How to serve an elusive professor with a restraining order
March 14, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

Looking for clever process server ideas for delivering restraining order papers to a stalker who is a genius at evading the sheriff. And other ideas on dealing with a situation like this.

So I very, very briefly dated this very troubled professor who teaches at a West Coast law school. I tried to call it off and be friends, which is when she declared that she would make me "suffer." That was last year.

She has since harassed me with a constant stream of taunts, and threats ("Watch your back, motherfucker"), and attempts to convince my father that I am a car vandal with a criminal history, and cryptic messages about how the Rapture is coming for me, via my old phone number, my new phone number, at least $10 in text messages, following my friends on Twitter, Facebooking. And then there was the day I walked outside to find my name spelled on my car, in alphabet cookies.

I am having trouble serving her with a restraining order. She has proven herself the T-1000 of harassment, cleverly using her knowledge of the system to see how far she can go tweaking me. She ignored two attorneys who were helping me, refusing to acknowledge their messages while hiding behind a semi-retired U.S. lawyer in France as a way to continue her ambitious campaign of harassment--using this other lawyer to send me frightening legal threats implying that it is I who should be living in fear of massive punishment.

It was me, however, who was granted a restraining order by a judge against this person. But she has proven so hard to serve with the papers, even though she teaches at a public institution. Most of the week she works from home, and won't answer the door. Next, when the sheriff's deputy tried to visit her classroom, she lied and claimed to be someone else, according to the authorities when I spoke with them. "She lied to us in the face," the officer told me. Realizing she had gone, they ran out to the parking lot, foiled again.

Now she seems to be changing classroom locations in order to throw the process servers off guard. Officers tried again only to find there was no one there.

There is no end to her resourcefulness. It seems like there must be a better way to guarantee service on this person, or to use some other approach, and I was wondering if Metafilter had any ideas. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
An acquaintance in this situation ended up hiring a private investigator/former cop who had to stake out the person's home in order to serve the papers. It was very $$$ as you can imagine.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2012 [3 favorites]

Also, it was not in California and it was a long time ago. I have no clue if it would be appropriate/legal.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:15 AM on March 14, 2012

While drawn out, and a PITA, have the process server tail her, and the minute she pays for something with a credit or debit card, serve her. If she denies her identity, then she has another pail of fish to deal with about using the card. Just a thought.
posted by timsteil at 8:18 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'd enlist the help of the Dean of the department she teaches in, or some other supervisor. Surely THEY know where she may be teachng at a given moment, or where her current office is.

And then, once you know that, get a particularly young-looking officer to dress up like a student and show up during "open office hours" to serve her.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:19 AM on March 14, 2012 [32 favorites]

Have the server pose as a prospective student and meet her at her office? I can imagine that a well-worded pretext letter/e-mail to her from this "prospective student" that would feed into her ego would be a way to catch her out.
posted by kuppajava at 8:20 AM on March 14, 2012

I don't understand why the deputy can't be given a photo of the lady and go into the classroom during a lecture (the room having been identified by the Dean or secretary or whomever.) Or they can wait by her car; car ownership is a public record, they can find it in the parking lot.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:28 AM on March 14, 2012 [5 favorites]

Next, when the sheriff's deputy tried to visit her classroom, she lied and claimed to be someone else, according to the authorities when I spoke with them. "She lied to us in the face," the officer told me. Realizing she had gone, they ran out to the parking lot, foiled again.

This sounds like a crime in itself. I'd be sure to have the deputy swear to an affidavit on this one.

I would suggest that the sheriff's deputy or process server go to the campus the morning of one of her classes. Have them go to the office of the law school's campus police, show their badge, and ask them to lead the process server to the professor.
posted by BobbyVan at 8:34 AM on March 14, 2012 [13 favorites]

I hope you'll be writing a book. I'd hire a PI, (memail me if you're looking for someone in LA), show him/her the photo and have them find her.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:51 AM on March 14, 2012

Any chance they're dragging their feet because they don't want to deal with a law professor and because sometimes harassment isn't taken seriously?

Does she actually have to be served?
posted by Lesser Shrew at 9:07 AM on March 14, 2012

You might start by seeing how easy the CPs are to work with, as BobbyVan suggests, but if they don't have an easy way to track her down I'd second EmpressCallipygos's suggestion to make this an issue with the chair. Most departments are (quite resonably) reluctant to get involved with their faculty's personal lives, but if she's moving her classes around, changing class times, not showing up for office hours and suchlike, those are seriously compromising her efficacy as an instructor and then it does become an academic issue and the business of the department's administration. The department would almost certainly like her to stop doing these things and the easiest way for them to do so is to get the papers served. (Also, if she's behaving this badly, it's quite likely she's burning up a lot of goodwill in the department and they're in no hurry to protect her)
posted by jackbishop at 9:16 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Check with your attorney, there may be a mechanism to get a judge to make a declaration that service has been sufficient.
posted by Saucy Intruder at 9:23 AM on March 14, 2012

I am having trouble serving her with a restraining order.

