Process servers on radar for ’11 session

Published 1:45 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In Mississippi, not much is required to be a process server, and some lawmakers believe that needs to change.

Rep. Hank Zuber, R-Ocean Springs, says he’ll file a bill in the 2011 Legislature that would require licensing and educational training for process servers. Zuber believes the proposal, which died in the past, will have a chance next session because of the recent scrutiny given process servers handling child support cases for the Mississippi Department of Human Services.

Earlier this year, judges in Hinds and Jackson counties were reviewing hundreds of child support cases to determine whether some process servers had lied about delivering subpoenas.

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The process servers worked for subcontractors of YoungWilliams Child Support Division, a Jackson-based company that received a $23 million contract to file about 15,000 cases, manage another 13,000 and operate a call center. Company President Rob Wells has said about 30 of those cases are being reopened because they involved a process server facing the allegations.

Zuber said there’s been other instances of process servers failing to properly perform their jobs and it’s caused hardships for average citizens. Zuber said the case of Natalie Parker of Ocean Springs is the reason he first filed the bill in 2008.

Parker’s driver’s license was revoked in 2003 and, because of that, she missed out on job opportunities. She eventually wound up living in her car. Zuber said Parker had told him about how a process server had lied about delivering papers to notify Parker about a lawsuit that had been filed against her.

“The lady came to me and told me what her situation was,” Zuber said.

After the DHS situation, “I realized it came to the point that something needed to be done. I think there’s momentum. It’s a statewide problem,” he said.

Currently, the only requirement to work as a process server in Mississippi is to be age 18 or older. Zuber, an attorney, wants a licensing procedure that would educate process servers about what is valid service and invalid service.

“If you don’t have valid service of process, it completely stops and breaks down the whole judicial system,” Zuber said.

A Zuber proposal, which died in 2008 in the House Judiciary B committee, called for those who wanted to be licensed to file an application with the Administrative Office of the Courts. They also had to be fingerprinted for a background check and pay a $200 license fee.

House Judiciary B Chairman Willie Bailey, D-Greenville, said he was willing to consider the bill if it comes to his committee again. Bailey said the bill could be sent to House Judiciary A Committee.

Senate Judiciary A Committee Chairman Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, said he’d be interested in the proposal if it makes it to his chamber.

House Judiciary A Committee Chairman Ed Blackmon, D-Canton, said he’s convinced the issue should get “serious” consideration next session.

Blackmon, who is also an attorney, said the topic couldn’t be more timely. Blackmon said he’s involved with a case in which a process server claimed to have delivered a subpoena to a woman at a residence where she never lived. Blackmon said the woman’s bank account was seized for garnishment.

“In order to get it cleared up, she had to hire a lawyer and get back the funds that had been seized. It’s on her credit report,” Blackmon said.

Blackmon said the state needs training and accountability for process servers.

“If Zuber files it, and it comes to my committee, it’s got to get a serious look,” Blackmon said.