'You've been served': Order about unpaid bill tossed at GOP candidate for Calif. governor at debate

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A process server interrupted California's gubernatorial debate Tuesday night, throwing papers at a GOP candidate who's been ordered to pay nearly $100,000 to a consultant for work from 2018.

The odd scene unfolded at the Guild Theater in Sacramento as Republicans faced off in the race to unseat Gov. Gavin Newsom in next month's recall election.

As the debate began and San Diego businessman John Cox was introducing himself, private investigator Aman Choudhry walked to the stage, tossed papers at the candidate's feet and shouted: "John Cox, you've been served; San Diego Superior Court order by the judge."

A San Diego judge has ordered Cox to pay $97,587.43 to Sandler-Innocenzi, an Alexandria, Virginia, company that makes political ads.

The judgement stems from an original $55,000 bill that Cox's campaign didn't pay Sandler-Innocenzi for television spots it produced for his 2018 gubernatorial run, founding partner Jim Innocenzi told NBC News on Wednesday.

Cox was the GOP candidate for governor in 2018 and Newsom easily carried deep blue California by about 3 million votes, or about 61.9 percent to 38.1 percent.

The papers served Tuesday were orders for Cox to show up at a debtors exam so Sandler-Innocenzi's attorneys can question the judgement debtor about his assets.

"(Cox) used the work, (Cox) benefitted from these commercials running on TV," said Innocenzi, adding that the money looking to be recouped are production costs he fronted.

"The original $55,000 was for all of these vendors, people we hired out of California, hard-working Californians, the same people John Cox said he was running to protect because they'd been ignored by the special interests. So he ignored them too, he just stiffed them."

With ongoing interest and legal fees, the bill is now inching toward $150,000, according to Innocenzi.

Choudhry said he arrived at the Guild Theater an hour ahead of the debate and walked around the building in hopes of reaching Cox before he took the stage. But once the debate started, the private investigator said he had no other choice.

"My goal was just to get him served, that's all I was concerned with," Choudhry told NBC News. "I didn't care if it was going to be in public or private. This guy has been avoiding (service), he's been ducking and dodging everybody."

Cox's lawyer and a campaign representative could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

Earlier this year, a campaign spokesman acknowledged the judgement but said Cox believes invoices submitted by Sandler-Innocenzi were late and too costly.

“There is a dispute over questionable, exorbitant fees to the campaign,” a spokesman told the Los Angeles Times.

Cox is considered to be in the upper tier of 46 candidates who hope to replace Newsom if Golden State voters remove him from office on Sept. 14.

The challenger has staged an unconventional campaign, employing a 1,000-pound Kodiak bear and an 8-foot-tall ball of trash to get his message out.

Cox, 66, has cast himself as “the beast” and has repeatedly labeled Newsom a “pretty boy.” The ball of trash is supposed to symbolize the state's ongoing struggle with homelessness.

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