A row of six blue mailboxes on a street in Charleston, South Carolina. Focus is on the first mailbox's rusty screw head.

When I was a research attorney for Alameda County Superior Court, my judge drilled into me to always check the proof of service to make sure that it was signed and service on all parties had properly been made.  As a Discovery Referee, I still review the proof of service first and I am always amused when the proof of service is signed saying that I was already served.  Recently I was reading Aaron Morris’ article “Don’t be that Attorney—Ten Ways to Make Yourself Look Foolish”,  a humorous article that many of us lawyers always wanted to write about the outlandish positions attorneys take.  I specifically enjoyed his third pet peeve and had to pass it along.

So here it is

  1. Screaming that the proof of service was not signed.

Having received a document with an unsigned proof, opposing counsel will sometimes write to me to say something like, “we do not accept that your service was proper because the proof of service was UNSIGNED!!” (This is why I suspect this bad litigating comes from a seminar or “how to” book, because “unsigned” is always in all caps with two exclamation points.) Even more humorous, I have had cases where opposing counsel argued in opposition to a motion that the motion should be disregarded because the proof of service is unsigned and therefore there is no verification that the motion (they are responding to) was ever served. In the case just cited, opposing counsel wrote to say the discovery obviously must have been served late, “as evidenced by the fact that the proof of service is UNSIGNED!!”

Again, allow me to walk you through this so you won’t look foolish like this attorney.

When you file a document with the court or send discovery to the opposition, you prepare a proof of service attesting to the fact that you mailed – past tense – the document to opposing counsel. How can I make that stand out more? You are attesting that you mailED, mailED, mailED the document. If you sign the proof of service before you mail the document, you are perjuring yourself. If the proof of service you send to opposing counsel is signed, then that means you signed the proof of service, attesting that you mailed the document, before you actually mailed the document.

Yes, I get how it works in the real world and why 90 percent of attorneys do it wrong. The attorney prepares the court document and gives it to the secretary. The secretary prepares and signs the proof of service, makes copies, and then puts the original in the attorney service basket, mails a copy to opposing counsel, and keeps one copy for the file. But that is not proper service. We properly serve all documents with UNSIGNED!! proofs of service, so it can be done. Every court document you send to opposing counsel should have an UNSIGNED!! proof of service.

If you still cannot accept what I am saying because it so challenges your cherished beliefs, here is an official website from a Superior Court backing me up (item 3). Better yet, here is the official proof of service by the Judicial Council, with instructions on how to serve someone, specifically stating in item 3b that the proof of service sent to the other side must be unsigned.

Or, I don’t know, how about if we just check the Code of Civil Procedure that sets forth the rules for service. CCP § 1013(b) states:

The copy of the notice or other paper served by mail pursuant to this chapter shall bear a notation of the date and place of mailing or be accompanied by an UNSIGNED!! copy of the affidavit or certificate of mailing.

There is identical language for service by fax and email.

You can read Aaron Morris’ nine other pet peeves in his article “Don’t be that Attorney—Ten Ways to Make Yourself Look Foolish