“He’s Hard to Find:” Serving legal papers

“…but Russian billionaire’s surprised by court server on Hawaii tarmac,” read the headline in the Daily News.

The story of how a Russian billionaire was officially delivered a complaint in his ex-wife’s lawsuit by process server Christopher Williams (“To say it hasn’t been easy is like saying the U.S. had a little trouble locating Osama Bin Laden”) is entertaining; it reads like an episode of Hawaii Five-O.

Mostly, though, it reminded me of how Miss Billy Martin, my original lawyer in the lawsuit against the Skush-O’Briens, managed to get them served. It took some effort.

Miss Billy had prepared the complaint for my lawsuit by September, 2007. Getting a complaint on its way requires two steps, filing and serving. You file in the court, you serve the defendants, after which you go back to court to file the proof you’ve served. Proof is usually in the form of a sworn affidavit signed by the process server.

My case is in New York State Supreme Court. Someone took a couple of copies of the summons (the cover sheet) and complaint down to the office of the Clerk of the Court with a check for the filing fee, and bought an index number. The Clerk handed over a receipt, the index number was written onto the summons, we were on our way.

Since I was suing the Little Crooked House Tenants Corp (the co-op corporation) and the Skush-O’Briens individually and as members of the Board of Directors, the complaint also had to be served on the Secretary of State for the State of New York, whose office has jurisdiction over lawsuits against co-op corporations.

That was easy, too.

But the next step — physical service upon the Skush-O’Briens, two of whom live in an Ohio city — was tricky, because, like Russian billionaire Dimitri Rybolovlev, Charlie and Letitia Skush-O’Brien are semi-professionals at snaking away from process servers. Although we gave the process server Charlie’s law office address and the home address, the Ohio process server couldn’t pin them down for a couple of weeks.

Miss Billy called me several times about the problem. Although the process server in Ohio went several times to Charlie’s business address, he couldn’t find an open door or a human being. And he couldn’t get a response to several attempts at knocking on their home front door where we were serving Letitia.

What I’ve learned since: the Skush-O’Briens have been sued many, many times in their Ohio home city, and have left a smashing court record of their lives as defendants and debtors. I’ve become so experienced at reading through the on-line docket sheets, I know that a favorite Skush-O’Brien m.o. was to stall, i.e., duck service. Scanning the docket sheet information, I had gotten a visual image of process servers chasing the Skush-O’Briens around town and the Skush-O’Briens disappearing around corners and behind locked doors.

It was a sort of amusing picture but I knew they could be found. I encouraged Miss Billy to cheer the Ohio process server onward.

One day she called me. She’d been on the phone with the Ohio process server trying to find out what was going on. The process server assured her they would get the job done. After all, he said, they had a lot of experience with these people. “Oh, yeah,” the guy said dryly, “we know the Skush-O’Briens very, very well.”

I laughed. I got the distinct impression that the Skush-O’Briens were a major revenue stream for the Ohio process servers.

And yeah, they did get served.

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