Two members of the Clayton County Board of Commissioners say they are unhappy that they were served legal papers at their homes. However, the law distinguishes between being served as an individual and being served in one’s professional capacity as a member of a corporation or board.
District 1 Commissioner Dr. Alieka Anderson and District 3 Commissioner Felicia Franklin are each being sued individually for slander in Clayton County State Court by Brandon Turner, a Parks and Recreation maintenance employee who is the son of BOC Chairman Jeff Turner.
Brandon Turner had filed the suits on October 17, 2022, alleging that the two commissioners had falsely claimed that he was a convicted felon, when in fact his record had been exonerated.
Georgia’s Open Meetings Act contains an exception for elected officials to discuss pending personnel matters in executive session, outside of the general public. Franklin mass-forwarded an e-mail containing the false allegation against Turner to numerous county officials and local media, which led to a long and public back-and-forth about Turner’s employment with the county.
You’ve been served
According to online court records, Anderson was served at 8:40 a.m. on January 14, while Franklin was served at 9:42 p.m. on January 17.
An incident report shows the Clayton County Police responded to an incident at Franklin’s home that had started at 10:10 p.m. and ended at 11 p.m. on January 17. The report is dated January 17 but the narrative indicates the officer responded on January 18, which may be a typographical error, at 11 p.m.
According to the incident report, Franklin had called police to her home to report a “disturbance….She advised that after exiting the building after the commissioner’s meeting, a suspicious white vehicle was sitting on the side of the building. Commissioner Franklin stated that as she and other individuals noticed the vehicle, the car immediately drove away.”
The next day, a second officer reviewed security video from the BOC parking lot, noting, “Commissioner Franklin believed the white SUV followed her home. I checked the cameras at the BOC and at 17:44 hours Communications Director Valerie Fuller pulled up in the white SUV that was parked on the West side of the building at the BOC. The white SUV stayed parked at that spot until 21:09 hours….Fuller exited the BOC, got into the white SUV and drove off. At 21:10 hours Commissioner Franklin, Commissioner Anderson and three CCSO deputies exited the BOC through the rear door, I could see them look at the white SUV parked on the side of the building and you then see the white SUV drive off….the Commissioners got in their vehicles and drove off. Commissioner Franklin was the lead vehicle in the parking lot, followed by Commissioner Anderson and one CCSO deputy vehicle. They all drove out the East side parking lot towards North Main Street out of camera view. I continue to watch the cameras and didn’t observe any vehicle follow the Commissioners out of the parking lot. No further.”
According to the incident report, Franklin told police that she had “noticed a vehicle following her home but assumed it was nothing….once she arrived at her residence, she checked her surroundings and went into her house….as she opened her front door to let her dog out, she stepped outside into the light, and a black male stood on her doorstep. Commissioner Franklin said she immediately became frightened due to the darkness of the night and the dense fog….she stepped back into her residence and yelled. Commissioner Franklin stated that the male then stated that he was there to serve her with civil papers. Commissioner Franklin asked the male why he didn’t serve her at the Commissioner’s Building….the male told her he was not allowed to serve her at the county building. Commissioner Franklin advised this was not valid.”
O.C.G.A. 9-11-4 states that the sheriff, marshal, or any citizen appointed as a process server by the court can serve defendants with a lawsuit. If the suit is against the county, the chair can receive service; if it’s against a city, the mayor can receive service.
In all other cases, under Georgia law, papers are served personally upon the defendant, left at their door or given to “a person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein,” or “by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.” That means a defendant can tell a process server to serve their attorney instead—if they have one.
Franklin and Anderson, along with District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick, are also named in their individual and official capacities, along with the county itself, in a federal case involving former Clayton County Chief Financial Officer Ramona Bivins. In that case, the process server was Wiley D. Handley, who noted that Franklin and Anderson each “gave permission for [attorney] Jack Hancock to accept service for her.” Hambrick was served at her home.
In the incident report, police said Franklin “stated that this unknown black male had stalked her, and she believed this was a deliberate act ordered by someone else.”
She gave police her Ring camera video, which showed the man driving off.
