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After being in the legal field for a few years, I am consulting other process servers, and starting a golf company. In the meantime I wish to convert my blog into a book so that women will know about this career.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

WRITERS NOTES #6





Prioritizing Your Clients

Because of the many variables in this job, some easy, some difficult, you have to be flexible and know how to prioritize. You might have your whole day planned out but it could change in an instant. You could all of a sudden get a phone call from a law firm and have to serve or file something the same day in a total different direction and different city. Always take all your outstanding work with you when you leave your office for the day, that way if you end up going in a different direction, you will have the outstanding work that might need to be done in the direction you are going.   

Over the years I have prioritize my clients into three categories. I had a A list, B list and a C list.

The A clients were the ones that were always a joy to work for, there were never any problems, they trusted me and always paid their bills quickly. The B list were the clients that even though we got along well, they paid their bills  slowly. The C clients were the ones who only used you once in a while and only called you because their regular attorney service couldn't do the job at that particular moment, and these ones usually complain about the bill, they still pay it but complain.

Never put the A client behind a B client nor the B client behind a C client. If you are too busy for the day doing work for the A or B client, then give the C client a referral to another attorney service. Never has an A or B client asked me how much I charge and never questioned a bill.

Because the LEGWORK brand is distinctive, and it has made a name for itself - doing impeccable work and sometimes doing the impossible - you want to make sure you take care of the clients that know this, not the ones who don't know you and will complain about the fee you charge.

As a side note: PRO BONO work is something you should do. You will have an A or B client that has cases that won't make any money for anyone but yet they have to resolve the case, or they have Pro Bono cases they take on themselves. If you get wind of your clients doing this kind of work, offer to help them Pro Bono. I like the saying "Pay it Forward". You should too.


http://apps.americanbar.org/legalservices/probono/directory.html






Saturday, October 1, 2011

CUSTODY

     It’s the summer of 2008. I just birdied the 13th hole on my favorite golf course, the sun is shining and while fishing around for my sunglasses, my cell phone starts ringing, a call from an area code somewhere from the Midwest. Turns out it’s an attorney from Missouri, referred to by a Sacramento law firm. Their client is a father who lives and works in St. Louis, who has a missing child, a three year old daughter. The daughter lived in St. Louis until she was taken in the middle of the night by her mother, who then fled. The attorney and his client think she fled to Sacramento where her family last lived, and they want to find her.      

    The father, Steve, while in Sacramento on a business trip a few years ago, met Sabina, a beautiful young woman who recently came to the US. Steve met Sabina in a local Sacramento bar. They "fell in love", marrying a few months later, and Sabina agreed to move back to St. Louis, where they subsequently had a daughter.



    Sabina fled with their daughter - just disappeared from home. Steve had “no idea” his wife would desert him, taking their daughter and cutting all communication. The mother is not “breaking” any laws yet since they are still married. There are no legal or custody issues pending before any Missouri or California court. Law enforcement is not going to get involved until the mother is served with court documents ordering her back to St. Louis for hearings.

    Maybe I am getting twisted but I see this more and more. Some foreign women come to the US with their families; find some rich American to marry while their families continue to get public assistance from us. I have never found one family member in situations like this that had a job. They drive new SUV’s, live in really nice rental housing provided to them by  government assistance. They use their first names for their last names, middle names for their first names, last names for their middle names. They use each others names and use each other’s Social Security numbers. You can’t tell who is who. I am only talking about a small minority here I hope, but it seems in cases like this, when I work on them, an additional burden is added in finding them, because with all the scamming, it's hard to use confidential database resources to find them. 


    For the last three months, Steve sent thousands of dollars to the Sacramento address of his wife’s family with notes to give the money to his child and wife so they are not destitute. He continues to pay her cell phone bills, although she doesn’t respond to his phone messages. Steve continues to make the payments on her brand new Escalade that she supposedly drove to California. I really can’t make this stuff up.

    This Pakistani princess, (mother) would receive the checks from Steve, then cash them at check cashing businesses or third party vendors so you can’t trace the cashing transactions. The mother did not use banks. She wouldn't pass the scrutiny.


    Before taking this case on, I asked the attorney questions about his client as well as Sabina and I also spoke to the client myself. I need to know if there is any earlier instances of anti-social behavior (abuse, attempted suicide etc.) resulting in the possibility the mother would take her own life and that of the daughter.  


