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June 24, 2007
Section: OPINION
Page: 9A

Recollections of a civil process server

"This is very poor taste," he said after I served him a summons at his stepfather's funeral. I had asked plaintiff's attorney - and the response was "GO!"
Serving a bride as she was exiting her carriage at the reception was smoother. With flowers in one hand and the summons in the other, her smile made me feel like I had just given her an unexpected wedding present.

I had a hard time justifying the trick serves. Another 10th District Court process server had no qualms. The defendant was shielded by an apartment buzzer entrance. She rang him and said: "I just bumped into your car."

It made my job easier to learn early-on not to assert my delegated authority from the court. I served a man in an officious, cold and impersonal manner and he chewed me up and down. When I returned home, I felt guilty and wrote him a letter of apology. And I had a showdown with myself. "I am a civil process server. From now on I'm going to be civil to everyone I serve." I gained the reputation as the friendly process server.

My regular customers often said: "Here comes the friendly process server. What do you have for us today?" It seems that some folks don't pay their bills until we bring them the bad news. And they eventually have to pay court costs and my fees, a high rate of interest.

But sometimes the defendants respond to the complaint and overturn it in their favor.

For 20 years I looked forward to every working day which did not include Sundays unless I had been given a judge's order on a specific case. Once I served a bunch on Thanksgiving Day before turkey, but that was the last time. It just didn't feel right.

When we only knew a defendant's employment, we could serve at several personnel offices. Our prey would be called to a private room so that no embarrassment would happen.

One time when the business's attorneys said I could not serve there, I obtained an order from Judge Alfonso Magnotta to tape the summons on the business front door and mail it first class, attaching a certificate of mailing to the proof of service. This is called alternate service and may be done wherever a defendant is attempting to evade service.

I was self-employed even when I was a deputy sheriff civil officer of the 37th Circuit Court. Sheriff Jon Olson deputized three of us, my partner Margaret Krueger, Merrill Bowser and me. We became the Sheriff's Civil Division. In addition to serving papers, we did evictions and executions on property and money to satisfy judgments. Merrill was the best executioner in a long while.

We didn't wear uniforms and drove our own cars. We had a badge case in pocket or purse and only displayed it when our authority was being questioned.

I was known in some parts of town as the big deputy sheriff who didn't pack a weapon.

In 1980, I was a co-founder and officer of a corporation I gave the name to, Court Officers and Deputy Sheriffs, Process Servers of Michigan Inc., later referred to as CODSA.

Through the Legislature, we got fees raised for all process servers in Michigan. This is another example of what a few investors did for the rest. The business principle here is "Bringing benefits to self and others."

Imagine earning $5 for a summons, $3 for a garnishment and 15 cents a mile, one trip only. Then fees went to $8, $10 and now $19, plus higher mileage.

The most popular for servers was the $10 incorrect address fee. One of our CODSA members said he could live off of that one.

CODSA had a statewide directory and Margaret and I and Jerry Dean got business from it. My partner and I also were in the national association directory. We didn't get rich, but we made a profit.

We process servers could write a book on "war stories."

But I'll close this story, giving thanks for the late Honorable Judge Jack Neller, whose influence acquired a $3.50 per hour CETA job for me as a bailiff in the 10th District Court for Judges John Bothwell and Alfonso Magnotta.

Jack wore a red robe, as is done in the Queen's Court in the United Kingdom. But the Legislature passed a bill requiring judges to wear black, as is done in the Magistrates' Court in the UK.

Here is another story. Jack always called me "Father."

Thanks, Jack.

Don M. Dixon of Pennfield Township worked as a civil process server from 1976-1997.