Unflappable process server gets creative

The Tennessean 
February 23, 2013 Saturday

By Bobby Allyn

Jamey Ryan has scaled a fence, driven a car on a golf course and stood outside a home for four hours.

She does it all to accomplish a simple task: delivering a summons.

“Most of the time, I am my best cover,” Ryan said. “People see me coming. I’m 67. I drive a fairly old white Malibu. They probably think I’m coming up to sell them long-term health insurance.”

Ryan, who declined to be photographed so as not to blow her cover, is usually informing defendants that a spouse has filed for divorce. Because the news is often unwelcome, Ryan, depending on the situation, will carry a Nordstrom bag, a box of Gigi’s cupcakes, an Apple laptop box (it’s empty), a bottle of Champagne or (when she or a client is feeling especially deceptive) a bouquet of flowers.

But playing with optics is just part of her strategy. So is using a Lexus getaway car driven by her “much younger friend” who, she explains, “does exactly as I say.”

It is not unusual for someone like Ryan, a legal assistant for Music Row attorney Rose Palermo, to deliver a summons or affidavit on behalf of a client. Her props and nervy exploits, however, put her in her own league.

Raised in dusty, rural Texas, Ryan transcended her roots and came to Nashville, where she blossomed as a singer. She ascribes her determination to her family’s work ethic. Her parents and five siblings ran the town general store – a grocery shop, gas station and post office in one.

The affability she honed in a general store and put to good use in the music business now serves another purpose. But the props help, too.

“It started out with me feeling kind of awkward with them,” Ryan said of the legal documents. “It was something to put the papers behind.”

At some point, though, she saw another benefit: Props can serve as perfect bait, especially in trying to serve evaders.

“I never say, ‘Hey, I’m gonna deliver you cupcakes,'” Ryan said. “They just assume. Or they’re curious.”

Music connections

Ryan has worked for Palermo for going on a decade. The connection was forged through Mel and Judy Tillis, mutual friends.

She demurred when asked about her music career, and she swatted off questions about her past marriage, at 19, to Charlie Dick, Patsy Cline’s former husband – though she was quick to point out that they remain on good terms.

She has been noticed for singing like Cline, a fact highlighted when she sang on the soundtrack of the 1985 film “Sweet Dreams,” about Cline’s life.

To her boss, her past life as a touring singer, and then in the music publishing industry, gives her a certain degree of Nashville cool.

“She’s not easily star-struck,” Palermo said. “She’s not as enamored as some people are. She knows how to deal with people as people.”

It started as a somewhat rote job assisting clients and filling out paperwork. It took on a new shape one evening when an urgent summons had to be delivered and the normal servicer was unavailable.

“She wanted him served on New Year’s Eve,” Palermo recalled.

The client’s motive wasn’t hard to discern – the husband had announced to the whole family over the Christmas holiday that he had a paramour and wanted a divorce.

When asked if she was interested in filling in, Ryan sprung into action. She grabbed a Champagne bottle from her boss’s desk, a gift Palermo had received, and off she went to the New Year’s party.

“The front door was open, and I saw him from across the room talking on his phone,” Ryan said. “When he saw the Champagne he said, ‘Oh, is this for me?’ and I said, ‘Sorry, no.'”

Jumping fence

Since then, delivering summonses in emergency situations, on weekends, or on a moment’s notice has become Ryan’s own little niche. She sees each summons as a mission and completes a handful a week.

Of the hundreds she has delivered over the years, only once has she been unsuccessful. And her stories from the trenches are many.

Like the time a client sent her to a husband’s boat. After looking around the dock, she concluded he wasn’t there. So she tried his home in Hillsboro Village. When she arrived, his car was pulling in, too. She parked her car out of plain sight and entered the gated community. She raced up to him before he entered the building and served him the papers.

“He starts yelling about all these important people he knows and how they’re going to take care of it, and, meanwhile, the gate shut behind me.”

She hustled toward the gate with the agitated man still fuming behind her. She hopped the fence – “It was big and tall, but I didn’t care” – and was greeted on the other side by police.

“They didn’t mind,” she laughed. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”

And there was the time her friend, driving a new Lexus – the aforementioned getaway car – ended up on a golf course. A few wrong turns, followed by a few bold swerves to compensate, deposited the vehicle on terrain normally reserved for duffers.

“I’m not going to admit how we got on the golf course,” she said. “But we were driving in the golf cart lane.”

She spied the client’s husband in the clubhouse.

“He got served that night.”

And she’ll never forget the day she stood for four hours in front of a client’s girlfriend’s house to give her a subpoena on a nondivorce case. She had a feeling that the woman was in the house, though many knocks went unanswered.

The garage door windows were too high to see from ground level, so she drove right up to the garage and stood on her hood. Indeed, she glimpsed the woman’s car.

“I was knocking and knocking and the dogs were going ballistic.”

Then the woman’s husband arrived. He told her his wife was out of town and that he came over to feed the dogs. Ryan was having none of it.

“He told me to get off the property, and I said, ‘Is it your property?’ He said, ‘no.’ Well, go in there and tell the property owner to kick me off.”

In the end, she was served.

Then, there’s the time she went to see a client’s wife with a Nordstrom bag full of divorce papers. The wife’s sister answered the door and she said the woman she needed to see was in the shower. Ryan had something important for her sister, she said. The door opened.

“I could tell the sister was very curious about the bag. Probably thought it was from one of her boyfriends.”

The wife appeared in a robe and grew irate when she realized why Ryan was there. “She got really angry – fast. I got back to the car real quick on that one.”

‘Totally fearless’

She has delivered a summons to Gaylord Opryland hotel while a defendant was on a tryst. Over dinner, with a bouquet of flowers. And once, using an empty Apple laptop box, Ryan was successful in navigating to the top floor of a Cool Springs office building to furnish someone with a divorce notice.

Palermo said Ryan brings the right mix of disarming appearance and dedication.

“She’s very attractive, nice, professional and not suspicious,” Palermo said. “There’s no task she won’t take. She’s totally fearless.”

At 67, Ryan sees the adventures and misadventures that come with her job as more interesting turns in an interesting life.

“My friends think I have a quirky job,” she says with a wry chuckle. “Some of them say I haven’t grown up. But I don’t think it. I’ll never quit.”

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