    After discussing this with the attorney and talking to his client, we then arranged a mail package be sent to me containing pictures, descriptions, cell phone bills (so I can see who she is calling), her parents address, vehicle descriptions and legal papers to be served.  The father petitioned the court for a divorce and a hearing to establish child custody issues. Steve doesn’t want any reconciliation, no second chances, he just wants her served and child custody orders issued.


    Where to start? The most crucial thing in cases like these is predicting human behavior. Assessing the stress level of the ex-spouse or kidnapper is vital and adjusting the way you perform is crucial so it does not get out of control. This kind of thing is in the papers everyday, where the signals were there all along, but no one predicted a kidnappers behavior correctly or use the right amount of control, which results in a tragedy.

    Opinion: I believe overdosing by some psychiatrists and psychologists are the cause of crime. In most domestic violence cases, murder-suicides, kidnapping and in most crime, the person(s) had been under the influence of psychiatric care and medications. The list of side effects (that pharmaceutical companies have to list in every TV commercial) takes more air time than talking about the unprovable benefits.  


    The first stop is the parent’s house in West Sacramento. I check out the complex, and see what the stakeout options are. I need to verify that her parents actually live there along with looking for the princess' vehicle. I find the address in an upscale complex, nice three story townhouse, with security gates. I punch in the gate code (I have gate codes to access all gated communities), or I could just jump the damn fence like I used to, but heck, I’m too old now. 



    This preliminary visit resulted in the parent’s vehicle being there, a brand new Chrysler van parked near the townhouse. This was during the day which tells me they probably do not work, as I figured. The Escalade was not around at this time.


    To cut your losses quickly which helps to determine best course of action, always do your activity checks during the day time. You can see better, scope out the environment and talk to the apartment managers before they close for the day. Before going to a lot of trouble, verify that the person(s) you are looking for actually live there. 

    Apartment managers are very fickle, you can get a mean one sometimes, and they will not tell you anything.  Figure out a weak point of theirs so they will assist you. Make up a story that gets them motivated to tell you what you need to know. Here’s one that works every time: walk in the manager’s office all cheery and pleasant. Sometimes carry the legal papers with you (not in this case) or just a notebook so you look official. Hand the manager a business card and start your story. Tell them the law firm you are working for lost track of a "witness" for a legal trial, involving two children in a car accident, and you have not been able to get any response from townhouse "#444", then state the name of the person you are looking for. Tell the manager you want to make sure the witness was still alive and well. Seriously. This statement puts the manager’s attention on the “poor children” 9 out of 10 times and you will have gained sympathy.

    The manager states the parents have lived there for two years and do not work, receiving assistance from the government to pay their rent. I showed the manager a picture of the mother and her daughter, stating she has never seen them or the Escalade around the complex. The manager states she walks the complex several times a day and has never seen them, but does see the parents.


    So this tells me Sabina and her daughter are not staying with the parents even though she uses this address to receive her checks from our client. To sit on the parent’s address and wait for her to show up is time consuming, expensive so my solution is to make this woman come to me. How? Read on.


    This calls for rattling the parents’ cage a bit and see what bites. Now when you do this, keep in mind they know where their daughter is, so always assume the parents are helping them hide and will be very hostile to you.   


    After knocking on the door, step back and to the side of the door so they cannot see through the peephole. Do not make yourself vulnerable for any physical contact. Some people, when they can’t see through the peephole, sometimes assume a child is knocking and they would have to open the door to see the “child.” Have the legal papers ready, if the person you want answers the door, explaining quickly you have legal papers and hand them to the person. If the person refuses them, just set them on the entrance door, and if the person starts to slam the door on you, throw the papers inside the door. If the person says they are not the person I am looking for, I ask for identification. Beware, if this is the person you are looking for and they do not want to show you their identification/drivers license, they WILL slam the door so be ready to throw the papers inside. 


    In this case: A 60’ish Pakistani man opened the door dressed in the turban garb and immediately was upset wishing he had not opened the door. I asked for his daughter, and he replied he had no idea where she was. I told him I did not believe him and told him to give Sabina these legal papers to attend a court hearing in Missouri. He wouldn’t take them so I threw them in the door while he was slamming it. I am calling a bluff here because you have to actually serve the person you are after, you can’t leave any legal papers with relatives on the first try. You can leave them with relatives or roommates on the third try but the person you are after has to actually live there. The daughter doesn’t live there so I am just creating a little harassment because I know he will give his daughter these papers – wherever she is. As I was walking back to my truck, I heard him open the door yelling in some language waving legal papers is his hand. He followed me to the end of his breezeway, stood there, still yelling while I drove away.

