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The recent comedy about process servers, “Serving Sara,” starring Matthew Perry and Elizabeth Hurley, was served up dead at the movie houses and is now on a fast track to the video racks. Despite the film’s laugh famine, it’s a bit of a feast for legal professionals, with a remarkable number of laughable legal goofs. For these alone, it’s worth renting if you’re in the legal profession. The film also includes inadvertent laughs for Texans, with a depiction of Texas as a kind of Lower Slobovia for the rich, as well as crude ethnic humor, with Vincent Pastore of “Sopranos” fame taking Italian-bashing to a new low. Pastore, who was sent to “sleep with the fishes” by his “Sopranos” cohorts a year or two ago, definitely picked the wrong film in which to resurface. The film’s ludicrous depiction of process servers should have that entire profession either laughing or crying. The plot centers around two New York process servers (Perry and Pastore) competing to win a $5,000 fee for serving divorce papers on the wife of a Texas millionaire. A major gaffe is that in Texas papers must be served by a specific individual authorized, by name, to serve those particular papers. So there would be no dispute over which process server would handle the service. Also, the actual fee for serving Texas papers on someone in New York would be about $98, not $5,000. In addition, Perry’s character does not seem to know what he’s serving, with one calling the Petition for Divorce a “subpoena.” With the recent advent of “clearing service” companies, real-life process service has become a highly automated, e-enabled business, with updates and status reports available online to firms 24 hours a day, seven days a week. With its low costs and efficient service, it’s hardly the stuff of comedy. Rather than deal with process service as it actually is, the film creates its own version: a bizarre world in which ruthless process servers stop at nothing — burglary, arson — to serve their papers. When they succeed, they don’t just serve the papers and walk away like real-life process servers. Instead, they take a photo of the “mark,” papers in hand, with the process server’s arm in the picture, his wristwatch twisted toward the camera to show the exact time the papers were served. Apparently no one told the movie’s scriptwriters that a wristwatch can run fast, slow or not at all and provides evidence of little more than the wearer’s taste in personal jewelry. Also, process servers don’t have to actually hand the papers to the subject. They simply have to inform the subjects that they are serving papers and offer the documents. Then, if the person refuses the papers or tries to run away, the process server can simply drop them on the ground. THE FUNNY PAPERS The film makes legal papers look about as serious as the funny papers. When one of the process servers decides to switch sides, he simply announces that he’ll now serve papers on the husband. At first it looks as though he intends to serve the husband’s Petition of Divorce right back on him, a neat trick. Later he mentions that he still has the original divorce papers in his pocket and can serve the wife if he so chooses. So, he apparently does have “his and hers” papers. The process server is motivated to switch sides by the wife’s promise of $1 million. She clinches the deal by writing the words “one million dollars” along with her signature on the back of a photograph, and he accepts this as a valid contract. Since a process server must be a disinterested party, accepting the bribe eliminates him as a legitimate process server. He cannot legally serve the papers. The wife’s desperation to serve divorce papers on her husband before he can serve papers on her is explained by her desire to have the case heard in a liberal New York courtroom rather than a “good ol’ boys” court in Texas. This raises the question: If divorce courts in Texas treat women so unfairly, how come there are so many rich divorcees in the Lone Star State? Maybe they got their divorces from some kindly judge in the enlightened borough of Brooklyn. Robert Gibson, chief executive officer of Serve-em.com, a process service clearing company, has been involved for the past eight years in developing automated systems for the process service industry. For more information, go to www.serve-em.com.

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