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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Justice NOT Served, by Process Server

Justice Wasn't Served: NY Process Server Hit With Criminal Charges for Failing to Deliver
The Associated Press by David B. Caruso - April 15, 2009

A company hired to serve debt collection lawsuits to thousands of cash-strapped New Yorkers did not bother to deliver the papers much of the time, leaving many people unaware they had been sued until the case was over and their bank accounts were frozen, authorities said yesterday.  Attorney General Andrew Cuomo filed criminal fraud charges against the firm, American Legal Process, of Lynbrook, and its owner and president, William Singler.  Investigators accused the Long Island company and its workers of doctoring records and filing thousands of false documents to cover up their laziness in trying to track down people being sued over alleged debts.

Mr. Cuomo said that debt-collection law firms furnished those false documents to the courts as proof that defendants had been given proper notice of lawsuits against them. In many instances, he said that the defendants did not appear, and default judgments were entered against them.  The case highlighted the problem of "sewer service," the improper disposal of legal papers by process services.  A June 2008 report by MFY Legal Services called "Justice Disserved" found that only 8.5 percent of the defendants appeared in the 180,177 Civil Court cases filed in 2007 by seven debt-collection law firms in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island.  The nonprofit legal services provider said that a review of 91 cases selected at random "raised serious questions about the propriety of service by process servers hired by plaintiff debt collectors and the accuracy of their records."

The attorney general thanked the Unified Court System and its internal audit unit for their help in the investigation of American Legal Process, which included the review of hundreds of court files and more than 100,000 records of affidavits of service.  "The integrity of the justice system depends upon the confidence of litigants and the public, and there can be no confidence when false affidavits of service are used to deprive parties of their rights to be heard," Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said in a statement distributed in a press release by Mr. Cuomo's office.  "This practice also inflicts substantial harm on individuals, subjecting them to judgments they had no opportunity to contest and imposing on them the significant collateral consequences of adverse judgments."  Mr. Singler's lawyer, Corey Winograd, acknowledged that some of the people employed by the company broke rules but said his client did not know it was happening.  "He trusted those process servers," Mr. Winograd said. "We now know today that some process servers breached that trust."  Mr. Winograd said his client would plead not guilty.

Three Attempts Required

CPLR §308 explicitly states how a summons and complaint is to be served. The law generally requires process servers to make three tries at hand-delivering a lawsuit before they can resort to a tactic known as "nail and mail," where they send the lawsuit by post and affix a copy to the person's door.  But in the case of American Legal Process, the attorney general said workers routinely made one attempt and then quit. In a court complaint, investigators said the company knew what was going on and encouraged workers to cut corners.

"The law says you have to go three times, but I know that it is a lot of driving, so if you go once you can just tack it," one manager told a new employee, according to the court filing.  Court administrators and a judge in Cattaragus County became suspicious when a woman called and complained that her bank account had been frozen without her knowledge.  Other people said they first found out about lawsuits when they tried to use a cash machine and had their cards rejected. They later learned that judges had given approval for their accounts to be frozen when they did not turn up in court to defend themselves.  Investigators with the attorney general and Office of Court Administration said the company's own records revealed the fraud.  In about 21 months, American Legal Process claimed to have delivered nearly 100,000 legal notices, but many of its process servers were filing records indicating they were in as many as four places at once, sometimes at opposite ends of the state.  In one instance, a worker claimed to have attempted deliveries that would have required him to drive more than 10,000 miles in a single day, authorities said. In other cases, workers claimed to have delivered court complaints before they had actually received them.

Law Firms 'on Notice'

Mr. Cuomo's office also said yesterday that he plans to sue one of American Legal Process' largest customers, the debt-collection law firm Forster & Garbus, of Farmingdale. The attorney general accused the firm of failing to supervise the company and relying on legal papers "it knew or should have known were false."  "I am putting all law firms on notice that they are responsible for the conduct of the companies they use to serve complaints and other legal documents," Mr. Cuomo said in his statement.

Law firm co-owner Ronald Forster said he had been using American Legal Process for only about 18 months and had been unaware of the alleged violations until now.  "I'm not in the business to try and take advantage of anyone," he said. "If there were complaints, it was such a small percentage. . . . If there is a problem with service, I'll do whatever I can to help correct it and fix it."  American Legal Process and Mr. Singler both are charged with criminal possession of a forged instrument in the second degree, a class D felony, three counts of offering a false instrument for filing in the first degree, a class E felony, and scheme to defraud in the second degree, a class E felony.  The defendants also face a civil suit filed in Erie County Supreme Court.  The attorney general's criminal case is being prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Cydney Kelly under the supervision of Gail Heatherly and Richard Ernst, bureau chief and deputy bureau chief, respectively, of the criminal prosecutions bureau. The civil suit is being handled by Assistant Attorney General James Morrissey.  Last June, the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs held a public hearing to address "unscrupulous" practices in the process server industry, including "sewer service."

Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said in June that he called the hearing to help the department, which licenses process servers, assess "whether and what steps it can take to improve the administration of existing laws" and whether regulations should be modified to ensure that New Yorkers receive adequate notice of a lawsuit.  One of the consumer advocates who testified at the hearing, Carolyn Coffey of MFY Legal Services, said in Mr. Cuomo's press release that improper services can have a "devastating effect." She cited the case of two clients who, after default judgments, were unable to pay their rent and had to borrow money for food.  In a statement yesterday, Mr. Mintz said, "The Department of Consumer Affairs has devoted significant enforcement resources to the oversight of this industry, imposing penalties ranging from violations to license revocation, in response to troubling testimony we heard at our public hearing last summer."  He added that the department is reviewing proposals for change.  "If courts cannot rely on duly served process, then justice cannot be served," Mr. Mintz said.  Law Journal reporter Noeleen G. Walder contributed to this report. She can be reached at Noeleen.Walder@incisivemedia.com

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

AG Cuomo also needs to be made aware of the Law Firm of Cohen & Slamowitz, located in Woodbury, NY..These guys are pulling the same thing on the consumers..Just GOOGLE them to see how many people they've scammed.

Anonymous said...

Forster and Garbus
i would find that hard to believe
They use tactics that i am surprised was legal.
It appears that being that they take on clients that judges let lawyers from the firm make the decisions. On the schedule for court thier are 60 cases
40+/- are from them.
They should also look into
thier collections practices and if they were dealing with a debt collections company out side of Philly that was recently finned for illegal collections tactics.
The goverment rarely if ever fines companysfor unfair debt collection practices.

Anonymous said...

Process servers are not regulated outside NYC.

Also, judges like Nicolai, don't care whether or not they serve the papers according to law or court orders. They can get on the stand an outright lie, even when presented with the evidence of their own papers which show that they didn't legally serve.

Nicoali just ignores it.

So, Cuomo can do what ever he wants for the publicity, but unless these people are really held accountable, nothing will change.

Anonymous said...

I see OCA and the AG's Office only get involved in weeding out corruption...when it does not include OCA and it's employees, the legal community or politicians that put them there!

Big deal Phau...you found some outside agency that you don't need for anything and chase them down to make the citizens believe you have integrity...wrong...and I am not buying your once in a million effort to show the public...they should have confidence in the NY Judicial system.

Find something within your courthouses to clean out and maybe we might believe you have a justice system we can trust. No one can trust OCA today..there is too much out there for your outside fraud reportings to be deemed worthy of changing the opinions of your SYSTEM!

Anonymous said...

this is a practice of long standing and well known in the Courts/Judges and with attorneys...it's know as sewer service...the is the venue where all the Courts/Judges and attorneys belong

Scooby-doo said...

Mr. Cuomo could make his bones with the electorate on this one. This is a very dirty little secret among the lawyers, Judges and clerks in the judicial arena. This is one of the ways they fix things.

Anonymous said...

yea.. and if he ever gets around to the Suffolk Judge who has been known to be mean spirited and bias against women... women might actually believe his concern...

Employee of OCA and disgusted said...

Mean, retaliatory and outright discriminatory towards women and minorities.... is a HUGE problem in the 8th judicial, WNY district......and it is run by a woman Administrative judge and women chief and deputy chief clerks...all who are running rampant over female employees, as well as minorities who are not political...just in case someone is looking into violations of federal codes and statutes!

It is not a difficult search and lots of employees are disgruntled and ready to talk...but they need to have you to talk to!

Anonymous said...

cuomo should also investigate Rubin & Rothman, LLC in islandia. they also use sewer service. anyone who ever gets a summons from this firm should always put in an answer with the appropriate court, or if they have obtained a judgment against you put in an order to show cause @ the court.

Anonymous said...

To the above writer..I received papers from Rubin & Rothman, LLC...and also from Cohen & Slamowitz..C & S are scamming alot of people and I don't know why these guys haven't been investigated.

Anonymous said...

i was sued by Forster and Garbus and Rubin and Rothman
i do not remember which ones
some were mailed to me in the regular mail. NO PROCESS SERVER WAS USED. No one even signed for it.
I think i found one attached to the door with masking tape.
One was found in the bushes. It was probably thier for days.
Thier was no 3 attempts of service.
I did ask the clerk and they said that was perfect legal. I think she got mad at me for even questioning if i was served correctly. The 2 law firms i thought the judge worked for them when i asked the judge a question
about the interest and penaltys.
I never did get an answer, judge told me it was perfectly legal for them to charge what ever they wanted.
The interst rates they were asking, i could have gotten a better deal with a loan shark.
less than $500 balloned it to i think more than 5,000 in about 4-6 months.
AS far as the dates go i think that was before 2007
I think Mr.Cuomo needs to speak to pople that were served by them prior to 2007.

Those 2 law firms handle most of the cases in court all around N.Y

Anonymous said...

Sewer Service is an old practice

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2