Why are you having to serve her? It's the sheriff, right? And depending on jurisdiction, if someone has a restraining order against them they shouldn't have guns, etc. That was the case when I was in your position. It wouldn't have made any sense at all for me to be involved in serving papers to someone who I was trying to keep away from!

Your lawyer should know what the process is for this. It could be that a legal notice in the newspaper will suffice at some point. Or maybe the server can file an affidavit of due diligence with the court.

(You sound much more involved than I ever wanted to be when I had to have a restraining order served on someone. It's not a human relations question at all, it is a legal question.)
posted by headnsouth at 9:24 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look into substituted service and/or due diligence.
posted by freshwater at 9:26 AM on March 14, 2012

What state are you in? The rules change from state to state, but in many states you don't have to actually serve the documents in person. There is "substituted service" where the process server can leave the documents in the care of another adult resident at the person's home or with a management-level employee at the person's place of business (in many states you have to mail the documents in addition when doing substituted service).

California and Oregon accept substituted service. Not sure about Washington.
posted by slkinsey at 9:27 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

It shouldn't matter that she denies who she is, as long as she is who she is and is given the papers. The process server can just drop the papers off on the podium in her classroom as long as she is there and the process server tells her what the documents are, even is she won't acknowledge who she is. It shouldn't be hard to prove who she is, after all there should be a whole classroom full of students there. (Can't the process server just ask a student to verify her identity?) I mean, she has to tell her students where the classroom will be ahead of time, right? Somebody has to know where she is? And class will last at least 50 min.? And the law school campus can't be that big?

I think you might be making this harder than it sounds, and sometimes the sheriffs aren't exactly helpful when it comes to serving things like this. You might be better off using a private process server company, they are more invested in getting the job done and have less scruples about these types of things. I don't think this lady sounds too genius.

What have you done to inform the learning institution's administration about her behavior? Once they are aware of it, they may have to take some responsibility over her actions. Most law schools have at least a fear of being sued by students due to the actions of their professional teaching staff, so they have an incentive to crack down.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:42 AM on March 14, 2012

My server is the only person ever to process serve Jimmy Hoffa Jr. It will cost you an arm and a leg to fly them out there but these are the pros. Two Harley-riding badass brothers.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:02 AM on March 14, 2012 [7 favorites]

First, call the cops. Show them the messages. This is illegal.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:03 AM on March 14, 2012

Also, Mr. Snesko has served Karl Rove, amongst others. He has vast experience with California, having owned the largest process service firm in San Diego as well. You give him the paper, it will get done.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

If she's litigious, I would caution against telling her supervisor/dean/bosses. You DO NOT want to give her an excuse to drag you to court if she gets fired (which she very well might, considering her behavior).
posted by the young rope-rider at 10:20 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

^ Good point and consideration, young rope-rider.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:21 AM on March 14, 2012

Does the sheriff work with the campus police at all? At our university, the campus police work very closely with the local police to handle things dealing with students and employees. Seems like they would be able to help locate the professor. They may not need to know exactly what the professor is being served with, just that there are "papers to be served".

I also think having someone show up at her posted office hours would work. At some point she has to be in her office for students, right? Or at some sort of staff meeting or something.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:25 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

upon rereading ... you've stated she lied to a "sheriff's deputy" Seriously? Has this deputy reported this directly to the judge in this case? Judges typically get angry about things like this and might also add 'contempt' in along with the restraining order. There must be some sort of legal penalty for lying to an officer of the law, especially one involved in executing court business, otherwise people would simply lie all the time when they are served.

While I concur with advice here about not bringing this to her Department chair, it does seem rather dubious that a person who would lie to a law enforcement official is in a position to teach at a Law School. They might not like their reputation sullied, and perhaps if she is as batshitinsane as you say, they might already be aware of that and just looking for a reason to relieve her of her teaching position (but can't, without good cause, due to tenure or other contractual obligations).

