that deputy, but that's only part of it. Then they have the administrative costs of the entire governmental structure that supports their work. Add to that, pensions and benefits. It's been estimated recently, that it costs private employers around $11,000 a year per employee now, just to comply with government regulations. Then the sheriff's department must provide each deputy with a car, gas and insurance, plus liability insurance or government funds, to cover them in the event that damages are caused, and even firearms training and shooting practice. Of course, all of this would need to be calculated out by the accountants for each sheriff's department around the nation, that's involved in service of process, but you can see where this is going. It's far from “free”.  I'd imagine it winds up costing governments two to three times what it would cost to have a professional private Process Server do the work.

There are very few actual cases where the sheriff's deputy really should serve process, but only if the person being served is known to be violent and has threatened harm to a private process server who has attempted service previously, or has threatened to harm one that does. In that case, where a significant possibility of an armed response and arrest might be necessary, then the sheriff should serve the process. But in the vast majority of cases ( probably 97%? ), that is not likely or necessary.

So even in cases where governmental laws and rules require the government to pay for service of process, because the plaintiff or petitioner is low income, when the actual costs are calculated out, it would be far less expensive for them to pay private professional Process Servers to get the job done. Government agencies should take these costs into account and hire professional private Process Servers for all but the very few, most likely violent cases.

The same cost calculations even extend to serves at jails and prisons. I've served some of these cases and they were done in carefully controlled circumstances. They ran a background check on m first. My ID was checked on the way in, and at no time did I ever feel in any danger. Yet some jails and prisons have stopped allowing anyone but the sheriffs to serve process at them. There appears to be no valid reason for this.

So, not only should governmental agencies send their process serving work to professional private Process Servers in indigence cases where the government pays for the service, but they should ultimately refer almost all cases to professional private Process Servers, instead of having sheriff's departments doing the work, whenever possible.

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