By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
Waiting for his trial to begin, J.D. Campbell smiled the confident smile of a prominent citizen, a pillar of the community of Peoria. Sitting in a small justice courtroom in Peoria on August 9, the local real estate mogul and businessman seemed certain that justice would smile back.
Clad in a turquoise bola tie, yellow shirt and plaid pants, Campbell joked with his attorney, local reporters, even the Peoria police officer who was supposed to testify against him. Campbell's lightheartedness seemed to belie the seriousness of the charge against him: unlawfully imprisoning a court process server who had attempted to serve Campbell with a lawsuit.
But in the nine months since the alleged crime, Campbell had managed to dodge a felony kidnaping charge. Initially, a county prosecutor assigned to Peoria cases had convinced a justice of the peace that Campbell should face a felony charge. However, the county prosecutors who handle felonies overruled that, seeking the lowest possible charge against Campbell.
Before any evidence against Campbell could be presented last week, Justice of the Peace Pro Tem Ronald Johnson (the sitting justice had recused himself, because he is an acquaintance of Campbell's) dismissed the charges on a "technicality," saying the matter would be better heard in civil court.
Process servers watched the Campbell case with incredulity, and now fear that those who act out against process servers--who are never welcomed with open arms--will go unpunished.
"It's going to open the door to avoid service," says Joe Reyes of Arizona Process Servers Association. "The message people will take from this is it's all right for you to kidnap process servers and hold them against their will."
It all started last November 14, when Joanne McDowell, who is licensed by the county Superior Court, went to Campbell's Peoria residence on North 77th Avenue to serve him a summons and a complaint that Campbell had reneged on a $5,000 promissory note.
McDowell had to drive through a security gate to get onto the property. The gate bore "No Trespassing" signs, but, because she was licensed, she entered, anyway, identified herself to Campbell and attempted to serve him.
Campbell responded by telling McDowell that she "didn't have a right to bother him at home," McDowell remembers. He told her to serve him at his headquarters on 90th Avenue and Pinnacle Peak Road, site of Campbell's realty company, two water companies and Campbell Mercantile, a restaurant and convenience store.
McDowell, however, was only given Campbell's home address. And because Campbell's wife was named on the complaint as well, McDowell couldn't legally serve it anywhere but at his home. But J.D. Campbell, a veteran at being served with lawsuits, had other ideas. "I'm going to teach you people a lesson," McDowell recalls Campbell saying.
He locked the security gate behind her, and told her he was calling the police. McDowell gave him the telephone number.
McDowell became concerned. She was isolated and not visible to anyone from the street. Her only way out would have been to ram the fence with her car or climb through barbed wire. She didn't know if Campbell had actually called the police; nor did she know what he meant about teaching her "a lesson." There were "two big dogs" roaming the property. At one point, one dog ran toward her, but Campbell called it off.
"I was scared to death," she says. "Nobody could see me, and nobody knew I was there."
So McDowell locked herself in her car and called police herself on her mobile phone. A dispatcher said the police were already on their way.
When they finally arrived at Campbell's home 40 minutes later, the police were in a quandary. Campbell told police he had posted his gate specifically to "keep process servers off his property."
Yet McDowell contended she had a legal right to be on the property. Arizona law says a person commits trespassing only if he is not "licensed, authorized or otherwise privileged" to be on the property. As a process server, at least one court in Arizona has ruled, McDowell is all three.
But Peoria police didn't know that. They didn't arrest anyone that day. Campbell ultimately accepted service of the complaint, and McDowell was allowed to leave the property.
But that wasn't the end of the incident. McDowell and her colleagues were furious that nothing had been done to Campbell. Campbell, they believed, could technically be arrested for kidnaping, a Class 2 felony. State law says "a person commits kidnaping by knowingly restraining another person with," among other things, the intent to "interfere with the performance of a governmental or political function." Serving legal papers, the process servers believe, is a vital function of the court.
More than a week after the incident, police reluctantly wrote a report charging Campbell with unlawful imprisonment, a lesser felony. Campbell wasn't arrested and fingerprinted until January, a month and a half after the incident.
From there, the case went to the Maricopa County Attorney's Office. The original deputy county attorney assigned to the case, Ed Morgan, a 20-year veteran of the office, convinced a pro tem JP in Peoria that probable cause existed to try Campbell on the felony charge. Since justice courts hear only misdemeanors, the JP agreed and referred the case to Superior Court.