Subpoenas are written orders requiring that a person or documents be brought to a certain place at a certain time. Subpoenas are issued under the authority of the court, although in most situations they do not need to be approved by a judge. Subpoenas may be issued to any person; they are not restricted to the parties in the lawsuit. Subpoenas may be used to ensure the attendance of a person at a court hearing or a deposition. These subpoenas must specify the place the person is to appear and a time to appear. Subpoenas used at trials may require a person to appear at a set time, or they may request that the person be available to testify during the course of the trial. If the subpoena is not for a specified time, the judge usually makes arrangements to give the subpoenaed person adequate notice of the time when he or she is actually needed at the courthouse. In most cases, the judge will also accommodate the person’s schedule as much as possible. The courts show particular deference to physicians who request a reasonable accommodation. Conversely, ignoring a subpoena, especially one to testify at a trial, can result in the refusing party’s being taken into custody (arrested) and brought to the trial at the judge’s convenience.
A medical care practitioner who is not a party to a lawsuit and who receives an unexpected personal subpoena should talk to the attorney who sent it to find out what he or she is being summoned to and why the testimony is necessary. He or she should discuss rescheduling the appearance if it is unduly burdensome. If agreements are made, the attorney must be asked to reissue the subpoena in accordance with the changes. The attorney may also agree to withdraw the subpoena and reach an informal agreement as to the time and place of the physician’s appearance. The medical care practitioner should request that this informal agreement be confirmed in writing and sent to him or her at once.