Is This a Frivolous or Malicious Witness Subpoena?

I bought an old farmhouse in December 2015. It was an as-is cash purchase from an estate. I had a buyer’s agent, and since I was out of state, the transaction was done online. I viewed the house once prior to contract, and once again the morning of settlement. I did not have a formal inspection, because I assumed it needed complete renovation and my offer reflected that.

Okay, so I’ve been living in the property doing the renovations, and assorted relatives of the former owner keep appearing at my door asking questions about the sale. On three occasions, a woman came by when I wasn’t home and questioned my mother. The third time this happened, my mother was annoyed and told her she didn’t want to talk to her and to please stop coming around.

That was last week. Yesterday, another woman came by, again while I wasn’t home, and handed my mother a subpoena for me to appear as a witness for the woman I never met, who’d been questioning my mother. The subpoena asks for documents pertaining to the sale and photos of the property when I obtained possession.

All records of the sale are already in the file the estate executor filed with the court, and I don’t have any relevant photos. I never met or spoke to any of these people, except the executor at the settlement.

When I looked up the case in the court docket, I learned that the woman who issued the subpoena was originally a co-executor who was removed by court petition after she mingled estate assets with her own. She is listed as an “interested party” on the docket. This case has been ongoing since June 2014.

I understand that a subpoena compels me to appear with these documents, but what is the point? What value does this woman think I have as a witness? I have to take the day off from a job I just started, print out hard copies of these documents, and travel over an hour to the courthouse. If I am forced to do this, I will not be a friendly witness, that’s for sure.

Appreciate any ideas on how to proceed. Should I contact the attorneys involved? Is there anything I can say to them to get out of this? Do her visits to the house constitute harassment?

Has anyone ever been in a similar situation?

Thanks in advance for reading all this.

Sounds like she was caught trying to steal family property and is now trying to interfere in the (already closed) sale of the family property.

At some point you may end up needing court orders for protection against her/them to keep them off your property and stop them from harassing you.

I would guess that the woman is trying to show that the executor has mismanaged the estate. She probably wants to show that the house was sold to you for an unreasonably low price. She probably needs your pictures and testimony to establish the condition of the house in order to show it was worth more. Worst case, she might be trying to show that you and the executor made some sort of an improper deal, for example she gave you the house really cheap and you kicked back some money to her under the table.

You said the woman stopped coming around to see your mother after she told her to leave (except the visit to leave the subpoena). I don’t see how that would
constitute harassment.

You might want to consult a local attorney about whether you are entitled to witness fees and/or travel expenses.

You should talk to a lawyer. I assume she is calling the executor and maybe you’d want to contact that person.

This sounds like a homebrewed attempt to dig into the sale by a disgruntled relative. Subpoenas can be generated pretty easily even without an attorney. I would not produce a single document until you have talked to the settling attorney and the executor of the estate. You should have had some kind of legal entity representing your interests who processed the closing of the sale for you ie a settlement agency or attorney. This is who (were I you) I would go to first before you hire a separate attorney as they may be able to swat this down with little fuss.

As a side note if you bought title insurance you may (possibly) have some duty to inform the title insurance company as to what’s going on.

This would be excellent!

Assuming there was an attorney who handled the settlement, I would call him and get input. He may have little knowledge of the seller’s situation, however. You could also call the attorney who handled the estate, who does likely have knowledge of the family situation. He may or may not want to talk to you about it, as he is not representing you.

In the end, you should probably hire an attorney to represent your interests and give you advice. Pain in the rump, to be sure, but that’s what I would do if presented with a subpoena of any kind. He can tell you how to respond and how to minimize costs and inconveniences.

It’s entirely possible it’s neither. If she wants documents about the transaction, you are at least a reasonable party to seek documents from. It is very, very common for parties to subpoena all records from any party in a real estate transaction (and all their agents and the title company) if there’s a dispute about or involving a real estate transaction.

I don’t know what jurisdiction you might be located in, or what court this matter happens to be in (which can make a difference), but it sounds as though this might have been a subpoena for documents, rather than personal appearance. Those are different things. If it’s a subpoena for documents, it should say on it some version of “do not have to appear in person if documents are produced by X date”, which means you just have to ship a copy (it doesn’t even need to be a physical copy most of the time) to the person who subpoenaed you, which should also be on the document somewhere. If the subpoena was issued by an attorney their name will be on it somewhere - call them. If all they want is documents, they’ll tell you so and be happy to work with you on actually getting the documents they want.

If it’s the disgruntled former co-executor pro se (i.e. personally and not using an attorney), then you can call her, send her the documents she wants and refer her off to your real estate agent and the title company with the information that a) your mother, to whom she has previously spoken, wasn’t involved in the transaction and has no information and b) while you have some documents, you can’t swear you have them all (chances are you didn’t even receive them all - some of them just don’t affect you as the buyer, and you may or may not have fully signed copies of everything depending on how anal your agent was about sending you stuff) and she ought to contact your agent (provide your agent’s name) and the title company (provide their name too) and possibly the seller’s agent (if you recall their name), all of whom are probably obliged to keep complete records. In any case, call your real estate agent and the title company, inform them you have been subpoenaed by this fruit loop and tell them you’re referring her (and her lawyer if she has one) to them and have given her all docs.

You might also want to consult an attorney of your own - but I’d call title and your agent first. It’s entirely possible they have an attorney they’d recommend for you so you don’t have to pick blindly. It’s also worth noting that under certain circumstances, your agent and the title company might be obliged to provide you with defense or indemnification for the fruit loop’s claims and notifying them (and, by extension, their insurance carrier) would be a necessary first step. (Again, I couldn’t speculate on whether your circumstances are those circumstances, since I haven’t read the title insurance policy or your agency agreement and don’t know what jurisdiction you’re located in).

