S. Bruce Pascal, Process Server; At 24, S. Bruce Pascal has already established himself among Washington's most successful process servers, who compete in a market estimated to be worth over $2 million annually. He serves legal documents to people who have been named as either defendants or witnesses in court proceedings. Pascal's ambition surfaced early. By the time he was 13 he had opened his first business, taking care of pets in his Bethesda neighborhood. Shortly after the school year ended he printed flyers advertising his services, distributed them to every home in the area and quickly booked his entire summer vacation. He reopened the business the next summer, but the following year, when he turned 15, he switched his attention to philately, and scored his first financial coup. Pascal picked up 25,000 stamps on a clearance sale from B'nai B'rith international headquarters in 1977, then later sold them to a dealer for twice the amount he paid. Pascal was buying scrap gold and silver and profitably selling it to smelters before he could legally drive. Thus, when he entered George Washington University in 1979 as a finance major, he already had more business experience to his credit than nearly anyone else in the freshman class. In his sophomore year Pascal began process serving for his father's law firm in his spare time. Soon he opened an office near campus for Pascal's Process Service, delivering subpoenas between exams. He currently employs 10 people, and he has never had to advertise his work since his pet-sitting days. In October 1983, after returning from serving an eviction notice, Pascal received a letter from President Reagan saluting him for upholding the spirit of American small business. Pascal is a collector of political memorabilia, is single and lives in the District in a house he recently bought on a foreclosure. William Triplett, a Washington writer, is the author of "Flowering of the Bamboo," about the 1948 Tokyo Imperial Bank murders.
Q: Who are your best informants when you're trying to track somebody down?
A: Little kids. Whenever you go to a house, you ask , "Is Daddy in?" "Daddy's upstairs." When you ring the doorbell the wife will answer, "He's out of town." I'll say to the kid, "Where's your father work in the morning?" She'll give me the address. I'll say, "Do you know Daddy's telephone number?" "Yeeeaaah." I even give the kid a dollar once in a while and say thanks a lot.
Q: How did you know you had the right ID when you served the go-go dancer?
A: The lawyer said, "The only description I have is she has very large breasts. She was shot in the left breast about seven years ago and you'll probably see some scar tissue." I walked in and I was just looking at all the different breasts on the girls and I got the right one. Even then she denied it. But I got my lady. Always get my man and lady.
Q: Who's easier to serve in general, rich or poor people?
A: Poor people. They're expecting it. If it's a rent summons, it's every month. They say hello and they joke with me, the rent man. The rich people, they're bastards. The richer the person is, the more embarrassing it is because in all likelihood they're not as rich as you think.
Q: Is there a direct relationship that the richer the appearance of the person, the more wily they are in evading the process server?
A: Our toughest cases have been with the wealthiest individuals in the city, whether it's having 25 secretaries in front of them and an office in the back of the building, or a house on the top of a gigantic hill so you can't sneak up.
Q: ou've served some of the biggest names in this city, political, financial, social heavyweights, usually for what seems to be insignificant expenses compared to what they're making.
A: Or supposedly making. On one of the prettiest, wealthiest roads in Montgomery County, we've seen four or five cases. Once we had a case there where a well-renowned doctor was supposedly sleeping with a lawyer's wife. As part of the divorce proceedings I had to subpoena him. His nice wife answered the door. "Oh, what do you have for my husband?" He came and opened it right in front of her. I'm sure there was a good fight. I drove away quickly on that one.
Q: Your job requires a great amount of ingenuity. What are some of the more inventive tactics that you've had to come up with to serve somebody?
A: Sometimes we do have to play a little "Simon and Simon." I've dressed up as a flower delivery person. I buzzed at the door and a man said, "Who is that?" I said, "Deliveries."
"Leave it by the door."
Thinking quickly, I said, "Singing telegram." I went up three flights of stairs, past two bodyguards and there was the lady we had been after for three months. In my hands, red poinsettias very happily given to me by the bank owed the money, and inside that little Christmas card was a D.C. Superior Court summons.
I've pretended to be an autograph seeker, a bum lying out on the street, a coworker walking around an office. I've been a plain D.C. type courier, carrying a bike lock, even though I drove. Anything to get that guy to open the door.