“The allegation of stalking will be investigated further,” the officer wrote. “Still, due to the limited amount of information that could be provided on the male who conducted the served notice, this report will be titled disturbance and information for an officer. During my interview with Commissioner Franklin, several allegations were made unrelated to this incident. Those allegations were recorded on the Body Worn Camera Footage of the officers on the scene. Commissioner Franklin completed a written statement and was provided a case number by FTO A. Lamb. According to OCGA Title 9 (Civil Practice), there are no time restraints when a summons can be served if there is public access with no posted time restrictions. Nothing further at this time.”
The Clayton Crescent requested bodycam video and the 911 recording from the incident but was told on February 9 that the case remains open with CCPD Internal Affairs.
At the February 7 BOC meeting, Anderson asked for County Attorney Chuck Reed to explain process service and questioned whether BOC members should be subject to service at home:
“One of the concerns that I have is, you know, when the process server came to my home, he bamped on my door for five minutes, my cameras were blocked, I couldn’t see who was outside,” Anderson said. “I’m a single woman—even though I’m getting married—but however, when you’re outside bamming on my door, when you’re outside, you know, I can’t see who it is, because I do have a Ring camera and then I have a regular camera, I have regular cameras all around my home, I’m not gonna answer my door for you. And so, we just need to make sure—and the same process server has come to the board meeting to serve me as well. So, you know, I would feel more comfortable if it was done that way.”
Who’s that knocking at my door?
A check of both Anderson’s and Franklin’s case files shows the process server, Craig Brazeman, is a licensed private detective and certified process server. (Process servers are appointed court messengers who deliver notices of civil suits and temporary protective orders, for example..) He, along with more than 100 other process servers, was appointed by Chief State Court Judge Linda S. Cowen on December 28, 2022 to serve papers on behalf of the court through December 31, 2023.
After the papers were served, Brazeman filed an Affidavit of Service in both cases. An Affidavit of Service is a sworn document that goes into a case file and serves as a kind of receipt, showing that the process server has delivered specific documents to defendants on a certain date, at a certain time, and at a certain place.
Brazeman, who is white, says he does not own a white car.
A 30-year veteran of process service, he was last certified in Gwinnett County on December 19, 2022 and has won awards from the Atlanta Volunteer Lawyer’s Foundation for his pro bono work for domestic violence victims.
Both commissioners said that, because they are single women, they were frightened when they were served at home.
“There was an incident when I was coming out of my garage,” Anderson said, “and he jumped in the back of [behind] my car. And I could have put—my car beeped, thank God it beeped, because if it hadn’t have—but you know, he jumped in the back of my car, so I put my car in reverse, and I could have hit him. But again, when they come, you can’t see them on your Ring camera, you can’t see them on your regular cameras. And so it becomes, you know, just a dangerous process for that person coming up, because you don’t know who he is, who that person is. They’re not making it known who they are, and you can’t view them on your cameras. So we need to come up with a process because, when things like that happen, you know, with us being single women and things of that nature, that’s a problem.”
Anderson continued, “Also, we had another process server that was on the side of the building. And so, as we were walking out, he sped off. So our sheriff’s officers had to go, you know, were trying to see who it was, or if someone was trying to, you know, attempt to do something to us. So I just think that we need to come up with a process because, again, our lives could, you know, their lives could be put in danger, our lives could be in danger, we don’t know what’s going on. And I just think that, you know, the way it was done was just not right.”
Who authorized this?
Process servers are agents of the court who must complete significant training and be approved by a judge before they can take on that role.
According to the Judicial Council of the Administrative Office of the Courts, process servers must adhere to specific ethical and professional rules. Some of those include:
- A certified process server, having located the sought-after party or persons receiving process for those parties intended for service, shall professionally serve process, utilizing sound judgment and avoiding rudeness and unprofessional conduct.
- A certified process server shall serve process in an objective, nonjudgmental manner.
- A certified process server shall possess the necessary verbal and written communication skills sufficient to perform the private process server role.
- Certified process servers shall not violate any rules adopted by the Judicial Council, or conduct themselves in a manner that would reflect adversely on the Judicial Council, the judiciary, law enforcement, or other agencies involved in the administration of justice.
