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How to Object to Subpoenas for Financial Information

March 21, 2024


How to Object to Subpoenas for Financial Information

Getting a subpoena for your financial records can be scary. You may worry about your privacy, or what the information might be used for. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your rights. This article explains how subpoenas work, your options for objecting, and some key strategies to consider.

What is a subpoena?

A subpoena is a legal demand for information. It requires you to provide documents, or testify at a deposition or hearing. Subpoenas are used in both civil lawsuits and criminal cases.

For financial information, subpoenas usually go to banks, credit card companies, or other institutions. But sometimes you’ll get one directly. This happens if you’re a party to a lawsuit, or if there’s no other way for the other side to get the information.

Should I just ignore it?

No! Ignoring a subpoena can lead to court sanctions. Those can include fines or even jail time for contempt of court.

You don’t have to comply right away, though. The law gives you time to file objections if you have them. Keep reading to learn more.

When can I object?

You typically have 14 days after being served to object to a subpoena. But read it carefully, because deadlines vary. You want to object on time, so don’t miss the deadline.

If it’s less than 14 days, call a lawyer immediately. You may be able to get the court to delay compliance while you work on objections. But don’t wait! You have to act fast if the deadline is short.

How do I object?

First, make written objections and give them to the party who subpoenaed you (the requester). This puts them on notice about your issues.

Next, file a motion to quash or modify the subpoena. This asks the court to block or change the subpoena. Make your strongest arguments here. You can reuse objections from your written ones.

The requester can file a response. Then the court will decide whether to quash, modify, or uphold the subpoena.

What are good reasons to object?

There are many potential reasons, but some common ones include:

  • The subpoena seeks irrelevant information
  • It’s overbroad or unduly burdensome
  • The information is confidential/privileged
  • Producing it would violate your constitutional rights

Relevance is usually the best argument. If the subpoena asks for information that has nothing to do with the underlying case, the court will likely quash it.

Overbreadth is also useful. The court can modify the subpoena to narrow it. This gives you less to produce.

How do I argue relevance?

Explain why the requested information won’t help the underlying case. For example:

“This is a car accident lawsuit. My bank records from 5 years ago won’t show whether Defendant ran the red light. The subpoena should be quashed because that information is irrelevant.”

Reference the complaint so the judge understands the case issues. Contrast your financial information with those issues to show the lack of relevance.

When is a subpoena overbroad?

Scope is important. The subpoena should only ask for information directly related to the claims and defenses in the lawsuit. If it goes beyond that, it’s overbroad.

Some examples:

  • Asking for all bank records when only certain accounts are at issue
  • No time limitation, so the date range is unlimited
  • Requests information on your family members or businesses who aren’t involved

Point out these problems. Explain how the requester could narrow the subpoena to solve them. The court may modify it rather than quashing outright.

What about privileged information?

Subpoenas can’t override certain privileges that protect information from disclosure. These include:

  • Attorney-client privilege
  • Doctor-patient privilege
  • Clergy-penitent privilege

If the subpoena encroaches on privileged communications, explain the nature of the privilege and why it applies. The court should quash requests for privileged information.

Can constitutional rights help?

Yes! The Constitution provides some arguments like:

  • First Amendment – Subpoenas for membership lists or donor information can violate freedom of association.
  • Fourth Amendment – Overbroad subpoenas violate protections against unreasonable searches/seizures.
  • Fifth Amendment – Subpoenas that might incriminate you violate the right against self-incrimination.

Explain how the subpoena infringes on your constitutional freedoms. The court must quash subpoenas that violate the Constitution.

Should I hire a lawyer?

That depends. If the subpoena is complex, or you lack time/confidence to handle it solo, get help. Lawyers know how to craft persuasive objections.

But for routine subpoenas, you may not need an attorney. Educate yourself using online resources, and file basic objections. See how it goes before deciding on a lawyer.

What if I can’t afford a lawyer?

Try legal aid organizations if you meet income limits. If not, some lawyers offer “unbundled services.” That means drafting just the objections for a flat fee, without taking over the whole case. Shop around to find one with experience on subpoenas.

Law students can also help through clinics at nearby law schools. Reach out to see if they’ll assist pro bono. It gives them experience!

Can I negotiate instead?

Yes. Contact the subpoenaing party and explain your concerns. See if they’ll withdraw it or modify the requests.

Reasonable parties may work with you if you have legitimate issues. Try negotiating before going to court. But if they won’t cooperate, you can still object.

What if I lose?

If the court denies your motion, you’ll likely have to comply. But request a protective order to keep the information confidential. Also move to seal any court filings with sensitive details.

For testimony, limit your answers. Don’t volunteer additional information. Answer only what’s asked.

You can also appeal the ruling if there are solid grounds to do so. Talk to a lawyer about your options.

In summary…

Getting a subpoena for financial information can be unsettling. But you have options like filing objections and negotiating. Consider hiring a lawyer if it’s complex or high-stakes. With the right strategies, you can protect your rights and limit what the other side gets.

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