Must you appear in court

February 2, 2007

I just received a subpoena. It says "Issued by the United States District Court," but it's signed by an attorney, not a judge. Do I have to appear?

Q: I just received a subpoena. It says "Issued by the United States District Court," but it's signed by an attorney, not a judge. Do I have to appear?

A: Probably. If the subpoena was properly served and meets all the court's rules, you have to appear even though it was not signed by a judge. In many states, subpoenas are commonly signed by a lawyer without any court involvement.

Nevertheless, before you go to court, call the lawyer who issued the subpoena to find out what he wants. If all he needs is your records-say, for a slip-and-fall case where you treated the plaintiff-you can provide them without appearing.

One caveat: If the case involves a suit against you, any communication demanding your appearance or records should have been sent to your lawyer, not to you personally. So, if you are party to this litigation, don't speak with the lawyer who issued the subpoena. Notify your own attorney.