“Orleans Parish prosecutors are using fake subpoenas”

Seems incredible: the district attorney’s office in the county-equivalent that includes New Orleans sends out bogus subpoenas not actually cleared with a judge ordering witnesses to appear for investigations. A spokesman says it’s been done for decades. Following press inquiries, “the District Attorney’s Office has said the practice will end.” [The Lens (New Orleans)]


  • And yet this would be completely fine for civil proceedings. As I explain to my foreign colleagues, any idiot in the country with a law degree and lawsuit can issue a subpoena to anyone whether they have a connection to the suit or not — and they do just that.

    • I tend to doubt that your civil subpoenas carry the following warning which was on the Orleans DA’s subpoenas.


  • Our civil subpoenas warn that you may be punished for contempt and liable for $500 and the damages caused by disobeying. However, they can also only require someone’s appearance for certain types of proceedings. An unreported conversation with one side’s attorney is not one of those.

  • Subpoenas are an odd and vestigial creature of the law. Corp counsel is right that any idiot lawyer can issue one, and does. Even the most “proper” of subpoenas are completely lawyer/litigant-driven: there are regulations, and fees to be paid, and service to be had, but in the end, no judge is to be found anywhere in the process.

    So a subpoena is really just a scary, official-looking piece of paper that a lawyer uses as an information-gathering tool. Other lawyers know you can move to quash them, and that happens.

    Most of the time, however, the issuance of a subpoena can set up judicial intervention. Example: I subpoena documents. They aren’t delivered. So I make a motion to the judge for enforcement of the subpoena. And if the judge agrees, that’s when fines, imprisonment or other sanctions can really kick in.

    I could simply request them by informal e-mail, letter or phone call, but people don’t usually take that seriously, as the DA in New Orleans has discovered.

    And, often, parties ascribe magic to subpoenas: an institution won’t provide documents “without a subpoena”, because this apparently provides a legal fig leaf in the event a challenge hits, like a HIPAA violation, another lawsuit, etc.

    • “Subpoenas are an odd and vestigial creature of the law. Corp counsel is right that any idiot lawyer can issue one, and does.”

      Sure, for civil subpoenas. However, as with many other areas of trial procedure, it works differently in criminal cases.