The subpoena is an important mechanism in the U.S. legal system as it serves as a court order for the individual receiving it. Being served with a subpoena does not necessarily mean you are directly involved with a criminal or civil lawsuit. However, when valid, a subpoena does require that you provide information that an attorney deems relevant to an investigation or pending case as part of the litigation process. Subpoenas are most commonly used to obtain records such as business invoices, reports, contracts, or board meeting minutes. They cannot be used to acquire privileged materials, such as communication between you and your attorney, or records that require a higher for collection, including cell phone records, voicemail, and emails.

While a subpoena is typically full of legalese that can spark confusion and headache, receipt of this document does not need to be a cause for concern. Instead, it is imperative to understand your rights as well as your responsibilities upon receiving a subpoena. If you have received a subpoena and are concerned about what your next steps should be, follow these important guidelines.

Understand the Type

Generally, three types of subpoenas exist, each requiring one of the following:

  • Produce documents or records pertinent to a case or lawsuit
  • Appear in person and testify
  • Both document or record production and a personal appearance

To determine which type of subpoena you have received, it may require you to read through the entire document. While some subpoenas explicitly state what information or action is being requested of the recipient, others are not nearly as clear. In either situation, the document received should provide enough information for you to determine what is being asked of you.

Depending on the nature of the subpoena, you may also be asked to produce electronically stored information(“ESI”) like emails or other electronic versions of documents such as spreadsheets.  It is imperative that you immediately determine the scope of ESI requested as compliance with the subpoena may require utilization of outside vendors to insure that servers and email accounts are properly culled.  This could cost literally thousands of dollars in some cases and depending on the situation the party seeking the information should be responsible for any extraordinary costs involved in compliance with the subpoena.  It is critical that you immediately assess the nature of the information requested by the subpoena, the cost of compliance and the allocation of that cost.

Contact an Attorney

After understanding what a subpoena is requiring of you, it would be beneficial to contact an attorney experienced in civil or criminal litigation. Because subpoenas are such a common tool in the legal world, an attorney will be able to assist you in understanding a number of factors pertaining to the subpoena. For example, a litigation attorney will know whether or not a subpoena is valid based on who issued the document and from what location. Additionally, a legal professional with experience in litigation can help determine if what is being asked of you is falls within the scope of the subpoena or if the request demands a higher standard of collection. Keep in mind that speaking with an attorney upon receipt of a subpoena may also provide you with peace of mind, and will ensure you do not provide unnecessary information.

Do not Ignore It

Receipt of a subpoena should never be ignored. As part of the litigation process, failure to respond to (or appear for) a subpoena is a violation that may result in a contempt of court charge. Individuals who fail to comply with a valid subpoena may face fines, imprisonment, or both until the document or testimony requested is produced.

Litigation Attorneys in Milwaukee, Wisconsin | Kerkman Wagner & Dunn

At Kerkman Wagner & Dunn, we understand the in-depth process of litigation, and our experienced attorneys take pride in handling each aspect of a case with a common-sense approach and personalized service. While every lawsuit and legal proceeding is different, we ensure our clients are prepared for what’s to come, and are informed and educated about their rights and responsibilities throughout the process. If you have been served with a subpoena and have questions about what is being asked of you, do not hesitate to contact us today.

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