    I still continue to work on finding Sabina.


    Process Servers and Private Investigators are licensed by government agencies, therefore entitled access to certain confidential database resources. These database resources consist of names, addresses, property owned, vehicles, relatives, social security numbers, dates of birth, lawsuits, liens, judgments, bankruptcies, cell phone numbers, home and business phone numbers, spouses, sex offenses, airplane and boat ownership, just about anything on anyone, for each person who has applied for any kind of credit. These databases are extremely confidential and must never be used for things like finding celebrities. I make it a rule to only use these databases when there is a lawsuit involved. I do not help the average Joe find his ex-wife, or find out what vehicle is following him. You never know what some individuals will do with the information you give to them. This opens a whole world of insanity, domestic violence and your liability policy will be eaten alive. It can ruin your business and your reputation. Simple, don’t run anything information for individuals unless they have an attorney and this attorney knows you are doing it.
    These databases found Sabina's parents listed along with two other relatives who are younger than Sabina. They each list four different addresses around the Sacramento area with the dates they supposedly lived at these places, using different names with the same social security numbers, but that’s ok, I am just interested in first names and any address.


    So let’s do another activities check driving to the most recent address, looking around, scoping it out, see if the Escalade is anywhere around. One place I went to was a house on a corner lot which was empty. At the second place, there were three little Asian children playing out front, so I knew this was no help. The third address resulted in finding out this particular sister moved to Southern California, so no help here either. The last address was a rundown apartment complex in a high crime ridden area. This I liked a lot. You ask why??? Listen up.


    In high-crime areas, you get cooperation from apartment managers. They do not want any trouble whatsoever so when they see you coming, they want to assist you in any way so you don’t come back. This kind of environment is usually Section 8 housing, having its share of visits from the police, from the fire department, or domestic violence issues and robberies. They want to assist you, getting the problem taken care of and resolved quickly. Managers don’t want the apartment complex owners on their backs about renting to lowlifes nor do they like having to read police reports involving their property. These kinds of complexes have a 24 hour full-time management staff. They can’t leave these properties for a second and most managers live on site.  

    I always drive around the entire apartment complex first. You want to know where all the exits are, where the apartment managers office is and a spot where you can park your vehicle so you are as inconspicuous as possible. I locate the apartment I am interested in, and then park and watch the apartment for a while.



    It’s a good idea to just sit and observe sometimes. Also, this is where I do most of my thinking about how to proceed. All cases are not the same, and no two people are alike. Determine the right plan for the right person/case so you get the end result you want. Knowing the right plan comes from years of experience, but in the meantime never assume each situation will have the same reaction each time. They never do.

    When watching the apartment, an upstairs unit, I noticed a female of Pakistani descent, leaning on the banister smoking a cigarette. This woman was the same weight and build as the sister I am looking for. Now, step one. 



    I put my Process Servers ID on my belt and walk into the Manager’s office where three women are working. Immediately these woman have the “uh oh” look and one of them gets up and speaks to me. I introduce myself and mentioned what law firm I am working for, along with the fact that we are looking for a lost child (show the child’s picture), and we believe the child’s relatives live in this complex, Apt. 103.

    The apartment manager stated she has seen the child, not less than two days ago. The child comes over with her mother, driving the Escalade, visits for a while, then leaves. I verified  the sister does live in Apt. 103, and as it turns out, with her abusive husband and young daughter. The police have been called to this apartment once a month and the manager is getting ready to evict them. Lucky me, this puts the apartment manager on my side. I ascertain the sister’s name, what vehicles she and her husband drive and which parking spaces are assigned to them. I obtain the sisters phone number, and since neither her and her husband work, they would be home.

    Step two: I go back to my vehicle, take off my badge and put all the pictures and legal papers out of view. I then approach the woman on the banister not appearing threatening or official – yet.

     As I go up the stairs; she is comfortably sitting on the porch not giving me the time of day when I say hello. Luckily, she didn’t dart into the apartment and lock the door. This would be a real bitch because then I’d have to get all mad, bang on the door, get all sweaty, call the police, not to mention sitting on her balcony 24/7, generally being a pain in her ass. Plus, I’ll miss my tee time and that would really make me mad.