Q: When they start dodging you, that's when you take off the gloves, right?
A: When those businessmen sit at their desks for a half hour when I'm getting three parking tickets outside, they deserve it. When they start playing games thinking they can outwit and dodge me, they're going against the wrong one. It's like the old saying in our business: "We can always play cat-and-mouse but I'm always the cat."
Q: Sounds like a process server is part U.S. marshal, part bounty hunter and part courier. How did you get started in the business?
A: As a sophomore at George Washington University I started serving papers for my father's law firm at $15 a shot. I didn't have a car, so I got a college buddy of mine to drive me around. We split, $7.50 each. If we didn't get the guy we still got $3 each. After two months he kept complaining because we were getting more $3 instead of $7.50, so I said, "You're fired." I went to my bankcard machine, withdrew $100 and got in a taxicab, expecting a gigantic bill. The cab driver turns around and says, "More than five deliveries? Why don't you go at $9 an hour?" By law you can hire a cab driver in D.C. as a chauffeur. In one hour I served five people, charged $75, paid the cab driver and ended up making more money with the cab driver than a partner.
Q: The whole idea behind process serving is to give the person the right to know he's being sued, right?
A: Or to be a witness to a trial. There are over 100,000 papers a year being served inside D.C. alone. It's well over a $2 million industry.
Q: Didn't you serve a guy at his wedding?
A: A very famous financial man -- owes a lot of money to a lot of people. Everytime you go to his office he's not there. He's at meetings, at conferences, on trips, and they're all lies because I call from my car outside and he's in. I called one day and their newest excuse was he's going to be out for three weeks planning his wedding. For some reason I believed that there was a wedding. I called from outside and said, "Listen, I'm calling from Cleveland. I lost my invitation. Where's the wedding?" She tells me the time, place, everything. I called the guy up -- he would not get on the phone with me -- and said if he doesn't get to me, tell him I'm going to serve him at his wedding. He thought I was joking. I got there a half hour before his wedding. He was all dressed in his tuxedo. I served him. He called me more names than you can print in this newspaper. But I knew he wasn't going to beat me up. Hell, it was his wedding!
Q: You said you'll do anything once. Do you still feel that?
A: There's a little of the thrill. I had an opportunity to repossess a stretch limousine. White stretch limousine. A deadbeat company. I served the guy, he gave me the key and I went to repossess the car. I said what the hell, this is easy. I never realized a limousine is the toughest car to repossess because it's either got a chauffeur sitting in the car or it's locked up at night. I went to the place, and the door was jammed. I pulled and pulled and the door opens up to the garage -- three doberman pinschers are running straight at me. Shut the door, I said.
The limousine company is two blocks from my house so I decided to use a little stakeout means. Every time I followed the car that chauffeur was sitting in it.
One day -- I felt sort of bad doing this, but -- I saw a wedding going on and I saw the car parked right in front of this church. When the wedding was over, the limo picked up the parents of the bride and groom, drove them over to the Vista Hotel. Meanwhile I had a beer can in my hand, I was wearing jeans and I looked like a bum, lying in the corner. The driver stands up and says, "You know where the cigaret machine is?" Bingo. "Watch my car." I ran to that car. I stuck the key in. My heart was going brroooom brrooooom brrooooom. Started the ignition. Faster than "Miami Vice" that car did a tailspin. For $750 I'll do it again, but that's very scary.
Q: There's a lot of danger in your work. Didn't you have some guy beat you in the head with a rubber mallet?
A: He didn't hit me in the head, he got me in the leg. He got my friend in the head. A businessman. Did everything in the world not to get served. He had one of those elevators where you couldn't push his floor. He'd already pushed one of my servers down the staircase. I said no problem, with three of us he won't dare touch us. Famous last words. We walk up to his floor. By a miracle he was pushing the elevator to go home that night. I said, "You're Bobby." "No, no, I'm not. I'm Jones." I said, "I served you two months ago. You're Bobby." Threw the summons on him. We were like, "Bye, bye Bobby." We were so excited we just figured we'd push a couple of elevator buttons on the way down, take our time. He took the staircase. We walk out of the elevator and there he was with scissors in one hand and a mallet in the other. In two seconds I knew my short-term, process-serving life was over. I had scissors against my chest, against the wall with a mallet.
