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Remember the Oscars slap heard round the world last month? Now we have the process serving seen round the world: Olivia Wilde, onstage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas, got slapped, so to speak, by a process server as she talked about her latest movie.
A woman, as yet unidentified but wearing a mask and a CinemaCon credential, handed Wilde a manila envelope marked "Personal and Confidential," which contained what turned out to be legal papers regarding the custody of her two kids with "Ted Lasso" star Jason Sudeikis.
Instead of setting the envelope aside, the actress/director opened it in front of thousands in the CinemaCon audience, an annual conference where Hollywood rolls out previews of coming attractions for movie theater owners.
"Right. Got it," she said. Then she continued pitching the trailer for her new movie, "Don't Worry Darling," which arrives in theaters Sept. 23. The movie stars Harry Styles, with whom she has been photographed over the past year, sparking speculation they're a couple.
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Yikes. First off, who knew there was even an issue between Wilde, 38, and Sudeikis, 46, over the custody of their kids? It's not like they're known in Hollywood as another ex-couple like Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, who have been sniping at each other in court for years over their kids.
Second, process serving is a necessary element of the legal system rooted in constitutional rights to due process. But why was it necessary to serve Wilde is this fashion? How was this good for the image of Sudeikis and his lawyer, for the image of process servers or for CinemaCon's apparently patchy security measures?
If the plan was to leverage an early, better position for Sudeikis in a legal battle over, say, where the kids will live, well, how is that working out given the mantle of sympathy draping over Wilde, at least on social media?
"The larger issue is what the heck?! Out of the gate, it’s terrible optics," says Leslie Barbara, head of the matrimonial department of the New York firm Davidoff Hutcher & Citron, who has 30 years of experience handling divorces of rich people and celebrities. "I couldn’t think of a worse way to handle service."
On the other hand, Barbara says, it's not unprecedented. One of her partners, she said, knew of a case where a bride was served with legal papers at her own wedding. Ouch.
Sudeikis and Wilde, who were engaged for seven years before their split in November 2020, share son Otis, 8, and daughter Daisy, 5.
On Wednesday, Sudeikis let it be known that he wasn't aware when or where the papers would be delivered to Wilde and that he would never approve of serving her in this manner.
If that's true, Barbara says, "obviously there's been an unacceptable breakdown in communication between (Sudeikis and his lawyer). Something went awry. Why did it have to be in the middle of her presentation? Couldn't it wait until she got offstage? This was completely unnecessary."
Ideally, in civil proceedings, attorneys and clients are supposed to be in close communication about such matters as how to serve papers, Barbara says. "It's not dignified to have someone jump out of a bush, we'd rather do this in a civilized way."
But sometimes it's just not possible, especially when it comes to serving celebrities, who may be just as resistant to receiving legal documents as regular schmoes but have more resources to avoid it, says Jillina Kwiatkowski, president of the National Association of Professional Process Servers, who has a process serving business in Buffalo, N.Y.
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Details of the rules may differ from state to state (in New York for instance, you can't serve on Sundays, says Barbara), but one rule everywhere is that process servers can't impersonate a cop to serve papers, Kwiatkowski says.
Also, she says, service has to be in person and in hand. But A-listers are hard to get close enough to so they can be served, she says, so all's fair in love, war and process serving. Remember, she says, we don't know what led up to the process server doing it in this fashion.
Also remember that Vegas casinos have policies barring process serving on their properties – and CinemaCon took place at Caesars Palace, one of the best-known casinos, says Las Vegas lawyer Jason Naimi, a leading member of the nation's matrimonial bar who has handled multiple celeb divorces.
"Process servers are aware of that, so they try what they can to … do what they’ve been tasked to do," Naimi says.
"I'm assuming this was not the way (the server) went about it at first, and she probably tried to get closer earlier and couldn’t, and this was the way she found she could get to (Wilde) in a personal manner," Kwiatkowski says. "I've heard of servers going to book signings, buying and standing in line, when dealing with people in the public eye. You sometimes have to get crafty, it’s the name of the game" in process serving.
"You can run but you can’t hide," she says. As Prince Andrew found out last year when he tried to avoid being served with an American sex abuse lawsuit at his Royal Lodge residence behind the gates of Windsor Castle. (The papers were left at his home by an English process server, and an English court declared that was proper service.)
Still, Kwiatkowski says, this way wouldn't be her first try at trying to serve anyone. Process servers for years have lamented their image in popular culture as something of a joke; now this episode will add to the misimpressions.
"It's a profession and most people don’t realize that we’re performing due process" by notifying people they're being sued, she says. "It comes across as kind of a joke, and it’s really not. ... It's a little bit sad that people don’t understand how important it is."
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And what about CinemaCon's role in all this? How did the process server acquire a credential? So far, no one has addressed that, but The Hollywood Reporter says officials plan to take a closer look at the conference's security protocols.
The WrapUp podcast on Thursday interviewed John Fithian, the National Association of Theatre Owners president and CEO, who said officials still don’t know who the server was or how she became a registered attendee of the show.
“It’s unfortunate," he told the podcast, noting it has never happened before in the show's 30-year history. “And so, we have reevaluated our protocols, and we’ve already changed right here at the show. We’ve now got security at the front of the stage."
Too late for Wilde.
Contributing: Patrick Ryan and Charles Trepany, USA TODAY
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Olivia Wilde served Jason Sudeikis' legal papers in a crass way. Why?