Here’s a Hollywood story that’s relevant to Hague Service issues (I promise)…
Late last month, the story broke that Jason Sudeikis had a custody action served on Olivia Wilde while she was on stage, at a public event, announcing her new movie. In front of a room full of fans and press and industry bigwigs, that’s got to be a shocker, and more than a bit embarrassing. The Twitterati naturally went berzerk, throwing as much vitriol at the actor as they could muster.
Sudeikis’ emphatic statement thereafter made clear that he hadn’t dictated the methodology, and that he found the process server’s approach to the situation highly inappropriate.
Now, I rarely comment about celebrity news. Real news is tough enough to keep up with, and anybody who pays more attention to celebrity gossip than to SARS-CoV-2 or Ukraine needs some re-prioritization. But this one is relevant to my practice. And I have to hope that it was merely the culmination of a set of unfortunate circumstances (critical to remember: circumstances involving two young children).
After all, Sudeikis doesn’t just play Ted Lasso– he is Ted Lasso. This fellow is, by all accounts, a tremendously nice guy. His show has provided a much-needed feel-good experience in a tumultuous time (ie: SARS-CoV-2 and Ukraine).
Here in Kansas City (his hometown), Sudeikis is revered, not only for his portrayal of the sweestest, kindest, and most loveable fellow to ever grace the small screen, but also for his all-in efforts with Big Slick. That’s the charity he and a couple of other KC comics (Rob Riggle and Paul Rudd in particular) grew from a small celebrity poker tournament several years ago to an annual weekend-long event that raises millions for our local kids’ hospital, Children’s Mercy. It’s a thing, I tell you. In this town, we love those guys, so it’s tough to imagine any of them being a litigation jerk.
So back the service of process issue…
The process server the agency sent out may have had no other option. I’m speculating here, to be sure, but celebrities are frequently surrounded by a phalanx of security people and their homes are highly secured. It’s tough to get close enough to them in a private setting,* so there really may have been no other way to put the documents into her personal orbit, and he couldn’t have staked out her house to tag her on her way to the supermarket (well, not without running up a huge bill). Heck, even non-celebrities can be tough to reach– just ask the professional process servers who work for me around the world.
They have to get creative, and I sense that’s what this guy had to do. It wasn’t Sudeikis’ fault, and it probably wasn’t a matter of Wilde being evasive. There’s no fault involved. It’s just circumstance, borne out of a custody dispute. But fortunately, it was done in a way that their two kids didn’t have to watch. That’s the positive takeaway from this, and it begs a story.
A few years ago, I was hired to have a U.S. divorce action served on a wife in Germany. Pretty run of the mill stuff, with an accurate address, all papers in order, no real controversy at work. But before I even had proof back from the German authorities, my client (the husband’s counsel) called to ask me to yell at the process server. It seems the fellow who served the papers knocked on the door, and it was answered by the litigants’ 16 year-old son.
“Hey, is your mom here?”
Nein, said the kid.
“Well, would you make sure she gets these? They’re divorce papers from the USA.”
The son had zero idea that his folks were divorcing.
Now, the fact that they’d lived on different continents for years would tell even the youngest kid that Mom & Dad aren’t exactly chummy. But I was still mortified. And yet, it was something entirely beyond my control.
Why? Because in Germany and dozens of other countries worldwide, service isn’t executed by private agents like the one who placed that envelope at Olivia Wilde’s feet. It’s effected by judicial officials, most of whom are caring and professional. But sometimes, they just act without contemplating how their methods affect real people. And there’s not a thing we can do about it.
An unfortunate circumstance, but true. My client related to the husband/father that it was a court official– and not our agent– who fumbled the compassion ball so badly and we got some grace out of the deal. I’d like to think that, until we know more about what precipitated the events, even the process server in Sudeikis v. Wilde should have some grace too.
Coach Lasso would agree, I’m pretty sure.
* Author’s note: we have here a case of a journalist not grasping nuanced of terms of art like “trespass”. From the Los Angeles Times article:
“In a recent interview with People magazine, a family law attorney based in Southern California explained that process servers are instructed to hand deliver legal and court documents directly to the recipient by any means necessary. The papers must be delivered in a public setting (meaning the process server is not permitted to trespass on the recipient’s private property to hand off the docs).”
Well, yes and no. They don’t have to be delivered in a public setting– unless a defendant’s front porch is considered a public setting (the word “curtilage” comes to mind from Crim Pro), but it’s also not considered trespassing to saunter up the sidewalk and onto that porch to serve. Climbing a security fence or ramming through a locked gate? Different story.