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What Happens if I Do Not Answer a Subpoena?

It is very important that you do something when you receive a subpoena. If you do nothing, you have disobeyed a court order and can be found in contempt of court.

If you have a problem with complying with the subpoena, you must notify the party or lawyer who served you about your problem. This must be done by objecting to the subpoena promptly. If you object, you will not have to produce the information unless the person seeking the information files a motion with the court asking it to enforce the subpoena and the court orders you to comply.

If compliance with the subpoena imposes an undue burden, requires you to travel more than 100 miles, doesn't give you enough time to respond, or requires disclosure of privileged or confidential information, you must ask the court for assistance. You do this by filing a motion to quash. In some cases, the court may change the subpoena to protect you better when you respond to it. Filing a motion to quash also should be done right away.

If you do not comply, object, or file a motion to quash you may be found in contempt of court. A finding of contempt may subject you to a fine, or require you to pay damages to the party seeking the information, and you may have to pay that person's lawyer's fees. The court has a lot of discretion in this area; if the court sees you as a pain in the neck, you'll feel it in the sanction.

What happens if by responding to the subpoena as it is currently written, you will be disclosing privileged or confidential information? You may have your own duty, imposed by the law or a contract, not to disclose the information.

When a subpoena requires disclosure of privileged or confidential information, you may ask the court to quash it. The party or lawyer who subpoenaed you may resist by saying that some legal exception requires disclosure, or that you waived your privilege to keep the information confidential. A waiver can occur when you do some act that compromises the privileged or confidential nature of the information, such as talking about it in public or failing to protect the documents' confidentiality.

If the court concludes that the information is privileged or confidential, but is nevertheless relevant in the lawsuit, the court may modify the subpoena by building in protections against further disclosure, such as a confidentiality agreement.

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