07/13/2007

Colo. deputies get creative when serving subpoenas

By Dennis Huspeni
The Gazette

EL PASO, Colorado If El Paso County Sheriff's Deputy Tammy Gugliotta shows up at the doorstop, your day is about to take a turn for the worse.

"Nothing we serve or do brings good news," said Gugliotta, one of six deputies who serve subpoenas and other civil paperwork like motions, garnishments, liens and evictions for the Sheriff's Office. The office handles more than 1,000 papers a month.

A subpoena is a legal document that orders someone to appear before a judge in court.

It may mean you have to testify, or it may mean that you sit in the courthouse hallway waiting for someone to come out and either dismiss you or bring you before a judge. Some subpoenas require people to bring documents.

If you get served, there's basically three choices:

Do what's required on the subpoena it's going to have to be dealt with.

Ignore it and risk the consequences.

Hire an attorney to go before the judge and ask that it be dismissed.

"But there's only limited legal grounds for that," said John Davis, a Denver-based criminal defense attorney who also handles civil litigation. "Just because 'I don't want to' doesn't cut it."

A plaintiff the one making the complaint, or a defendant can issue subpoenas. In criminal cases, the district attorney acts as the plaintiff on behalf of the state of Colorado.

Someone refusing to accept a subpoena from a server "almost never happens," Gugliotta said.

Deputies can do what's called a "service by refusal" and just drop it at the person's feet. Sometimes, any responsible adult at the home can be served. It depends on if the judge thinks there was an honest effort to get the person served.

The deputies have little tricks. Like instead of asking "Are You John Q. Citizen," they'll say things like "Hey John. I've got some paperwork for you."

They'll do utilities checks to make sure the person lives there and use other methods of verification such as pictures and cars registered to a certain owner.

Deputy Todd Ronk said he sees the same names over and over when serving subpoenas.

"I've tried this one guy several times over the years," he said. "I've never gotten him."

It costs from $35 to $60 to have deputies serve someone. There are also private process servers, and Davis said any adult who's not a party to the case can act as a server.

Ronk said he tries to be discreet when serving people. Some businesses in town won't allow deputies on the property to serve, so they've had to get more creative.

"We usually try three times before giving up," Ronk said.

He'll leave a card, and sometimes people will call back and arrange a meeting to get served but that's rare.

"For every 20 cards I leave, I may get one call," Ronk said.

People who ignore subpoenas usually get another summons from a judge asking them to "show cause" why they ignored it or face a contempt of court conviction.

If that show-cause hearing is ignored, a judge can issue an arrest warrant.

"Once it gets into the computer system, you could be arrested if you're pulled over and there's a warrant for your arrest," Davis said. "It generally doesn't come to that."

Although Davis admits it's not exactly responsible to ignore or duck service, people are under no obligation to make themselves available.

"You have the right to try and avoid being served," Davis said. "Most say that frustrates the legal process, though, and increases costs."

ON THE MENU

There are almost 100 types of civil process papers the El Paso County Sheriff's Office serves. Here are some more common ones:

Temporary restraining order: This means a person has gone to the court and asked that another person be kept from contacting him or her, or coming within 100 yards. Recipients are entitled to a hearing before a judge to explain why a permanent restraining order should not be ordered. If they don't show up, the temporary order is made permanent.

Garnishment: A company or person has persuaded a judge to deduct money owed them from a debtor's paycheck.

Citation: Police allege a person has broken a law.

Writ of restitution: Fancy word for an eviction order. If the judge approves it, and the deputy serves it, the order calls for someone to immediately vacate the premises.

Subpoena duces tecum: A judge has ordered someone to bring documents or other information to court, or to testify.

Copyright 2007 ProQuest Information and Learning

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