Process Servers Sue to Trump Sheriffs' Blockade
All but one of the 159 sheriffs have rejected the certified servers
One of Hollywood's comic mainstays involves the machinations of a determined process server to deliver a subpoena to a reluctant recipient; maybe it's the old flower-delivery ruse, or an attractive woman coyly slipping a hopeful Lothario a summons in lieu of a caress.
In Georgia, slippery litigants are a lesser concern for many process servers who must first overcome a more substantial obstacle: the opposition of the state's sheriffs who, according to the servers' lawsuit, have united to deny private process servers the ability to ply their craft.
In 2010, the Legislature amended the law governing the service of legal papers to establish a statewide program setting out the requirements and training necessary to become a certified process server. The rules were established by the Judicial Council of Georgia, and a 12-hour course was developed by the Administrative Office of the Courts to train servers. A registry required by the law and maintained by the Georgia Sheriffs Association lists 123 people who have completed the program and are certified process servers authorized to work throughout the state.
The law requires sheriffs to certify applicants who meet the qualifications as statewide process servers, but it allowed each county sheriff the power to deny private servers the right to serve in that jurisdiction.
Prominently displayed on the registry website is a notice that, although "Georgia sheriffs will fully comply with the provisions set forth" in the law, "each sheriff will exercise his or her discretion to approve the service of process by certified process servers in each county."
"The Georgia Sheriffs' Association strongly urges all authorized training providers to advise potential candidates for certification to first determine whether the sheriff(s) in county(ies) of which they wish to serve process will authorize such service," it says.
According to the servers' suit, all but one of the state's 159 sheriffs have refused to allow certified servers to work in their counties. Some sheriffs, it said, also have refused to accept applications and registration fees to join the registry, in violation of the law.
The petition for mandamus, declaratory judgment and injunctive relief was filed in Fulton County Superior Court by Parks, Chesin & Walbert attorneys A. Lee Parks and Harlan Miller on behalf of the Georgia Association of Professional Process Servers; its president, Deborah Duchon; and two GAPPS members. It names as respondents Fulton County Sheriff Ted Jackson, Cobb County Sheriff Neil Warren, Gwinnett County Sheriff Butch Conway, DeKalb County Sheriff Thomas Brown, Clayton County Sheriff Victor Hill, Forsyth County Sheriff Duane Piper, and Paulding County Sheriff Gary Gulledge.
The sheriffs, according to the petition, have engaged in a conspiracy to "enforce an unlawful policy and practice that prohibits all certified process servers from serving process in Georgia despite their statewide certification to do so."
Before enactment of the 2010 law, civil process could only be served by members of four groups: sheriffs or their deputies; court marshals; any U.S. citizen specially appointed by the court; or those who have been appointed as "permanent" process servers by a superior, state or magistrate court.