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How to Respond to a Texas Civil Subpoena
What is a subpoena?
A subpoena is a court order that commands a person or entity to give testimony at a deposition, hearing, or trial AND/OR produce something tangible such as documents at a requested place and time. The person or entity is NOT a party to the case.
There are two types of subpoenas in civil cases: discovery subpoenas and trial subpoenas. A discovery subpoena is used to secure testimony and/or tangible evidence (usually documents) for the purpose of conducting pre-trial discovery. A trial subpoena is used to command a person to testify or produce tangible evidence (usually documents) at a hearing or trial.
What is my duty to respond to a subpoena?
If you receive a subpoena from a Texas state court you MUST respond to it with either compliance, formal objection, or a request for modification. If you fail to respond without an adequate excuse, you may be held in contempt of court and may be fined, put in jail, or both. As such, civil subpoenas must never ignored!
How do I respond to a subpoena?
How a person responds to a subpoena varies from case-to-case but there are some procedural steps that all respondents should take to ensure compliance with Texas law. They are as follows:
1.) Don’t Panic.
Don’t panic, you’re not in trouble and you’re not being sued. In fact, you’re not even a party to a case. A subpoena is simply a method by which lawyers gather evidence for a case. A lawyer representing someone in a civil case will “issue” a subpoena to obtain a person’s testimony or to obtain tangible evidence such as documents in that person’s possession. For example, a plaintiff’s attorney in a car accident case may need the testimony of a witness who saw the accident happen to prove the defendant was at fault. In this case, the lawyer would issue a subpoena to command the witness to provide his testimony at a deposition, hearing, or trial.
Responding to a subpoena is usually simple, inexpensive, and not time consuming. However, if there is an issue as to whether you can or should provide what is requested (ex. privileged or confidential information is requested), things get a bit more complicated and a lawyer may be needed.
2.) Contact the issuing attorney.
The attorney who sent you the subpoena is called the “issuing attorney”. The best practice is to contact the issuing attorney as soon as you receive the subpoena. Before calling, read the subpoena carefully and draft a list of questions for the attorney. Even if there is no confusion on your part, you should contact the issuing attorney and confirm that your understanding of what is required is in fact correct. He or she will be more than willing to answer any questions you may have.
3.) Determine response options.
There are many grounds upon which you can contest a subpoena, each with its own method—objection, motion to quash, motion to modify, and motion for court protection. The most common grounds include improper service, privileged information, confidential materials, and self-incrimination.
The method used to contest a subpoena also depends on whether it is a discovery subpoena or a trial subpoena. If you were issued a discovery subpoena, all objections, motions to quash, motions to modify, and motions for court protection must be made in writing before the time specified for compliance. If you were issued a trial subpoena, all objections and motions for protection are made at the time and place specified in the subpoena.
If you intend to contest a subpoena the safest practice is to hire an attorney. An attorney will know which grounds of contestation apply to your situation and will utilize the proper method to do so.
The information in this article is for general information purposes only. Nothing on this or associated pages, comments, answers, or other communications should be taken as legal advice. The information provided is not intended to create, and viewing of this information does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.
- Answering the Call: Responding to a Texas Civil Subpoena
TYLA created this guide to assist Texas lawyers in advising their clients about what subpoenas are, their duty to respond, and how best to respond to a subpoena issued to them by a Texas state or federal civil court.