PI Magazine Article: Process Servers and Disguises
In the News
In most jurisdictions it is illegal to wear a disguise while serving process, but an online thread that started in November of 2009 is still getting comments as process servers weigh in on whether or not they should wear disguises when they serve. Some discussed their experiences and successes in sporting a disguise or using a ruse while others offered their opinions on both sides of the issue. Even though it’s not allowed in many states, it’s clear that process servers believe that wearing a disguise is unprofessional and often unnecessary. Here’s why.
Of the opinions put forth, most process servers say they will only use a disguise as a last resort on the most evasive individuals. Nearly all process servers agreed that the first attempt should be conducted with respect and in a normal approach, and that additional tactics should only be employed for extremely evasive individuals. For many, this means approaching the first attempt in business casual clothing and a smile on their faces. “Being mindful that I am representing attorneys, I typically wear business casual clothes,” one process server explained. Another noted, “Disguises seem unprofessional and we are, after all, representing attorneys or courts so being unprofessional is not an option.” Many shared that people generally assume their job involves the regular use of disguises, and in response to the stereotypes created by films and television, more than a few process servers quipped that their career is not a comedy, saying, “this isn’t Pineapple Express.”
Process servers shared that the more official they appear, the less likely the recipient is to evade service. “We serve a lot of process on difficult targets and have never found disguises to be useful,” one process server explained. “Often times being honest, professional and dressing in a suit is your best bet depending on the area.” In line with dressing professional, some process servers stick to a standard uniform of pants and a company polo while others consider their suit a uniform. Noting that dressing for the area or even dressing down can render the best results, one process server explained “I find that just walking up in gym shorts, tennis shoes and a t-shirt usually works because people do not expect to see a process server dressed so casually.” Many process servers described a change in formality is the only disguise they use. “The closest I have come [to wearing a disguise] was wearing my favorite denim overalls to serve a bunch of dairymen at their dairies,” another explained. “It was not an action against them, and the overalls were really rather practical.” Regardless of the various uniform choices process servers make, professionalism is becoming a clear core value of the industry.
Beyond professionalism, many process servers noted the dangers associated with wearing a disguise to serve papers. As a disguise or costume can hinder a process server’s awareness and ability to do their job, some see it as a safety issue. “Many years ago when rules were looser and alternative service was more difficult, one process server dressed up in a gorilla costume to serve a paper on Halloween,” one process server explained of a colleague. “He said later that it was a mistake and he would never do it again, because, ‘it was hot, I was miserable, I could barely see, and if the guy had taken a swing at me I wouldn’t have been able to run in that thing.’” As legislation is being adopted and presented across the country to make assaulting a process server a felony, it’s clear that safety is a major concern within the profession. Process servers pointed out that individuals receiving legal documents may already be in an emotionally charged state, and recipients may not respond well to anything that could be interpreted as mockery. Those who commented encouraged their peers to treat the recipient with respect. “We have to remember that they are people just like us who are simply going through a rough patch,” one process server noted, “and we can effect the serve without making them feel less than human.” Another chimed in with his company’s views on the topic, saying, “Our motto is to give the subject/defendant a chance before we use alternate methods.” Many process servers agreed, saying that if the job is done correctly a disguise shouldn’t be necessary.
Though wearing a disguise is largely frowned upon and even illegal in many jurisdictions, a number of commenters explained that they will use a ruse in lieu of a disguise in order to get past a difficult doorman or to get the recipient to open the door. Many process servers will carry a box and announce that they have a delivery for the specific person, while others will approach with flowers, a large envelope or a fruit basket. One process server explained that in a more complicated ruse he will park his car outside of an uncooperative recipient’s home and pop the hood, giving the implication that he may be knocking on the door to ask for jumper cables or to use the phone. Still, other process servers note that a ruse or disguise will likely not work if the recipient is already taking great measures to evade service. “If they are already evading us, they are also clever enough to perceive when we may be trying to outwit them,” one process server pointed out. Others agreed.
As process servers continue to comment on the thread, it’s clear that professionalism has become a core value within the industry. Many agree that it is their duty as a representative of the justice system to be as professional as possible and to treat recipients with the utmost respect. Even in difficult situations and with evasive individuals, most process servers agree that it is best to try different times and methods, and that turning to a disguise is rarely the best option. As one process server suggested, “give the recipient a chance before turning to alternative methods.”
As Director of Marketing and Multimedia, Kimberly sets strategy for outreach, distribution, social media, and network growth, and manages multimedia production for the network. She has a Bachelor of Science with a background in design, marketing, production, editorial, and operations and strategy. Kimberly consults with the production, operations, and tech teams on a variety of projects and initiatives. You can follow Kimberly on Twitter at @kimberlyfaber.