Why I no longer accept service of rules to show cause

Posted Saturday, April 2nd, 2011 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Attorney-Client Relations, Contempt/Enforcement of Orders, Litigation Strategy, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

Yesterday two different attorneys asked me about accepting service on behalf of a client for rules to show cause.  While I will routinely accept service of pleadings (with my client’s permission, of course) I’ve determined it’s unsafe for an attorney to accept service of a rule to show cause on behalf of a client and no longer do so.  I no longer ask other attorneys to accept service of rules either.

My thinking changed after accepting service for a rule to show cause a few years ago.  My client was facing contempt for being behind on his child support.  Prior to my representing him he had served a year in jail for civil contempt for delinquent child support and he was unwilling to face further jail time.  So, a few days before the hearing, he left the state–permanently–and failed to appear for the rule hearing.

Meanwhile I show up at the hearing without my client there.   The language of a rule to show cause includes the command “IT IS ORDERED THAT YOU APPEAR BEFORE THE Family Court for _________ County …. and there to be prepared to show cause….”   While a summons for a complaint is signed by an attorney, the rule to show cause is an order issued by a judge.  Merely failing to show up for a rule to show cause that a party has been served with is a violation of a court order; in fact, unlike the contempt prosecuted in most rules to show cause, it’s considered direct contempt and the party can be sanctioned by the presiding judge immediately and without further hearing.

The situation at that rule hearing was extremely awkward.   The court issued a bench warrant for my client’s arrest–since he had failed to appear–yet I was the person who had accepted service on the rule.   While my client had provided written authorization–an email–for me to accept service, that email isn’t in the court file.  If he’s picked up on the bench warrant years hence, he might easily claim I had no authority to accept service on his behalf and the court won’t know otherwise.  Awkward.

I will no longer put myself  in a situation in which my client can be held in direct contempt of a court order when it’s my signature, not the client’s, on the acceptance of service.  Instead, I uniformly direct my clients to accept service of a rule to show cause.  If a client ever refused to accept service–it hasn’t happened yet–I would treat that as a significant warning sign that my client might be a flight risk and I would probably avoid representating  him or her on the rule.

Don’t put yourself in a situation in which your client fails to appear for a rule to show cause when it’s your signature of the acceptance of service.  Have the client accept service instead.


9 thoughts on Why I no longer accept service of rules to show cause

  1. Barry Knobel says:

    Greg, good morning. I read this blog, and please let me comment that – without having to put exclamation points at the end of each word – your position is the absolutely correct one to take, both professionally and ethically (and “professional courtesy” has absolutely nothing to do with it). A rule to show cause, especially in family court matters, is serious business.

  2. Linda says:

    I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t tell the other side about the rule, because it has been my experience that their client then avoids service. I will, however, after service is had, send a courtesy copy to opposing counsel.

  3. I think there are a lot of additional considerations. What if my client does not want to be served by a deputy sheriff at his work on in his neighborhood? What if my client is going to be tagged for attorney’s fees and costs, including the fee for service of the rule to show cause? What if I need to start work on the defense, I need to do so as soon as possible, and I am not going to see the complaint and rule to show cause until either I accept service or my client brings it? What if I know that the rule to show cause will cause my client easily avoidable anxiety and tumoil?

    While Greg makes good points, as usual, the practice of law is not “one shoe fits all.” People do not pay lawyers big bucks to answer easy questions. This is not an easy question and depends on a lot of circumstances.

    1. Tom:

      Gotta disagree here. This really is “one shoe fits all.”

      As I indicated, I routinely direct my clients to accept service of rules to show cause. I offer to have opposing counsel send me a copy of the paperwork and I will then prepare the acceptance of service for my client to execute. Thus there is no additional fees or delays by my not accepting service.

      However, if my client doesn’t show up for the rule hearing I want it to be the client’s signature on the acceptance, not mine.

  4. Stephen Grant says:

    I was served yesterday, 4/11/11, with a Rule to Show Cause dated 3/11/11. The court date is scheduled for April 25th, 2011. This does not give me the appropriate time to put my receipts and financial information in order, much less to retain counsel. I called the Clerk of Courts office in Greenville and they referred me to Free Legal Councel which only gave me the opportunity to leave a message. If you have a recommendation for an attorney in Greenville for family court or know what I need to do to get an extension for the hearing date, I would be appreciative. I found this blog site when I googled my question concerning Rules to Show Cause. The ruling is citing me for contempt of court for alimony that has already been paid. Thank you

  5. How do you resolve the issue of Civil Procedure Rule 5 regarding service of notices subsequent to the summons and complaint? It seems under Rule 5 that mailing notice of a Rule to show Cause hearing to the attorney of record is sufficient and that service is complete upon mailing.

    1. You need to read the new Family Court Rule 14, which covers service of rules to show cause. It is now clear that rules need to be personally served.

  6. Yes. I found that after I posted. Thanks.

  7. Linda says:

    I was summoned by regular mail to a rtsc hearing in which I was the defendant.
    However I was never served with the actual rtsc nor any supporting affidavit or other documents. Further the original complaint was dismissed on appeal several months prior; is the subsequent order from this rtsc hearing valid? Thank you

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