Objecting to Civil Discovery
Medical care practitioners frequently receive questionable discovery requests, especially subpoenas for medical records. These should not honored unless they include a signed release from the patient. If there is no release, the health care practitioner should contact his or her attorney to review the request. In institutional settings, all discovery requests should be sent to the institution’s attorney. If the subpoena is improper, the attorney can ask the judge to cancel it. The judge may quash it—rule that the request need not be complied with—or, more commonly, modify the request to limit the information that is provided. If the request is from a law enforcement agency, the medical care practitioner should contact an attorney at once.
Since the latitude for discovery is very broad, judges will generally grant most requests that do not involve privileged information or unnecessary access to information about uninvolved third parties. The trial judge controls the discovery in a case through the discretion granted in the rules of procedure for the court’s jurisdiction. In theory the judge should be involved in discovery only in the rare situation of a request for information that is not admissible and has no chance of leading to admissible information. Traditionally, defense attorneys would contest every discovery order to inconvenience the opposition and delay the trial. The federal courts and most states now try to limit this dilatory practice, but this has problems as well because it can be difficult to ensure that a case has been thoroughly investigated when the judge is pushing the case to trial.