A subpoena is a written order of the court requiring information on a particular topic. The information may be provided in writing or in person at a deposition, hearing, or trial. It is important to read the entire subpoena to understand what is being asked of you. If you need help understanding what the subpoena is requesting, you can always contact the attorney who issued it to understand.
Subpoenas can be issued by parties in the lawsuit or government officials in civil cases. For example, the Attorney General can issue a subpoena for records when it is investigating a company. When the Attorney General issues a subpoena, it does not necessarily mean there is an underlying lawsuit.
Subpoenas in civil lawsuits are governed by Civ. R. 45, which states, in the relevant part:
- Every subpoena shall do all of the following:
- State the name of the court from which it is issued, the title of the action, and the case number;
- Command each person to whom it is directed, at a time and place specified in the subpoena to:
- Attend and give testimony at a trial or hearing at any place within this state;
- Attend and give testimony at a deposition in the county where the deponent resides or is employed or transacts business in person, or at such other convenient place as is fixed by an order of court;
- Produce documents, electronically stored information, or tangible things at a trial, hearing or deposition;
- Produce and permit inspection and copy of any designated documents or electronically stored information that are in the possession, custody, or control of the person;
- Produce and permit inspection and copying, testing, or sampling of any tangible things that are in the possession, custody, or control of the person; or
- Permit entry upon designated land or other property that is in the possession or control of the person for the purposes described in Civ.R. 24(A)(3).
The rule clarifies that a subpoena is only issued to a non-party to the litigation.
When a subpoena is issued in a civil action, it must be served (aka shared) with all of the parties named in the litigation. This avoids “surprises” or one party gathering information without notice to the other party.
A subpoena can be served by a sheriff, bailiff, coroner, clerk of court, constable, process server, or any attorney at law as long as they are 18 years or older! Subpoenas are served by hand delivering it to the person, reading it to the person, leaving it at their usual residence, or sending it to them via certified mail (signature required) or express mail when a return receipt is required.
A person responding to the subpoena for records must only produce them in the usual manner they are maintained (i.e. if only electronically maintained, there is no requirement to print). If the documents requested would cause the respondent an undue burden or expense, the respondent may ask the court for a protective order explaining their burden and expense. If good cause is shown, the Court may limit the scope of documentation to be produced or excuse the party from responding entirely.
If a respondent fails to obey the subpoena, they can be found in contempt of court!