Committing a crime (lying to an officer) whilst in the role as a professor in a class room and potentially in front of students is a serious ethical breach and probably should be brought to the attention of the Law School administration!
posted by kuppajava at 10:59 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

I just want to note that if this law prof gets served with a restraining order in front of a class, as has been suggested, it will be all over Above The Law the next day. Maybe you care about avoiding such a public shaming, maybe not, but it seems like it could result in a major escalation of your conflict.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 11:06 AM on March 14, 2012 [2 favorites]

Please don't approach her department, looking for help in tracking her down. Her legal issues are not the business of her employer.
posted by charlie mccarthy at 11:29 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Gavin de Becker's organization does this as a specialty. No idea if they are too expensive - but their bona fides are strong.
posted by lalochezia at 11:35 AM on March 14, 2012

I would in fact approach her department, but very carefully. IANAL or anything like it, but having dealt with university legal issues, I believe that her legal issues ARE the business of her employer in this case, particularly when she is evading the law on university property and time.

My first concern, of course, is for you. Speaking from a university perspective, however, this is a HUGE problem for the department. This seems like a spiraling issue that has direct ramifications on her ability to accurately and legally do her job. Whether this happens in public or not, it also has direct ramifications on the department's ability to provide a safe, undisturbed environment in which its students can learn. Even if she is not interacting with students in person, she is breaking the law (or severely skirting it) in a way that will cause nothing but trouble for everyone around her.

It will blow up, BIG TIME, in the university's face.

So I don't think you should engage the university in simply trying to track her down. However, with the proper legal backing, clear evidence, and a clear and calm strategy in mind (regardless of the crazy antics that could take place down the road), I think you should discreetly approach her department and/or the legal counsel of the university. They will focus 98% on covering their own asses, but in that sense it should include being conscious of what she's been up to, and it can help strengthen your ability to make a case against her.

Again, I would proceed very, very carefully, as she will almost certainly consider retaliation. But by this point, you probably expect that, right?

Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. But remember that she is impacting many other lives at this point, and it's not okay.
posted by Madamina at 11:43 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. But remember that she is impacting many other lives at this point, and it's not okay your responsibility.

Not your responsibility. If this person's words and actions have concerned you enough that you sought out a restraining order against her, then you really need to not be personally involved in things like how her legal troubles affect her place of business. Disengage, let the pros handle it, no contact, etc. Be safe.
posted by headnsouth at 11:57 AM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing those who are wondering about due diligence. What happens if the officers try to serve the papers and are foiled after multiple attempts? Does that mean that the justice system shrugs its collective shoulders and says "too bad, we tried, you're on your own dealing with your looney", or is the notice considered "substitute served" and the restraining order is enforceable? You need to find this out; you need a plan B if plan A doesn't work.
posted by LN at 12:38 PM on March 14, 2012

Please don't approach her department, looking for help in tracking her down. Her legal issues are not the business of her employer.

Oh I don't know about that. As kuppajava mentioned, lying to the officer sounds like at least an ethics breach, and if I was her employer I wouldn't be very happy to find out she was expending MY resources (arbitrarily moving her class to different rooms, etc) just to avoid being served with restraining order.
posted by barc0001 at 4:25 PM on March 14, 2012

To clarify my previous answer -- more or less what Madamina said, that I wouldn't take it up with the department admins just because you've got a beef and they're in a position of power; take it up with the admins because your personal problem has become their professional problem and y'all could stand to work together. You emphatically should not approach the chair with "I have a personal problem with this person, and they're one of your people, so I'm making it your problem". Trust me, they spend all day dealing with that sort of crap and framing it that way will get you ignored. The spin you want to put on it is much more along the lines of "I've been trying to resolve this problem quietly, but it's bleeding into your world in ways I couldn't avoid, and I'd like to help you get it back out of your workplace". Framed that way, they might even figure out a way to, say, not serve her in front of a lot of her students, but in a more quiet place, serving both your and their desires not to turn this into a tremendous PR dust-up.
posted by jackbishop at 7:59 PM on March 14, 2012 [1 favorite]

Please don't approach her department, looking for help in tracking her down. Her legal issues are not the business of her employer.

You are in this for you. Not for her, and not for her employer. You owe them nothing. Make whatever it is that needs to be done happen.

But hell, serve her on campus at the listed time of her class. She can scarcely deny service when she's the listed person there and 400 people witnessed it.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:17 AM on March 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mod note: From the OP:
Thanks for all the helpful answers. Without going into too much detail, I too have been aware of the pitfalls listed above and am treading carefully.

Unfortunately, there's no substituted service -- I actually need to get the papers to the person, physically, because it's treated here as a criminal matter that would be depriving this professor of her liberty.

Hoping the classroom approach works soon. Received a crazy e-mail from this person last night telling me that if I tried to get a restraining order on her, I would be sanctioned for wasting the court's time, and that we should therefore catch up and fall in love.
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 3:02 PM on March 16, 2012

It just occurred to me that your professor may be a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction, which would require her to maintain a number of important legal and ethical duties. Contacting your state bar may be another venue to consider if this is the case.
posted by jabberjaw at 2:08 PM on March 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

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