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Friday, April 15, 2011

Are Sheriff Departments that Serve Civil Process Smarter than Private Process Servers?

One might argue that in Virginia the Sheriffs appear to be embracing change in a manner that private Process Servers are not. Does that make them smarter? You be the judge.

For a decade I have been writing and speaking about the challenges and opportunities that modern technologies present to process servers. I have maintained that it is not a matter of if electronic service of civil process will happen, but rather a matter of when.

It appears that “when” has arrived. No, I am not talking about the dozens of examples of electronic Service of Process globally that have allowed or enabled for the service of process under certain circumstances by email, Twitter, Facebook, text, social media outlets and even traditional websites.

No, this time I am referring to a bill that was introduced and passed without any opposition (none). The bill enables electronic service of Summons & Complaints in the State of Virginia. This bill from inception to completion took a few months. But its origin according to the sponsor dates back almost ten years. The following is what the sponsor said to me in an email after I reached out to him to find out more information:


Thank you for contacting our office regarding HB 1611. The electronic service of process features of HB 1611 were concepts developed as logical extensions of the eFiling of court records legislation over the last few years. The eFiling of court records legislation followed our eFiling of land records legislation, which had its roots more than 10 years ago.

So what exactly does this bill do? On its face it appears to enable the parties to a case to serve and accept Service of Process by electronic means. The attorney’s, the registered agents of parties and Sheriff are appears to have a role in the transaction. It appears to codify into law a practice that has existed for some time that up to now was more a kin to Notice and Acknowledgment Return Receipt Requested.

Please note that I did not include private process servers in the description above. That’s because it appears that the bill was written in such a way as provide the Sheriff with the sole authority to serve process electronic ally. The bill even sets a statutory fee that the Sheriff can collect to serve process electronically.

If you find yourself wondering, how could this happen when process serving associations like NAPPS are organized and whose very purpose are central to insuring adverse legislation does not impact our ability to remain relevant? Good question. I was wondering the same.

Perhaps more important at this point is the question I find myself asking… Was this bill an opportunity we missed? I believe that the answer is YES! If we had been aware of this bill perhaps we would have had influence that would have either limited its impact, or perhaps we would have come to realize that if eService is going to exist then we better find a way to have a role. I believe that if we hope to remain relevant given the ever changing landscape we operate in we must be willing to take bold steps to insure our ability to not just survive but rather thrive. If you think you can stop the march of technology and the forces driving it march into to our business you are being na├»ve.

In another example of Sheriff Departments seeking to gain efficiencies the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department introduced a bill last year in California that would have enabled them to intake and serve Writs/Levies electronically on banks and employers where creditors are seeking to garnish wages and levy on bank accounts. The bill was caught be the California Association of Legal Support Professionals (CALSPro) and they were successful in getting the bill amended in a manner that minimized the impact on private process servers in California.

There are other examples of local and state government embracing change that addresses the many challenges their organizations face. As a matter of fact there are at least three other instances of Sheriff Departments working with county agencies to allow for the service of Subpoenas on law enforcement officers electronically. Though these examples are less likely to impact private process servers they are indicative of the types of technology applications that could erode our role in due process.

If process servers are not proactive in their approach to addressing the future of the industry and the challenges and opportunities that lay ahead they will likely look up one day and wonder “How did I get here?” and “Is it too late for me to change?”

I continue to maintain that if process server’s hope to remain relevant in the years to come, they must be willing to embrace change and confront these types of challenges and opportunities.

I will leave you with that for now. I could carry on continuing to write about this topic but in the interest of trying to keep a this short, I will refer you to my blog for more information. There you can access sixty-five blog entries consisting of articles, commentary and opinion that are designed to get the industry to have what I believe is a long overdue discussion and exchange of ideas about the challenging times we live in. For more about the Virginia bill HB 1611 click this link.

posted by Jeff Karotkin