In Burn After Reading, I have been confused by a scene:

  • Osbourne Cox is met by a man, who gives him a letter and tells him "witnessed and served" and Osbourne's friend goes "Whoops".

Who witnesses what? Who serves whom? What does who serve?

Here is the YouTube of the scene:

1 Answer 1


A process server gave him a summons to appear in court to give testimony. Once done, the person served no longer has a an excuse to not attend court. If he doesn't, the judge may take more active measures.

When a judge summons you to court to give testimony, it's not a request. Some of the popular lame explanations for ignoring a judge is to say that you didn't get the letter, or that you didn't receive the summons for whatever reason. Much of the time, it's an evasion tactic to not appear before a judge. The workaround is that you get served. A process server will find you, identify that it is in fact you, and then he will hand you the summons. He will usually say "You have been served". In order to make sure that the summons cannot be contested, a witness is involved (I do not think that is a requirement however).

If the person being summoned is aware that a judge is looking for him to give testimony, he may make himself hard to find. He may identify himself the wrong way on purpose. He may refuse to put out his hand for any reason. Process servers may use various tactics to entice these people to identify themselves and accept what is handed to them. Once done, the process server usually leaves as there is no reason to stay and no reason to invite an angry retaliation.

  • 5
    In the context of the movie, Osborne Cox's wife wants to divorce him; so this is presumably a notice of divorce proceedings that he's been served with. Oct 4, 2016 at 18:15
  • 2
    It might have been more useful to include in your answer the fact that here, circumstances(he was not to be found in his own house) might have created a robust impression in the mind of the server that what is mentioned in the last para of your answer, was indeed the case.
    – amsquareb
    Oct 5, 2019 at 8:30

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