I said, "Excuse me, is there a problem?" My other server says, "You'd better get off of him." He went after him. Hit him three times in the head with the mallet and stabbed him in the stomach. Under this great jury system in D.C., he was found not guilty.
I got punched one time in the eye and that didn't bother me too much until he messed up my antenna on my car. He ripped it off. I called the police and he spent 30 days in jail. In Virginia you get justice.
Q: You've had everything from people who graciously take a summons to people who run from you. What does that tell you about their nature?
A: It shows that they're either partly playing the game or they're not really playing the game. As soon as we hit them with that summons, it starts a clock. So they're doing whatever they can to avoid me. We had one guy who was a real slumlord. The tenants sued him and he owed thousands of dollars. He lived in a motel, hotel, friend's house, only came home on Sundays, because those are the days he can't be served. Cannot serve papers on Sundays. He would come home Sundays to cut his lawn and pick up his mail. But I finally got him. I was driving on the road and I knew what kind of car he had from his neighbors. Followed him for three miles to the University of Maryland. He got out, I walked up to him and said, "Do you know how to get to Cole Field House?" He proceeded to give me instructions. I said, "By the way, you're so-and-so?"
He goes, "Yeah, do I know you?"
I said, "You do now. You're served."
He immediately said, "No, no. I'm not him. I was mistaken." Started running.
I love them when they try to deny who they are. Especially when I've got a picture of them in my back pocket. I had one case where the lawyer made me sit in his hallway for an hour. I went to get a drink of water and on the wall were pictures from former presidents, "To Carl, from so-and-so." This is the same guy who's been walking by me saying, "I'm trying to get him for you. I'm trying to get him for you." When he came out the next time, I said, "Come here for a second. Looks like you on the wall, huh?"
"No, I'm Carl somebody else."
Pictures on the wall are very helpful, I must admit.
We had one guy who, every day, let his newspapers pile up in front of his house to make it look like he was out of town. Every day he left from the rear end of his townhouse, walked two blocks in the woods to get to his car. Another process serving company finally got him -- figured it out from the snowprint, the footprints in the snow in the back.
Q: So you guys have to be detectives too?
A: Right. We'll walk around the house. Talk to neighbors. We had another man who used to get in the car and have his wife open the garage door and then he would drive away in his car smiling at us. One day I was at his house. His wife said, "He's out of town." "Do you know when he'll be back?" "No idea."
I mean, you're married to the guy and you don't when he's going to be back? "No idea. He may be gone a month or two." And I'm like, "Hm. That's interesting, because he was here this morning." "Get out of here." She slams the door.
So I drove in front of her house and figured when he drives home, I'll get him. I remember he had a car phone. So do I. I called the house and noticed her line was busy. Next thing you know I see his Mercedes flying by with him in the car phone in hand. I could see her in the kitchen and I knew they were coordinating something. All of a sudden the electric garage opens. He was going 60 miles an hour in Bethesda, straight into his garage. There's no way he didn't hit his wall. The garage door starts closing instantly. I almost got my arms caught in the damn door, but I finally threw it at him and hit him. Got him.
Q: Any advice you can give somebody who's on the run from a processor?
A: I don't want to give all the secrets out. The toughest one I must admit was when we knocked on the guy's door, the lady's crying and she says the man just passed away. What am I going to do, ask for the obituary in the paper? I started yelling, "I know he's here, I know he's here!" A police officer said, "You better watch what you're doing. The guy's died, don't you have any respect?" I said, "Oops, sorry about that."
I've even served, I hate to say, a lady in the hospital with the tubes up her nose. I had to get her. I felt bad. Especially when my mother said, "We know them. It's a good family."
Q: How much do you get paid per summons?
A: There's a weird curve. You get 20-30 bucks a job but if it gets tough, it goes up into the hundreds. And if the people are really upsetting you, then you don't charge at all.
Q: You do it just for the satisfaction?