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  • A SUBPOENA TO TESTIFY IN COURT MAY BE HANDLED MORE INFORMLLY

    This week’s question:
    I saw a very bad auto accident in San Jose about a year ago and now one of the attorneys has called me on the telephone to testify in court about it when the case comes up for trial. He said he could have me served with a subpoena to testify in court or I could just sign a paper to agree to be there. Is it possible to just sign a piece of paper to be there? That sounds too fishy to me.
    /s/Victor V.
    Almaden Valley

    Dear Victor:
    Although it may sound fishy for you to just sign a piece of paper to confirm that you will be in court for the trial, it is possible, Victor, for you to do just that.
    Let’s back up just a little bit. The surest way for the attorney to make sure that you will be there, so to speak, is by having you subpoenaed by a professional process server to be there on the day and at the time the trial is scheduled to begin.
    That document would ordinarily be called a “Civil Subpoena for Personal Appearance at Trial or Hearing”. Of course, it adds up in cost when all of the cost is considered, including paying the process server the proper fee for having it delivered to you personally, i.e., “served”.
    The Civil Subpoena for Personal Appearance at Trial or Hearing” would be issued in the name of the People of the State of California and it would have your name filled in one of the blank areas. It would set out the date and time to be at the courthouse, and, of course, the address of the courthouse. It would also state that you are entitled to the standard witness fee set by law plus mileage both ways.
    The Subpoena form would also state that assistive listening systems, computer-assisted real-time captioning, or sign language interpreter services are available if you ask at least 5 days before the date on which you are to appear.
    The subpoena form also states that it is OK to make an agreement with the issuer of the form to appear at a different time. This is especially nice so that you do not need to sit around the courthouse for hours or days at a time and wait until your turn comes up to testify.
    And, very importantly, the subpoena would state that if a disobedience of the subpoena occurs, you could be punished by contempt of court and liable for the sum of $500 and all damages resulting from your failure to obey.
    Personal delivery or “service of process” as described above is one way to do it, but it is usually OK for the attorney to send the civil subpoena to the person by U.S. mail.
    If the subpoena document is sent by U.S. mail, it would be accompanied by another court document called a “Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt—Civil”. This form would also have your name on it whereby you would be signing a receipt for the civil subpoena for personal appearance at the trial in question.
    The Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt would have your name typed on it near your signature so that the reader could verify that you actually signed it.
    You would then return the signed Notice and Acknowledgment of Receipt to the attorney’s office by U.S. mail. He or she would then have that document filed at the courthouse. The effect of that filing would be that “service” or delivery of the civil subpoena for your personal appearance would be complete, i.e. just as effective as if you had been served personally by a process server.
    You can see that the “mail service” is attractive to the attorney since it saves the cost of a process server while being just as effective in most situations.
    If you are curious as to what those two forms look like, go online with your favorite search engine and enter “California Superior Court Forms” or something close to that, followed by the name of the form.
    This does not guarantee that any form of “service of process” is always 100% effective, of course, Victor. But it is one way to possibly economize a bit to save expense.
    /s/ Donald J. DeVries
    Almaden Valley

    You can reach Mr. DeVries with your questions by email at don@almadenvalleylawyers.com, with “Almaden Times” in the subject line, fax at (408)268-6502, telephone at (408)268-9500, or mail at DeVries Law Office at 6475 Camden Avenue, Suite 200, San Jose, CA 95120. Your name will not be used. No attorney-client relationship is created by these articles.

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