This blog post is intended to answer potential questions of people who have retained an attorney in a civil case and seem to be heading towards trial. This blog post is NOT legal advice. In addition, discovery laws and statutes may vary by jurisdiction, this blog is based on Maryland law. For any questions you may have, please consult an attorney.
Prior to your trial, you will have to exchange discovery with the opposing party, but what exactly is discovery? In basic terms, it is the exchange of information to gather information for trial. At Williams, McClernan & Stack, the discovery process typically follows these steps: 1) Interrogatories 2) Document Production 3) Review & Submission 4) Review of opposing party's submissions. Unlike on TV, there should not be any surprises when it comes to Court and the evidence that will be presented at trial. Discovery is what allows each side to be prepared with the facts to argue their legal opinions.
In this blog post we will explain interrogatories, document production, subpoenas, and depositions. If you are interested in reading more about the discovery process in Maryland, consider reading some articles published by the Maryland People's Law Library on the discovery process.
What are Interrogatories?
Interrogatories are formal or written questions that require an answer. Both parties in the case will draft and serve each other a list of questions to be answered within thirty (30) days. The purpose of interrogatories is to better understand the other party's version of events, claims, defenses, and facts relied upon to support their case. There is a limit of 30 interrogatories that may be asked.
Responses to interrogatories must be as accurate as possible, because they are signed & sworn under the penalty of perjury. You won't have to answer just any questions- parties have to follow a guideline of asking questions that are relevant to the current litigated issues. You are able to object to answering certain interrogatories if they are not reasonably related to the case, if they are overly burdensome, require an answer that breaches a privilege, etc. If you have concerns about the questions, or how to respond, or want to object to an interrogatory- consult with your attorney.
What questions can you expect?
Well, that depends on the nature of your case. However, there are Standard General Interrogatories and Standard Domestic Relations Interrogatories. The Standard General Interrogatories ask you to identify each person you intend to call as an expert witness at trial, to identify whoever has possession of the documents you intend to use in trial, damages you intend to claim, etc. Standard Domestic Relations are more frequently used in family law cases. They typically ask to identify yourself and everyone you live with, your education, employment status, other sources of income, property you own, your marital status and family structure, etc.
The questions listed after the standard interrogatories typically ask for more specific information. For example, if your case is pursuing a divorce, your interrogatories might ask to list marital property and retirement accounts you possess; if you have any children, your preferred custody arrangements, etc.
What does Document Production mean?
Similar to interrogatories, document production is a list of documents requested from each party, usually to accompany whatever was referenced in the interrogatories. For example, if your lawsuit is regarding custody modification, your interrogatories might have asked you to list any and all extracurricular activities your child participates in that you pay for exclusively. As part of document production, you will most likely be asked to provide copies of any and all bills, statements, agreements, and schedules of the child's extracurricular activities from the past three years. The timeline for responding to production of documents requests is also 30 days.
What documents should I expect to produce?
Documents requested usually vary depending on the case, but generally these are documents you will have to produce:
Federal & State Tax Returns
Employee Benefits (Paystubs, 401k, Stocks, Insurance, etc.)
Leases or Deeds
If you own a business, records pertaining to its operations.
Text messages, photos, videos, audio recordings, emails, social media posts, etc. that are evidence to claims made.
Copies of any other legal proceedings
Again, the requests for documents will depend on what may be relevant to your case. You are also able to object to certain requests for documents if they are protected by client/attorney privilege, if the request is overly burdensome to produce or broad (for example asking for all bank statements from the year 2000 until present), or if it is not relevant to the ongoing case. If you have questions or concerns about providing documents, please consult your attorney.
Continuing Duty to Disclose
Discovery is not a one-time procedure. Once discovery requests have been made, you must continue to update until the time of trial.
Subpoenas are court ordered documents that, depending on the type of subpoena, require a person or an entity to testify or produce documents related to the case. Subpoena Duces Tecum are often used in family law cases to obtain various documents such as bank statements, medical records or digital media (emails, videos, audio recordings, etc.).
A deposition is a written or oral testimony given under oath before a trial. They are used during the discovery process to gather information or investigate a claim. Depositions are typically done in attorney offices, where both attorneys and parties are present, as well as a court reporter. There is not a judge present. For further questions or guidance on depositions, please consult with an attorney.
Cornell Law School. (2020, December). interrogatories | Wex | US Law | LII / Legal Information Institute. Law.Cornell.Edu. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/interrogatories
The Free Dictionary. (2023). Interrogatories legal definition of interrogatories. Legal Dictionary. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/interrogatories
Legal Dictionary. (2015, August 1). Interrogatories - Definition, Examples, Processes. Legal Dictionary. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://legaldictionary.net/interrogatories/
Westlaw. (2023, February 1). Home. YouTube. Retrieved April 25, 2023, from https://govt.westlaw.com/mdc/Document/N68950AC09CEA11DB9BCF9DAC28345A2A?contextData=%28sc.Default%29&transitionType=Default
Disclaimer: The contents of this website should not be construed as legal advice on any specific fact or circumstance. Its content was prepared by Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC (a Maryland law firm organized as a limited liability company with its principal office at 22715 Washington Street, Suite 201, Leonardtown, MD 20650 phone number (240) 309-4179). It was designed for general information purposes only. Your receipt of such information does not create an attorney-client relationship with Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC or any of its attorneys. You should not act or rely on any of the information contained herein without seeking professional legal advice. Williams, McClernan, & Stack LLC’s lawyers are licensed in Maryland. While we welcome you to contact us by phone or email, contacting us does not create an attorney/client relationship. Please do not send us any confidential information until we have established an attorney/client relationship.