The Long Island head of one of the largest process-serving firms in [New York] state was arrested this morning on charges of running a massive fraud scheme by failing to properly serve court papers on thousands, authorities said Tuesday.
As a result of the actions by William Singler, the head of American Legal Process in Lynbrook, the victims from Long Island and around the state had their finances frozen or wages garnished without a chance to contest legal actions against them by creditors, New York State Attorney General Andrew Cuomo said.
In any civil lawsuit, it is required in order for the court to obtain jurisdiction that the defendant be served with a summons and complaint. This ensures that the defendant has notice of the proceeding and allows him to respond to the suit. This is true of litigation from the most complex, such as patent or antitrust suits that can keep a stable of lawyers working on one case for years, to the simplest, such as assembly line consumer debt collection, where one attorney may have hundreds or thousands of "cases". In some states, private process servers are used to see to it that defendants are served, at which point the litigation goes on its merry way.
Now it's a dirty little not-so-secret that most (though by no means all) defendants in consumer debt collection cases are absolutely responsible and have no good defense. Many (though by no means all) ignore such lawsuits entirely, leading to default judgments, garnishment, and bankruptcy. That's the sort of case in which American Legal Process seemed to be most in demand.
Evidently, if the New York Attorney General's allegations are correct, someone at American Legal Process decided that since many defendants throw away important papers such as lawsuits, the company could save them the trouble. Why not throw away the papers before they ever get served?
Cuomo charged that the overall scheme involved thousands of instances of so-called "sewer service" in which the notice required to be given to the defendants in a lawsuit is not properly served – but might as well have been dropped down a sewer. …
In one case, the attorney general said, one of ALP's process servers claimed "to have been at four different addresses at the same moment."
In another case, he said, one process server claimed to have driven around the state 10,000 miles in a single day to serve various people.
Concurrently with the criminal charges against Singler, Cuomo has announced a civil suit against Singler's largest client, Farmingdale-based consumer collections law firm Forster and Garbus, for failure to supervise Singler. Of course, Singler and Forster and Garbus deny all charges, and will defend themselves vigorously in court. They will be able to do so because they will be properly served with all process and complaints.
You can be sure of that.
Now the interesting question is, if Cuomo is correct and thousands or tens of thousands of suits weren't actually served, what are the Attorney General and courts of New York going to do for those defendants? Will the courts reopen or reexamine a substantial portion of the 98,000 lawsuits in which ALP alleged proper service?
Don't hold your breath. Everyone knows that most of those defendants were liable anyway.