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The Problems with Legal Notice in Missouri


Because adequate notice to interested parties is fundamentally important to our legal system, the Missouri Bar must recognize that our existing rules for notice are inadequate when personal service is unavailable. An effective system for public notice should (1) maximize the chance that the persons who need to be notified actually get the information and (2) provide such information at a reasonable cost. Unfortunately, the existing procedure of publishing notice in a local newspaper has an extremely limited reach and is unjustifiably expensive.

When public notice is required because an individual cannot be located, the likelihood that such a person is receiving the newspaper printed in the county where he cannot be found is, to say the least, slim. When the goal is to reach a larger group (such as potential creditors of an estate or potential purchasers for foreclosed property), the local paper is a poor means of conveying information because the intended audience often includes national companies that are not reached by a paper’s increasingly limited circulation; for those who might have access to the paper, its effectiveness is limited by the fact that, in many cases, “twenty days” or “four weeks” of notice actually means a notice published once a week for four weeks (i.e., just four times) in a medium that has a shelf-life of one day.

By contrast, public notice on the internet as part of Missouri Case.net would have a world-wide reach. Not only would links from government and other sites quickly guide interested persons to public notices (which could be organized and searched by name, county, type of legal action, etc.), but iPhone applications and similar services could also directly notify companies and individuals of legal proceedings in which they have an identifiable interest. In addition, four weeks of notice would literally exist for the entire four weeks, not just four days. The simple fact is that if you need to inform an individual who cannot be located or the public, the internet is a technology that is vastly superior to local print media.

With respect to costs, the advantage of public notice posted by the clerk’s office on the internet is even greater. Our current system can cost one party thousands of dollars if public notice is required, and all of that money goes to the private companies that publish newspapers. Online notice from the clerk’s office, by contrast, should be feasible for much less than one hundred dollars, and all of the funds could be retained by the judiciary to reduce other legal costs. At times when people are struggling economically and when governments are strapped with deficits, it is inexcusable to continue procedures that make our legal system more expensive and more difficult to use than necessary.

While an immediate and total cessation of all newspaper notice is not ideal, we need to begin considering how to adapt our statutes and rules for public notice to the realities of the twenty-first century.

Thomas K. Riley