In our last article, we discussed process serving as depicted in film and television. Most of these portrayals fall in the realm of fantasy, as is expected in works of fiction. However, in this post, we will discuss a rather sensational method of service which caught the attention of many news outlets, and for good reason.
On April 26, 2022, director and actress Olivia Wilde was introducing her latest film at the CinemaCon convention in Las Vegas. While Ms. Wilde was on stage, a process server rose from the audience, walked to the edge of the stage, and slid a manila envelope toward her. This envelope was marked “Personal and Confidential”. As Ms. Wilde reached for the envelope, it was reported that she asked if the envelope contained a script. It was later revealed by journalists who investigated further that the envelope contained legal documents relating to a custody dispute between Ms. Wilde and her former partner Jason Sudeikis. The manner of delivery in this case was highly publicized and was criticized by some to be inappropriate and to have caused undue attention.
3 more myths about process serving
While the incident described above is rare, it did raise questions about methods of service and what process servers are permitted to do to deliver court documents. Here are three more myths about process serving that have come to the forefront following the onstage delivery of custody papers.
1. Serving documents personally is the only way to go.
Following the service of custody papers, many websites reported that Ms. Wilde claimed the method of service was intended to embarrass her while she was engaged in an event that was important to her personally and a milestone in her professional life. While the strategy chosen to serve the documents on Ms. Wilde have led journalists to suggest that she was someone who was difficult to serve, not necessarily that she was uncooperative, the reality is that most process servers will not be instructed to take such lengths to deliver court documents.
When a party trying to serve the other named individual or corporation in the lawsuit finds themselves in a hard-to-serve situation, a process server can recommend alternative methods such as delivering documents by an email address confirmed to belong to the individual, posting the documents to the lobby door of the individual’s residence, sending documents by registered mail, or handing the documents to a designated person, such as a family member with a power of attorney.
2. Process servers are set on ruining your life.
Process servers do not set out to serve documents in a way that would embarrass or humiliate the individual who receives them. The court documents they deliver contain important legal information that may have sweeping consequences in a recipient’s life, but this does not indicate that the process servers themselves are harbingers of revenge. By alerting individuals about legal matters which have been commenced against them, process servers have an important job in giving information that protects the rights of individuals. If process service were not a requirement, it could be possible for a plaintiff to commence an action against an unaware or uninformed respondent and obtain a default judgment ruling in the plaintiff’s favour without giving the respondent an opportunity to dispute the claim and seek legal counsel or representation.
3. Evade process servers to evade your legal problems.
The popular adage “out of sight, out of mind” does not apply to legal matters. It would be unfair to say, as some have in online comments, that the process server had to resort to serving Ms. Wilde onstage because she was evading service. This is pure speculation and has not been substantiated. However, this does raise the important point that ignoring process servers is not recommended, as this leads to delays in legal proceedings and more importantly, it does not resolve the dispute. As previously mentioned, there are alternate service methods which may be granted by the court when individuals are evading service. At the end of the day, an individual will be served the court documents, whether by personal service, or otherwise.