First, a disclaimer. While I am an attorney, I may or may not be YOUR attorney. Keep these helpful tips in mind should you ever find yourself being served with a subpoena. Then call your legal counselor.
You may know your business like the back of your hand, but would be lost if you were ever served with legal documents. In today’s challenging economy, more and more businesses are finding themselves in legal battles with former partners, parent companies, former clients and even employees.
Sometimes a party in a lawsuit or trial needs witnesses and evidence from persons not a part of the litigation. To get this evidence, the litigating party issues a subpoena.
A subpoena is a court order that requires either the production of documents and things or the presentation of a witness for testimony at a deposition, a hearing, or trial. You are being required by the court to provide these at a specified time and place.
The subpoena may be served upon you in your individual capacity, or it could be served upon you as a representative of your business. Your attorney will be able to advise you as to how best to respond to these two very different types of subpoenas.
Keep in mind that a subpoena doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. However, you must do what the subpoena asks of you or risk fines (or even jail time) for contempt of court.
If you ever receive a subpoena, it will be delivered by a representative of the court or a process server. Before he or she leaves you, make sure that A) the subpoena is actually intended for you and not someone with a similar name and B) you understand what is being required of you. If you receive a subpoena in any other manner, for instance, by mail, contact your attorney to determine if the subpoena was legally served upon you.
As soon as you receive the subpoena, you should take certain steps to protect your interests. First, be sure to preserve all documents related to the subject matter of the subpoena so that you will not risk being charged with obstruction of justice. This may include making adjustments to your computer system to prevent automatic deletions of emails and files and automatic over-writing of other electronic information. Find a lawyer and speak only to him or her about the subpoena. Do not confide in friends or contact others who may be in the same situation, since they may be cooperating with the authorities and could end up testifying in court against you.
While the judicial system is designed to protect people, be aware that the system is adversarial in nature. The court will not take pity on your work or vacation schedule. If you receive a subpoena, you should plan on appearing when and where you are told to do so.
And of course, you should call an attorney if you receive a subpoena. They can help you understand what is being asked of you and help you navigate the process.
Sarah E. Harmon is an attorney with Bailey Kennedy, Attorneys At Law. Her firm focuses primarily in litigation, healthcare law and administrative law. Contact Sarah at [email protected] or by phone at 702-562-8820.