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You Receive a Subpoena to Appear at Trial. What is the Penalty for Not Complying in a Civil Lawsuit Here in New York?

 

A:

First, a subpoena is an official looking court document that is delivered to the person whom we want to appear at trial.

That piece of paper tells you on what date and what time to appear.

It will tell you where to appear.

It has a caption at the top telling you what case this is and who the litigants are.

In the body of the subpoena it lists various penalties for not complying with the subpoena. 

It's actually a threatening document.

It basically says that you are hereby directed to appear at trial in this courthouse on a specific date and time.

If you fail to appear, you are subject to a penalty, usually not to exceed $50.

In addition, some subpoenas can threaten “Contempt of court,” for not appearing in court.

The actual monetary fine for failing to comply with a subpoena is really insignificant and carries very little bite.

However, the contempt of court threat is much more significant and can carry significant fines and penalties.

An attorney may try to compel an doctor into court to give testimony.

When the physician fails to show up after receiving a subpoena, the court may get on the telephone with the doctor's office and threaten all sorts of repercussions if the doctor fails to appear.

The court threat carries significant weight regardless of whether the threat is actually carried out.

The real purpose of compelling a witness to appear at trial is to give testimony either in favor of or against a particular party.

Since we live in a civilized society, we expect the citizens of our state to abide by the rule of law.

When a witness receives a call from a Judge of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, it is actually quite intimidating.

It becomes even more intimidating if that call is backed up by a threat that the witness will be placed in contempt of court for failing to appear.

Anecdotally, there have been instances where a Judge will threaten to send a Sheriff to the doctor's office to bring him (or her) into Court. [I have yet to see any Judge actually do that in a Civil lawsuit in New York.]

The entire goal is to coax a reluctant witness to appear in court and give testimony.

Whether that testimony will be favorable or hostile is an issue that can only be determined at the time that witness is questioned.

You should know that there are specific distinctions between a 'court ordered' or 'judicially ordered' subpoena compared to a subpoena that is simply signed by an attorney.

In situations where we need to obtain medical records from municipal hospitals or municipal agencies, the law requires us to have the court sign a subpoena and then deliver it to the hospital or agency so they can comply with our formal request.

The civil practice law and rules (CPLR) of New York permit an attorney, as an agent of the court, to sign a subpoena requesting records or to compel a person to appear at trial. That type of subpoena does not have the same type of judicial bite as one that is signed by a judge.

To learn even more about subpoenas in a civil case, I invite you to watch the quick video below...