What's three pages in length, can be served on anyone in the United States and walks around with the power of the federal judiciary? Oh, and attorneys can shoot them out like bullets? Why, a federal subpoena of course and if you're the lucky recipient of a subpoena, or you could be in the future, read along friend because they're dangerous buggers.
A subpoena issued in a civil case typically has one of three goals or some combination of three being to obtain from a person or entity not a party in a lawsuit documents, a deposition (that's testimony under oath before a stenographer) and/or an inspection of something, like a vessel. In the federal legal system, Rule 45 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure speaks to the how and who of issuing subpoenas and specifically empowers attorneys to issue subpoenas. They're lots of bits and pieces to getting an enforceable subpoena out the door and if you're holding a subpoena, here are some observations you might want to chew over with your maritime attorney.
Understand one thing, though, upon receiving a subpoena, a call to your maritime attorney should be the first thing you do because once service is made the big wheels of the timer by which you have to take certain actions start spinning and delay can really prejudice your position. That is, failing to respond to a subpoena can result in you waiving certain objections and/or being found in contempt of court. So after that telephone call (and sending a copy of the subpoena to your counsel), review the court from which the subpoena issues and compare it to where you're located. If it's a subpoena for a deposition, compare where the deposition location is with your location. Are you located within the issuing court's district, or, are you within 100 miles of the deposition site? If not, the subpoena could be fatally flawed. If you're holding a subpoena seeking documents take a look at the time by which you have to respond. The Federal Rules require you have a reasonable time to respond and in some instances a response time of less than fourteen days may give you a basis to object. Does the subpoena properly identify you? Will responding to the subpoena impose an undue burden or expense? Is what the subpoena seeks privileged or protected? Consider these latter questions because they may afford your maritime attorney a basis to move to quash (meaning to cancel) or modify the subpoena.
Remember though, just like not many of us like to guess whether there's a round in the chamber, don't reach your own conclusions as to the enforceability of a subpoena and always seek legal counsel.
Holding a subpoena? Speak to our experienced admiralty counsel to learn your rights at 1-800-383-MAYDAY (6293)
By John Fulweiler