Op-ed by State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake

The work life of a process server in Michigan is no picnic.  Your job is to deliver bad news to strangers.  At first glance, delivering some papers to folks at $26 per hour plus gas reimbursement for each successful service seems like a good deal. Rarely, however does this job ever actually go smoothly.

Usually no one is home and it can take multiple attempts over the course of many weeks to reach the defendant.  Often the address is incorrect and residents do not feel compelled to respond to the notes left on their front door.  In these instances where there is no response or confirmation, the papers must be returned as undeliverable at a fee of $10, which averages just short of earning minimum wage.

This is certainly an incentive to find the defendant and serve the papers, but it is also motive to falsely report the papers as served to expedite the process. You don’t need the defendant’s signature or photograph; so, it’s easy money if you are willing to fill out a form creatively.

Easy, yes, but this neglectful behavior is not to be taken lightly.  The court system depends on its forthright process servers.  Such fraud undermines our confidence in the justice system.  More importantly, an individual’s welfare can be at stake.  The victims are often invisible and vulnerable. While a defendant could argue that he wasn’t served, it may be impossible for someone to go to court and prove an alibi for some unremarkable day that was months or years ago.

This is what happened to Carnell Alexander, the Detroit man who was arrested and had his wages garnished for support on a child that he had not        fathered and had never known. Mr. Alexander claims he was not served, and fortunately had a solid publicly documented alibi. However, due to his failure to respond to the service that never happened, he was ordered to pay.

I have supported the integration of better evidence, such as smartphone GPS and cameras, into process serving, but this can’t solve the whole problem.  It only makes it easier to prove fraud after the fact. For this reason, I am currently working on legislation to introduce this fall that will increase the penalties for fraudulent service and require a declaration by the process server given under penalty of perjury.

Ideally, the bill will establish a separate crime for process serving fraud, which carries a possible two-year prison sentence.  This directly addresses the relationship created between the signer and the court. The declaration requires the process server to state that the employee has examined the proof of service and its contents are true. My bill will ultimately hold the process server accountable and force employees to be honest in their day’s work.