Court rules don't necessarily protect non-party citizens whose records are sought in federal civil litigation

By The Madison County Record | Apr 3, 2014

Citizens whose telephone records turn into evidence for federal civil suits involving other people may not know about it and can’t do much about it if they do know.

They can challenge subpoenas that phone companies receive, if the companies elect to notify them, but they must move at lightning speed.

Depending upon the scope of the requests, it may be difficult to challenge the subpoena even if the citizen has notice that it was issued.

Court rules that protect those who receive subpoenas don’t necessarily protect phone owners like the editor of this newspaper, whose phone company received a subpoena for seven years of her cellular phone records.

She received a notice of the subpoena from AT&T, though AT&T stated in its letter that no law requires a notice.

AT&T advised that if she had questions or wanted to quash the subpoena, she should call the Chicago lawyer who signed it. It gave his number.

Just as AT&T didn’t have to tell its customer it received a subpoena, the Chicago lawyer didn’t have to tell Chief District Judge David Herndon that he would serve it.

A subpoena in a federal civil suit does not require a judge’s signature, so a lawyer authorized to practice in that court can sign and serve a subpoena.

Federal courts provide blank subpoena forms on hand for use by lawyers who ask for them.

The rules for subpoenas contain only one provision for a person affected by a subpoena that someone else received.

The provision allows a judge to quash a subpoena if, for example, the affected person shows it would reveal a trade secret, confidential research or commercial matter, or would require the affected person to incur substantial expense to travel to attend a trial.

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