    The fact that she did not run tells me I might not get any information but she will at least be attentive. I immediately sensed she felt threatened, probably thought I was from social services inquiring about her daughter. You can bet your life that Sabina has told her sister to be on the lookout for anyone inquiring about her or her daughter so tread lightly, you don’t want to piss her off. If she is pissed that you showed up, you still have to “talk her down” to get any information. 


    Your objective is to find her sister and niece, getting them served which forces them to get on a plane, showing up for a court hearing in Missouri in five days. Do not make this woman an enemy. Sometimes it happens, if you use excellent communication along with some verbal tricks, you can get valuable information. Also, in a situation like this, you are vulnerable standing on stairs so be sure to stay on guard as her abusive husband could be in the apartment. 



    I didn’t look at this woman directly, just kind of relaxed against the banister, talking in a low boring monotone voice. I tell her my name, and then tell her it is such a nice day sitting on the porch, that I wish I didn’t have to work and could be out playing golf. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see her look at me. I just stand there in a non-threatening way until she says “yea”. Be patient and wait, they will eventually say something. I keep the slow monotone voice telling her that I am sorry she is in the middle of my problem but I need to speak to Sabina. 

    Then watch for a reaction, stay alert, will she run? Will she call her husband outside to kick your ass? Will she throw you down the stairs? Remember, her sister and niece are on the lam. Don’t take anything for granted just because she is “calm” at the moment. I know she won’t call the police, she has an eviction pending.  


    She states Sabina and her are estranged from each other (lie) and she hasn’t seen her sister in months (lie). I ask how Sabina’s daughter Isabel is and she replies ok as far as she knows (lie). Because of the lying, I raised the bar a bit telling her the whole legal situation, giving her the date and time of the court hearing in Missouri, that I already gave the legal papers to her father and that I need to speak to Sabina. I continue to just level with her telling her I spoke to the apartment manager, that I know Sabina and Isabel were here just two days ago. I even told her law enforcement will be contacted, and that four or five investigators will be camped out at this complex for the next few days watching her and looking for Sabina. 

    The sister didn’t like this. She calls Sabina leaving a message in another language. I have no idea what she was saying on Sabina’s voicemail but it doesn’t matter again because I got my message across. I told this woman I’ll give Sabina only twenty-four hours to contact me, and if not then I’ll be back with the police. I wish it was that easy.


    Twenty-four hours go by and no messages. From experience I know the father is talking to the mother, the mother is talking to Sabina, the sister is talking to Sabina, the sister is talking to her husband, the sister is talking to her other sister, and on and on. I have definitely rattled their cages. 


    To help avoid Sabina from running again, you have to keep the pressure on. The sister didn’t make sure Sabina called me so now it’s Step three:

    In situations like this, if you make a threat, carry it out. On day three, I took the pictures I had of Sabina and her daughter and made MISSING PERSON posters, taping them to apartment doors and vehicles around the sister’s building.

    To really keep the pressure up, I made a phony call to Sabina’s sister’s cell phone leaving a message, “Hey, I live at your apartments and I saw the posters today. I didn’t know your sister and niece are missing, I just saw them a few days ago at your place. Let me know if you want to organize a search party, call me, this is Gloria, Apt. 36.” Of course Sabrina’s sister is not going to call Gloria but she is going to call Sabrina and the entire family will really start freaking out. 


    In actions like this all you can do now is have patience and wait for the family to make a move. You have done everything possible within the guidelines of the law. The attorneys know this and respect any advice you give them about the next course of action. 

    The court hearing is now two days away in St. Louis and we never heard from Sabrina. The attorney was going to attend the hearing anyway asking for a new hearing date which gives us more time to locate and serve Sabrina.


    On the third day, in the afternoon after the hearing, when I was getting ready to hear the attorney tell me the new hearing date, I realized he was very upbeat – HUH? Well guess what? Sabrina and her daughter, Isabel got on a plane two days after I posted the Missing Child Posters, hired an attorney in St. Louis and showed up for the court hearing!


    Sabrina was found in contempt and was not allowed to leave the state until legal papers were drawn up outlining the agreements for custody. The attorney told me Sabrina would never have shown up in court if it wasn’t for all my efforts, that if I didn’t do what I did, this would never gotten resolved and Sabrina would continue to be on the lam.


    The father and daughter are now re-united and there is a custody agreement. If Sabrina were to ever try to take their daughter and run again, then this would be considered a state and federal inter-state amber alert, out of my hands and the FBI takes over.


                                                 

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