Service of Process in Hollywood

May 8, 2024 5 min read

The Hollywood Spin: Service of Process on the big screen

In the world of legal dramas and cinematic storytelling, the act of serving legal documents is often portrayed with a blend of intrigue, humor, and a dash of over-the-top drama. From the classic stakeout to disguises that would make even the most seasoned spy envious, Hollywood's representation of service of process has undoubtedly colored public perception. We sat down with Amy Brodsky, Compliance lead at ABC Legal, to get an expert's view on where the line was crossed on screen.

The Element of Surprise

Process servers in many films and TV shows employ elaborate tactics to serve papers to evasive individuals. We've seen characters dressed as delivery people, using fake identities, and even orchestrating elaborate scenarios to ensure the documents are delivered in person. While these scenes are entertaining and add a layer of excitement to the narrative, they don't reflect the day-to-day reality of service of process.

Strict rules and regulations dictate what counts as proper service and vary court by court. These may include days or times documents can be served, methods of substitute service, number of attempts for diligence, and not misrepresenting your identity.

ABC Legal process servers use methods guided by the law and high ethical standards. This not only provides a great experience for everyone involved, but gives our customers peace of mind. They know their cases have documents delivered in accordance with all court regulations.

While the element of surprise is sometimes a factor, it is not about dramatic confrontations. It is about diligence and timing. Making attempts when you believe the recipient will be home or is more likely to answer the door can help serve documents.


Compliance vs. Pineapple Express

In Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen plays Dale Denton, a process server who uses disguises to serve legal papers to unsuspecting recipients. The film takes a comedic approach, showcasing Denton in various ludicrous situations that are more about the laughs than the legal accuracy. He even disguises himself as a doctor to serve a surgeon in the operating room. This portrayal suggests a wild, almost spy-like approach to serving documents, diverging significantly from the regulated and ethical practices of real-life process serving.

Amy's Assessment

The two issues that Amy repeatedly flagged were misrepresentation and discussion of document content. With each serve, Denton's character wears a disguise and divulges to the recipient the contents of the confidential legal documents they are receiving. It is imperative that process servers always act with integrity and ensure that all parties are treated fairly and impartially.

Misrepresentation is the act of misrepresenting oneself or one’s reason for approaching the individual to be served. Amy elaborates, "Process servers adhere to strict guidelines and avoid any action that could be construed as deceptive or manipulative. Along with the potential legal issues, misrepresentation, deception, or dishonesty could jeopardize the integrity of the case and the legal system at large." 

Discussion of the contents and case with the party to be served is a red flag because it disrupts the integrity and impartiality necessary for someone in the role of a process server. Process servers must be unbiased, without a relationship to the case. Additionally, process servers should refrain from discussing anything that could be considered legal advice, as this truly disrupts their impartiality. Amy notes, "The process server would want to avoid any interpretation that they are giving legal advice. Discussing the contents of the documents could bias the recipient and interfere with the case."


Compliance vs. Serving Sarah

Serving Sara is a romantic comedy starring the late Matthew Perry as a process server tasked with serving papers to Elizabeth Hurley's character, Sara. When she offers to pay Perry’s character one million dollars to tear up documents and serve her business partner instead, they embark on a cross-country journey filled with elaborate schemes to serve the papers. The movie exaggerates the responsibilities of a process server and distorts the actual process by implying that a process server can tear up documents and change allegiances. It also introduces personal and emotional involvement that goes against the professional standards of maintaining neutrality and professionalism in the field.

The film showcases numerous occasions where Perry's character and his associates serve legal papers, yet the central focus remains on the task of serving Sara.

Amy's Assessment

In addition to flagging the serves for issues like misrepresentation and discussion of the case, Amy identified issues involving how the process servers conducted themselves during service, namely how they antagonized and harassed the servee.

Process servers should be professional and enact service properly when hired. As an important step of a mandatory part of due process, service must be handled respectfully and in accordance with local laws to ensure a smooth and fair legal process that doesn't increase hostility.


Staying Informed

While films like Pineapple Express and Serving Sara entertain audiences with humor and dramatic tension, they also distort the public's perception of service of process from the measured and methodical reality of professionals such as ABC Legal. As consumers of both legal services and entertainment, recognizing the difference between the two can help foster a more informed and realistic understanding of the legal world. Through a combination of legal education and critical viewing habits, we can enjoy Hollywood's dramatizations without losing sight of the realities behind the fiction.

To stay informed about your national leader in service of process, consider subscribing to our monthly newsletter, Friends of ABC.You can also check out how ABC Legal makes service of process anywhere in the nation, simple.

Clay Dinehart & Amy Brodsky

Written by

Clay Dinehart & Amy Brodsky

Clay Dinehart is currently ABC Legal's Marketing Strategist. However, Clay has worked on several teams throughout his time at ABC Legal, including in Investigations, Mail Sorting, Document Prep, Filing, Sheriff Support, and IT.

Amy Brodsky is the Compliance Manager at ABC Legal. She leads the team responsible for ensuring process servers adhere to local laws and ABC Legal's high standards for service of process.

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