Can valid subpoenas be delivered to someone else other than the respondent?

That’s a good point.

I suspect the person who “served” you is trying a do-it-yourself fishing expedition.

Talk to the executor. Chances are non-zero that she is just a disgruntled nut.


I think I would make this bet as well. You need to find out her legal standing in this case.

I believe you can also ask the court to rescind (‘quash’?) a subpoena. But that too may require you hiring an attorney. You might call the court clerk and talk to them about this. Having filed for a protection order against her, or even a certified letter demanding that she stop trespassing on your property and bothering your mother might be persuasive to the court regarding this.

But it really appears that her harassment is aimed at the executor who sold you the property – you are just getting incidental harassment from her.

Boy, am I old fashioned. I always thought it took a court order to compel me to furnish witness or documents in a legal proceeding. Tell her you don’t want her on your property anymore, the next time she will be trespassing and follow thru with the sheriff if she returns.

Depends on the jurisdiction (says the person who is tasked with organizing adequate service of subpoenas as part of her job), but in many jurisdictions, personal service can be accomplished by leaving the document being served with any apparently competent individual at the address listed for service (which, for individuals, is their known dwelling).

The basic rule (in Arizona at least, which is the jurisdiction I have the most experience with) is:

“Service upon an individual from whom a waiver has not been obtained and filed, other than those specified in paragraphs (e), (f) and (g) of this Rule 4.1, shall be effected by delivering a copy of the summons and of the pleading to that individual personally or by leaving copies thereof at that individual’s dwelling house or usual place of abode with some person of suitable age and discretion then residing therein or by delivering a copy of the summons and of the pleading to an agent authorized by appointment or by law to receive service of process.” (It’s Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure Rule 4, generally, for reference).

Legal documents are quite often legally served on people other than the named party, for a variety of reasons. Even leaving aside the question of service of process on legal entities who are not human beings (businesses, governmental entities, etc.), the standard for adequate service is a lower bar than requiring the actual named person to be served. Granted, if the OP’s mother had refused the service - say, by informing them she didn’t live there or wasn’t authorized to accept service, the process server would have just tried again a few times and then asked for additional instructions. At that point, the person trying to get the OP served would have had to use an alternate service method - and there are several options available. None of them get her out of eventually having to just respond. It sort of becomes a question of who’s more motivated - the person avoiding service or the person who wants documents.

An issued subpoena is a Court order compelling the named person to furnish documents.

I will also point out that if someone bars a process server from their premises on the grounds of trespassing, they can simply request the local law enforcement to deliver the documents in their stead. They try to avoid it because it annoys the deputies/constables, but it is an available option.

Answer to the thread title: yeah, sure sounds like it is.

You should definitely touch base with whomever did the paperwork for the closing.

Please tell me you got owner’s title insurance! That’s separate from the lender’s title insurance you have to get if you’re getting a mortgage: lender’s title insurance just protects the lender’s interest, owner’s title insurance protects your assets.

If, somehow, the pest managed to get the sale overturned, owners’ insurance would make you whole, in theory.

Keep good records of all improvements you’ve made. If, say, you’ve put new siding on, the pest may try to claim the house was worth more because “hey, it had all brand-new siding on it before it sold!”.

You may want to consider some kind of restraining order preventing the pest and any family member from approaching the property, given how they behaved.

Wow, thanks for all the replies and advice/info.

I’ve been playing phone tag because unfortunately I can’t take calls when I’m working.

I finally spoke to the attorney at the title company I used for settlement. He agrees it is probably a fishing expedition and my ownership is not in question. Apparently this “disgruntled nut” is disputing the estate expenses, and wants me to testify about the condition of the property when I took possession. The biggest contention seems to be whether or not the trees were pruned.

Hopefully I’ll connect with the nut’s attorney and see if I can get out of appearing - maybe an affidavit, or convince her I my testimony won’t be helpful to her client. I’ll update when I speak to her.

Thanks again.

I have no pictures and I’m still looking for the documents, as soon as I find them I’ll contact you. May I be excused now.

What Mama Zappa said: I hope you got title insurance for yourself. We bought a property a year ago which had a previous sale pending, and that new “buyer” had started making improvements before their closing was canceled due to being unable to get financing. We got personal title insurance just for that out-of-the-woodwork claim being served on us. That’s where I would start.

Hopefully you get in touch with the wingnut’s attorney quickly :slight_smile: There’s a better-than-average chance that since the wingnut has an attorney, the attorney will just want you to provide what you have, and/or possibly swear out a declaration or affidavit about whatever it is that the wingnut is all worked up about. Both are sort of a pain in the ass, but neither are likely to suck up too much of your time or energy. She may want to just check to see if you have any photos you took of the condition or any documents that aren’t in the file already. If you can tell her that you just have your copies of the transaction documents (and the attorney ought to know that she can get a more complete record of those from title or the respective agents) and didn’t take any photos yourself, she may well just thank you for your time and that’ll be that. The wingnut’s attorney doesn’t want you to be pissed about this if at all possible - that wouldn’t help her client.

If she wants an affidavit/declaration, she’ll probably speak with you on the phone, draft one up based on your conversation, and email it to you for review/signing. Be sure you read it carefully and insist on any changes you need to make it factually accurate (and something you’d be comfortable with under oath), but that’s likely to be that. Most of the time, particularly if it’s an affidavit (which would require notarization), the wingnut’s attorney won’t need to bother you again.

ETA: If it makes you feel better, I’ve done a lot of work for people in the Wingnut’s Attorney’s role on matters basically identical to this, and other than copies of people’s documents and any pictures they might have taken personally, we were just covering bases to make sure we had everything there was to have. Getting a complete picture, so to speak.