By Nelson Tucker
CEO, Process Service Network
Here in “Tinsel Town,” celebrities are everywhere. It is common that many of them get sued from time to time. Lawsuits come from producers for breach of contract, demented fans who file frivolous cases, songwriters whose work has been pirated by a pop artist, and collection agencies which seek to recover unpaid debts.
Most process servers are not skilled at serving high-profile persons, such as elected officials and celebrities; few specialize in such hard-to-serve cases. I would like to share some insider tips that your process server may find effective in serving an entertainer or actor.
Now, how do you easily serve a celebrity? That depends on what your requirements are: personal or substituted service? It also depends on how much you are willing to pay for the service.
If substituted service is acceptable, your process server can determine the name and address of the agent for the celebrity. The agent will typically accept the documents to prevent service from occurring in a public place which could cause embarrassment to their client. Most state laws provide for service upon a person specifically designated to accept legal papers.
A simple way to determine the agent for an actor is to contact the studio where the last production was shot. Ask for the name and address of the agent for the celebrity you are seeking. You may also contact the Screen Actors Guild, in Los Angeles for the same information.
Personal service, for documents such as a Subpoena or other papers which requires personal service, requires more creativity and planning. While your client may provide you with an address for service, sometimes the address is not easily available. It is not as difficult as it may seem.
Most celebrities own their own home. You can search real property records of the County Recorder or Tax Assessor in the county where the celebrity resides. These records are considered public record and, if you go in person, you can obtain the data at no charge. However, several on-line data bases are available for such purposes.
Keep in mind that most celebrities reside in the Los Angeles area, Florida, New York, and Connecticut. Many live elsewhere, but Los Angeles is the best place to start if you are attempting to locate an address for service. Most celebrities have social media pages, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google Plus+, and Tagged. You can search all of these sites to see where a celebrity may be in the near future. Or, Google their name for a list of websites that might have current information about their whereabouts.
Once you have determined the address where service can be made, the process server will carefully analyze the situation to determine the best approach to completing the service. He or she will consider the location where the documents are to be served: Is there easy access? What must be said to gain entrance to the venue? What will be the BEST “one-time” approach? Where is the exact area where the celebrity will be?
One thing is certain: If a process server arrives at the gate to a studio where the celebrity is working and announce that they have legal documents, they will not be given permission to enter. There are ways to gain access to a studio lot, although they are sometimes risky and require fortitude.
Many studios have an office which accepts Subpoenas for personnel. Although your Subpoena is for personal appearance, most studios have clauses with their talent allowing for acceptance of a Summons or Subpoena.
Many celebrities appear in public at live performances, charity affairs, sporting events, or restaurants. If you know their whereabouts at a specific time, it is legal to serve them at any location. One rule is paramount: The use of courtesy and discretion while serving the papers is required at all times. There is no reason to cause public embarrassment. By using a polite, low-tone voice which cannot be overhead, the celebrity will probably smile, shake the process server’s hand, and say, “Thank you” after the service. Of course, they are trying to disguise the fact they have just been served!
Some celebrities are very good at evading service. Some are real jerks! Those types deserve special attention and I have discovered a technique that is effective if the celebrity is in a major metropolitan area. I was recently given the assignment to serve a top-ranked musician/rapper that is known to almost everyone, Kanye West. We tried serving him for weeks without success. His agent would not accept service, and even though he appeared seemingly everywhere in public, I could not seem to find him before he had moved on. I woke up one night with a brilliant idea: I contacted a top paparazzi in Los Angeles and created a partnership wherein he would determine the whereabouts of the celebrity and call me. I could serve the documents while he got the exclusive rights to photograph the service. It was a win-win for us both. However, his tracking was not much better than mine. Finally, after 3 months I was able to complete the assignment by substituted service by serving the owner of the house, and co-resident, Kris Jenner. No photographers were involved.
If you have an address for service and a phone number, but your process server cannot gain access for personal service, they can call the Defendant’s phone number [most likely a voice message] and advise that they are a process server, that they do not wish to embarrass them in public, and that they seek to make arrangements to have the service completed. The process server can leave a telephone number and the best time to call. It is amazing how many celebrities [or their agent or attorney] will actually call back. A good process server will not disclose any details about the service since they are relying on their curiosity for cooperation.
Over the years, I have served many top celebrities, including Michael Jackson, Jermaine Jackson, Britany Spears, Erik Estrada, Jackie Mason, Michael Landon, Wolfgang Puck, Kanye West, Pamela Anderson, Burt Reynolds, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Chris Brown, Hugh Hefner, and the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. All were interesting experiences and all were served. After all, “We always get our man (or woman)!”
Nelson Tucker is CEO of Process Service Network, LLC in the Los Angeles area that specializes in international service of process and hard-to-serve cases. He has authored 4 books on process service and investigations and is an Associate Member of the American Bar Association (ABA), the Los Angeles County Bar Association (LACBA), and the Ventura County Bar Association. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the firm’s website at www.processnet1.com .