- A certified process server shall be courteous and polite in all dealings and shall abstain from using profanity or vulgarity in contact with others.
Reed said that complaints about a particular service of process could be “made to the person who’s appointed them, if they served in a particular way, but the service of process is so—they even have a particular section on dealing with how you serve someone in a gated community in state law. So the tendency is leaning toward people being able to serve.”
He added, “If you desire to have someone accept service for you where it’s related to your role as commissioner personally. You can reach out to me and talk to me how you want to do it. If we want to do something formalized, we can do that. But again, I just wanted to give you what the parameters were under state law.” He added that he could speak with commissioners individually “offline.”
Anderson agreed, saying, “I think this process server, he knew, he had been, he had served us here before, and so again, we just need something formalized in place and then we can move from there.”
District 2 Commissioner Gail Hambrick asked, “Chuck, if someone comes to our door, can we let them know that you are our service agent?”
“Sure,” Reed said.
“So we don’t have to open the door?” Hambrick asked.
“You can tell them that they can come serve me, yes,” Reed replied. “And if sometimes they come to me first, I can let them know that I can accept service for you.”
“Didn’t work for the young man who came to my house twice,” Turner laughed. “‘Go see Mr. Reed,’ but he came back.”
Franklin said, “I’ma go ahead and deal with the elephant in the room. It’s not just the fact that about how to be served. There’s nothing within state law that states that any member of this board should be followed, to their home, after nine o’clock, almost ten o’clock at night, to be served a particular document that specifically with the last name ‘Turner’ on it.”
Franklin was referring to Brandon Turner’s slander suit.
“So I’m not gonna dance around it. There are protocols and even though I hear you saying that you want to talk to us offline, I disagree, because if it’s something that can be discussed in executive session then that’s fine. But the laws are very clear. And those that are working with us understand those said laws. And so I agree with us looking at specifically what the state says, along with the requirements, along with not only the state, but understanding what our county code speaks to. I don’t think it’s rocket science. And so I think we need to come back before the board with something ironclad, so that everyone is in remembrance that the three items to be discussed in executive session are, number one, anything having to do with lawsuit, land, and then now we can add the security or a personnel matter. So I believe this is very evident, and I’m glad it was read into the record, but I look forward to y’all coming back with a plan that is lawful.”
District 4 DeMont Davis asked, “What’s the latest you can be served?”
“Whenever they can find you,” Turner chuckled.
“Whenever they can find you,” Reed added. “Because if somebody works at night or someone works during the day, you know, whatever. The law, as I said, it tends, it is leaning towards people being served, not against. But it does set parameters for where you can be served. And if it’s abusive, depending on who appoints them and how they’re appointed, those concerns can be raised to the person who has appointed them. So if it was a judge, if a certified process server and the person was, they’re abusive, you can raise it to that judge and they may have some discretion as to whether they want to move them off the certified processor list.”
“I’m glad you brought that up, Mr. Reed,” Franklin said. “One more thing to read into the record is, when this occurred, the process server specifically stated that the county refused service. So I want answers back to that, as well. So let’s dig a little deeper and let’s make sure that we abide by the laws. Thank you so much.”
If there had been no designated recipient at the county to receive service for the commissioners as individuals (versus as elected officials), then that service would have been refused.
Sheriffs sign off
With the upcoming March 21 special election for sheriff, this part of the law about process servers bears noting:
“A sheriff of any county of this state shall review the application, test score, criminal record check, and such other information or documentation as required by that sheriff and determine whether the applicant shall be approved for certification and authorized to act as a process server in this state.” Sheriffs also issue credentials to process servers so that they can be identified. It is illegal to impersonate a process server.
While process servers have the power under state law to serve process for any court in Georgia in any county, there is one caveat: “provided that the sheriff of the county for which process is to be served allows such servers to serve process in such county.”
The case number in Clayton County State Court for Turner v. Anderson is 2022CV02325 LH; the case number for Turner v. Franklin is 2022CV02324 MG. The case number for Bivins v. Franklin et al. is 1:22-cv-0414.