#RHONJ Legal Blog: Teresa Giudice’s Former Bankruptcy Lawyer Speaks Exclusively About The Process Server Break-In

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James Kridel and Teresa Giudice_RHONJ

It was after business hours. Most of the staff had gone home. Only the sound of a Keurig coffee maker and perhaps a passing tractor-trailer outside punctuated the quiet night sky speckled with stars. There was little business activity at the boutique firm, Kridel Law Group, located in Clifton, New Jersey save for a client meeting. 

James A. Kridel, Jr., Anne L. Heldman, and Client X had been discussing confidential matters for the past six hours one weeknight not too long ago. Night had fallen.  The trio was seated at a large, high-quality Restoration Hardware table in James Kridel’s office where legal documents lay. Without warning, an unknown shadowy figure appeared inside the office, interrupting the serenity of the evening. 

RELATED: Corruption ROCKS Teresa Giudice’s Lawsuit Against Former Bankruptcy Attorney, James Kridel — Possible Criminal Charges Pending

According to Mr. Kridel, an unidentified man walked into his office around 6:30pm the week of August 3 without announcing himself or hollering from the reception area, which was located some distance from Mr. Kridel’s own office where the threesome were seated. The front door to the office was open but it was after business hours, or, in this case, a virtual witching hour. 

“What he did in our office I have no idea,” James Kridel told me. “I don’t know if he was there for five minutes or an hour,” observed the would-be defendant in a New Jersey civil legal malpractice suit filed by Teresa Giudice in which the “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star alleges that James Kridel’s “negligence” and legal malpractice is the reason she is in prison. 

Note: Last year, Teresa and husband Giuseppe “Joe” Giudice admitted to hiding assets from bankruptcy creditors and submitting phony loan applications to get some $5 million in mortgages and construction loans is currently serving a 15-month sentence for bankruptcy fraud. 

Back to the issue at hand: The mysterious man supposedly sauntered into Mr. Kridel’s office without permission and hauntingly started sifting through legal documents on the lawyer’s desk, some of which were the subject of a protective order in a criminal investigation. The man’s physical characteristics were reportedly unremarkable:  he was small in stature; he had unnatural hair; and he did not correctly pronounce James Kridel’s name. Security cameras were the lobby of the building. 

Since Mr. Kridel’s client was in the room, there was a certain amount of civility with which Mr. Kridel had to handle the intruder. “I couldn’t lose my cool because my client was there,” noted Mr. Kridel

The senior partner at the Kridel Law Group asked, “What are you doing here?” The nameless man replied, “I’m a courier” before dropping two packages onto the table and running out of the office.  The moonshine certainly bends shadows.

Mr. Kridel glanced at the parcels and saw the name, “Budd Larner,” which quickly translated in his mind to Teresa Giudice. Philip C. Chronakis of Budd Larner PC and Carlos C. Cuevas represent the Fabulicious! author in her action against James Kridel.

It became apparent James Kridel was being served with the relaunched malpractice suit on a night when the gleam of a silver moon could not temper the disturbance instigated by the courier. Mr. Kridel told me that earlier in the week, plaintiff improperly attempted to serve a member of his office staff at his law firm with the summons and complaint. Thus, it was possible the nameless courier sought to correct bad service of the lawsuit. The day after the supposed break-in, FedEx delivered packages to Mr. Kridel containing the summons and complaint at his home and law office.

The grave harm caused by someone stealthily snooping and lurking in a law office is significant: bugs could have been planted; Teresa’s files could have been pulled; confidential client documents may have been reviewed; files might have been taken (prompting a potential burglary charge); recordings could have been made between James, Anne, and their client; and/or the computer system could have been compromised/hacked, inflicting a digital disaster on the firm and its clientele. 

Why didn’t the courier identify himself or leave a card? Why did he run?  Is it borderline harassment to be served with legal papers three separate times, even if service was not perfected on each occasion? Do you think the courier’s actions constitute criminal trespass and harassment? Could a criminal charge against the courier put the legal malpractice suit in its proper light?

It is common for cases to be thrown out due to improper and illegal service. Therefore, the service scenario chosen should be the one that is the least likely to be challenged. Undoubtedly, service of process is an essential step in commencing a civil lawsuit. If service of process is not performed properly, a claim cannot proceed. Service of process establishes that the court hearing the lawsuit has jurisdiction over the defendant.  Selection of a competent process server remains critical, particularly in the lower courts, where a dismissal for lack of personal jurisdiction does not stay the statute of limitations, and may result in the permanent termination of the action.

An individual within the United States can be served process by a variety of ways. The individual can be served if a copy of the complaint and summons is delivered to the person individually (also known as “personal service”), or by leaving it at the individual’s dwelling or usual place of residence with a person of “suitable age and discretion.” Also, an individual can be served by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to an agent, or person who has been authorized by the individual to receive service of process on his or her behalf. 

Process servers are restricted from trespassing on property as a means of serving process. Such invasions, no matter how mild-mannered, may be regarded as invalid and illegal, and could result in penalties for offenders. These individuals do not have a right to open doors, rifle through papers, or touch nearly anything.

New Jersey Statutes explain “a person commits [unlicensed entry of structures] if, knowing that he is not licensed or privileged to do so, he enters or surreptitiously remains in any research facility, structure, or separately secured or occupied portion thereof.”  The penalties for trespass in New Jersey include jail time and/or a fine.

Simply because doors may be open does not mean an individual has free reign or authorized access to be inside a law office. Process servers cannot become annoying to those they attempt to serve and they cannot attempt service at abnormal hours. Visits during the night or the wee hours of the morning are of course inadvisable, and they might lead to a sustainable trespass charge.

Harassment is subjective but in this instance, the chips may be significantly stacked against the unknown process server since there were three witnesses who observed the apparent trespass and harassment.

Process servers are not a party to the case and should not take sides. A process server’s responsibility is to effect service of process according to the rules in a timely and safe manner. These people are public servants and their duty is to serve court papers, not rifle through legal documents and reconnoiter in a law office for who knows how long.

If you feel slimy and in need of a power shower after reading this legal blog, good! This case has arguably taken yet another wild and inappropriate detour.  The ride may get bumpier still. Some suggest James Kridel could bury Teresa Giudice in her own crimes as the result of filing this legal malpractice suit since the attorney-client privilege may be waived by commencement of a legal action. Courts have held that an attorney-defendant in a legal malpractice suit cannot be barred from challenging the causation and actual damage prongs for legal malpractice actions. The court will not permit a former client to use the attorney-client privilege as both a “sword” to strengthen its legal malpractice claim and as a “shield” to protect that claim from affirmative defenses.

I have raised an avalanche of questions in this piece. We want to hear from you! Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know what you think about the legal malpractice case now.    


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