It’s a strange day when legal procedural issues get top billing on the Today Show…
As you may have seen, Jason Sudeikis served his ex-Olivia Wilde with legal papers while she was, literally, on a public stage talking about her upcoming movie. The photos from the event show her, in real time, opening the packet and reading the custody papers. On stage.
It’s news-worthy because it seems like such a jerk thing to do, especially given the public persona of Sudeikis, who is famous for playing the nicest character on modern TV and, generally, regarded as a nice person in real life.
Seriously, Ted Lasso isn’t just nice, but inspirationally nice. I can’t count the number of showy LinkedIn posts talking about life lessons people have learned from Ted. One review called the show a “warm hug of nice.”
But, this? This seems like a big-time jerk move.
I’ve written about this frequently: Service of process can be the hardest part of litigation, and a party may be forced to go to great lengths to get somebody personally served with legal papers. It may be a little too “on the nose” to cite examples from Hollywood, but this sequence from Pineapple Express is hilarious and procedurally accurate. It’s also a huge deal: Ineffective service of process can ruin your entire lawsuit.
Personally, in trying serve an evasive defendant, I’ve researched social media, court dockets, or anything else that will help me locate where and when the defendant may be. My process server has shown up holding a bouquet of flowers, an empty cardboard box, and waited at the end of a bike race, looking for Racer # 3433 at the finish line.
So, did Sudeikis do something wrong? It depends. Was Olivia Wilde evading service, requiring them to go to this extra mile to “catch” her? We don’t know that.
But, we do know this: This move is inflammatory and is going to make this litigation more difficult. As lawyers, we are faced with all sorts of “allowed” procedural tactics that sound great on paper, but that can also skew litigation into scorched earth territories in real life. Part of a good lawyer’s job is to talk clients out of those tactics and focus on the bigger picture.
Here, Sudeikis has already disavowed the action, saying that neither he nor his lawyer approved this rogue decision by the process server.
But, looking at the big picture, the damage may already be done. This custody battle just got a lot more contentious. And, honestly, it’s going to be weird watching Ted Lasso manage his own divorce and custody issues knowing what I know about this messy real-life drama.