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A subpoena is an order issued by a court requiring a witness who is not a party to the case to either provide documents, or to appear in person at a certain place, date and time to testify about facts relevant to a matter before the court. A subpoena may be delivered (served) by an official designated by the court. Often service is done in person, by a deputy sheriff or process server, but there are other valid ways to serve a subpoena.

READ A SUBPOENA CAREFULLY. A subpoena will clearly indicate: the names of the parties; the date, time and place the witness will need to appear or deliver requested documents; the name of the lawyer who issued the subpoena; and the location and type of court in which the lawsuit is taking place. If the subpoena requires the witness to bring certain documents or other objects, they should be described in the subpoena or in a separate paper given along with the subpoena.

A subpoena is a court order and therefore if a witness does not appear or provide documents as ordered, s/he may be found in contempt of court. Though not common, contempt of court can result in a jail term and/or a requirement to pay compensation fees to parties damaged by the failed appearance. In addition, the court may issue a warrant for the arrest of a witness who fails to appear and, through law enforcement, compel appearance at the place where testimony is required.

It is important to remember that a subpoena is not an indication that the receiver has done anything wrong or broken any laws. A subpoena is simply a way of summoning a person who potentially has information about a case, so that the information they have can be made available for the legal proceedings.


If you are an employee of Portland State University and you receive a subpoena you must follow the procedures below:

  1. Do not provide any information in response to a subpoena until you have first contacted the Office of General Counsel.  If records or information relates to a student, FERPA requirements must be considered.

  2. Make note of the time and date you received the subpoena and how it was provided to you (i.e. hand delivered, mailed, faxed, etc.)

  3. Notify the Office of General Counsel IMMEDIATELY. Courts impose strict and often very tight deadlines for responding to subpoenas. Forward a copy of the subpoena to Annie Kirk, Executive Assistant to General Counsel, and contact her via email ( or phone (503-725-2656).

  4. Confirm with the Office of General Counsel that all subpoena-related communications have been received and understood so that necessary deadlines can be met.

The Office of General Counsel will work in partnership with you to ensure that all related laws are complied with and that you understand your obligations under the subpoena.


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Disclaimer: Materials presented are for general informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. An attorney should be consulted regarding the specific facts and circumstances associated with any legal matter. No warranties or representations are made as to the accuracy of any information presented here or at any of the websites to which a link is provided, and the inclusion of a link or reference is not intended to be or imply an endorsement. Any discrepancy between the information presented here and the official rules and policies of Portland State University is not intended to and does not alter or amend the official rules and policies.