Subpoena the White House

Chicago newspapers have been abuzz with details of the federal court trial of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. His lawyers said they'd subpoena President Obama to appear at the trial to give testimony. Many attorneys are skeptical the President would be required to attend the trial.

Don't Ignore a Subpoena

If properly prepared and properly issued, a subpoena is essentially a command to personally appear in court or to give a deposition. If you receive one, don't ignore it. If you aren't sure whether it's legitimate, call the attorney or the court whose name and phone number appear on the document.

A specific date, time and location is listed on the subpoena. There also might be instructions about what documents you must bring. It's best to call the attorney or court listed if your personal circumstances make it impossible for you to appear at the proceeding on the date given. Often, an different date or time can be arranged.

If you ignore the subpoena, you could be found in contempt of court and you could be arrested.

Subpoena of a President

Former Governor Blagojevich's lawyers declared they'd be requiring the President to appear as a witness at the trial underway at the federal courthouse in downtown Chicago. But whether that happens is the judge's decision.

In the case of President Obama, or virtually any other head of state from the US or abroad, national security concerns will likely be offered as the reason why he shouldn't be required to testify.

There are some exceptions though, such as when President Clinton was being sued by Paula Jones. Because Clinton was a party to the case, a much stronger reason existed to require him to give his deposition. President Ronald Reagan also gave a deposition in the arms-for-hostages case, which ultimately led to criminal charges being brought against one of those involved.

Court Decisions on Subpoenas

If a person protests that a subpoena shouldn't be enforced, they can ask the judge to "quash" the subpoena, or declare it invalid. Some reasons could be the subpoena hasn't been delivered to you by the required method or within a reasonable time in advance.

Circumstances might have changed since the time the judge or attorney gave the go-ahead for the subpoena to be issued. Perhaps it shouldn't be honored. For example, if the subpoena is a trial subpoena, it requires you to come and give testimony at a trial, but the trial is cancelled, you don't have to go to the courthouse. If you receive a deposition subpoena but the case gets thrown out or is settled by the date you're supposed to appear, you don't have to give your deposition.

A subpoena is invalid if a court or attorney in a case issues it from a different state than where you live or work. A court in one state doesn't have subpoena power over someone in another state. The attorney would need to open a court case in the state where you live or work to get that state court's permission for the subpoena to be issued for you to appear.

Don't ignore any court document whether it's a jury selection notice, summons or subpoena. Be sure to talk a lawyer if you have any questions to understand your need to comply and any consequences if you don't.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • Do other countries use documents such as subpoenas? Do I have to comply with it if served?
  • Is anyone exempt from getting a subpoena?
  • What happens if Obama can't or won't testify?
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