A subpoena (pronounced "suh-pee-nuh") is a court-issued document that forces individuals or businesses to take certain actions. Typically, a subpoena is issued by a licensed lawyer on behalf of a court and formally served in person by a certified process server. Often times, a subpoena is issued to a non-party in the context of a civil lawsuit. A subpoena may require a non-party to show up to court or at a deposition to provide sworn testimony. A subpoena may also require a non-party to produce documents. In either event, the non-party receiving the subpoena should not ignore it. The failure to respond (or respond properly) to a subpoena may result punishment (such as a fine or worse, jail time) imposed by the court from which it is issued.
If you've been served with a subpoena, you should take the following steps:
- Determine the deadline or date for your appearance or the production of documents. If you cannot meet the deadline or appear on the selected date, contact the lawyer who issued the subpoena and inquire about an extension of time to comply.
- Determine what, specifically, is requested in the subpoena and the purpose of the request. Have you been requested to provide sworn testimony or to produce documents? Either way, it is important to determine the nature and scope of the request. Even though subpoenas are commonly used simply to gather information from a non-party, it is also possible that the evidence is sought for purposes of establishing liability or fault on behalf of the non-party served with the subpoena. You should carefully consider whether, and to what extent, the testimony or documents are relevant and necessary to resolution of the subject matter of the civil lawsuit. You should also carefully consider whether, and to what extent, your testimony or any documents provided may be used to establish liability or fault against you. The parties in the civil lawsuit do not represent your interests, and it may very well benefit one or more for the parties to the civil lawsuit to attempt to shift blame to you.
- Seriously consider contacting a lawyer to help you respond to the subpoena. A lawyer will look out for your best interests to ensure that the scope of evidence sought by the subpoena is reasonable and necessary in the context of the civil lawsuit, and most importantly, whether it appears that the evidence sought may be used against you to establish liability or fault. For example, it is not uncommon for subpoenas that seek documents to contain overbroad or burdensome requests that may be legally objectionable. A lawyer will be able to file appropriate court documents on your behalf to potentially limit the scope of the subpoena. A lawyer will also be able to prepare you for the process of providing sworn testimony, and help you anticipate the type of questions that may be asked (and determine why those questions may be asked). Finally, the lawyer will appear with you at your deposition and may interpose appropriate objections on your behalf if the questions asked are confusing or unreasonable under the circumstances.
If you have been served with a subpoena, don't ignore it and take it for granted. Over the past 15 years, Joel Ewusiak has assisted individuals and businesses who have been served with non-party subpoenas for documents and/or for sworn testimony. You may contact Joel for assistance via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or via phone (727.286.3559).