I’m being compelled to testify at a coworker’s divorce hearing

A reader writes:

I work as a receptionist in a very small office. A few months ago, I started getting belligerent and uncomfortable phone calls from a coworker’s wife where she would yell and curse at me, culminating in her threatening to send the police over if her husband didn’t answer the phone (he wasn’t in the office at that time).

At a friend’s urging, I reported it to my boss. (Our company has fewer than 10 people, and we don’t really have an HR department.) My boss talked to my coworker, “Ken,” and Ken said that he and his wife were going through a messy divorce and that he could get a restraining order that would prevent her from calling the office. Ken asked me to write a brief statement about the content of the phone calls to give to his lawyer, and I did. I thought that was the end of it.

Yesterday, I was served with a subpoena to appear in court next week for a hearing related to Ken’s divorce. Apparently, he wants to prove that his wife has been harassing his employer and trying to get him fired, and he wants me to testify. The hearing is during work hours, and the courthouse is a 40+ minute drive from where I live. He gave me no warning and didn’t discuss it with me beforehand at all — he was at lunch when I got served. When he came back, I told him I’d been subpoenaed and he said, “Oh. Yeah. Will you do it?” I said I’m legally obligated to. He said, “It would really help me out. She’s trying to destroy my life.”

I feel that this is seriously inappropriate. First of all, I really do not want to get involved in a coworker’s personal affairs. Also, it feels like I’m being punished for reporting harassment at work. It might be worth mentioning that I’m a woman in my late 20’s, and almost everyone I work with is a 50+-year-old man (including Ken), and I have the least seniority in the office.

I talked to our boss and he said I don’t have to use vacation time, and will even reimburse my mileage to drive to the courthouse (very generous of him). But I don’t want to do this, and I feel angry that it’s even happening in the first place. Am I wrong in thinking this is unreasonable? Do I have any recourse?

It was bad form for Ken not to talk to you about this ahead of time and to just let it be sprung on you with no warning. And it was additionally bad form for him to be so cavalier when you asked him about it. So Ken didn’t handle this well.

But that aside, Ken is being harassed at his workplace by someone who’s willing to verbally abuse his coworkers, and he’s legitimately concerned about how that could endanger his employment. You’re in a position to verify what’s happening. You don’t need to take sides — you just need to factually report what you’ve been subjected to. (You could also ask Ken if you can talk to his lawyer ahead of time to get better prepared for the questions you’re likely to be asked.)

I can understand why you’re really uncomfortable with this. But I also think that if the genders were reversed and a woman’s soon-to-be-ex were harassing her and her workplace, it would be a more obvious call that you should do what you safely could to help her get it stopped.

If you really don’t want to, though, you could talk to Ken or his lawyer and try to get removed from his witness list.

But whatever you decide, I don’t think you should look at this at punishment for reporting harassment (harassment in the colloquial sense, not the legal sense, since the wife’s calls don’t sound like they meet the legal harassment test of invoking race, sex, religion, disability, etc.). Sometimes life is messy, but that doesn’t mean the messiness is punitive. I imagine Ken is feeling pretty desperate and is just hoping for factual back-up, and I can’t blame him for that.

(I’m really interested to hear other opinions on this one though.)

{ 358 comments… read them below }

  1. Roscoe*

    I think Alisosn’s advice was spot on. Especially the part where she said “if the genders were reversed and a woman’s soon-to-be-ex were harassing her and her workplace, it would be a more obvious call that you should do what you safely could to help her get it stopped”. Think about that. If a guy was harassing a woman, and she asked you to testify, would there be the same apprehension? Possibly, but for a lot of people it wouldn’t be much of a question, especially when employer isn’t making you take time off AND reimbursing you.

    This sucks, but its just like witnessing anything regarding the law. Sometimes you get drawn into messy thing

    1. Michelle*

      Agreed. Speak to the lawyer beforehand to see what type of questions are likely to be asked, if you are nervous about that. When you are called, just stick to the facts. You will be fine.

    2. Christopher Tracy*

      Agreed 100%. Rudeness aside, dude is being harassed at work, you were being harassed as a consequence, so you testifying will give validity to his claim and possibly stop this madness.

      1. JM in England*

        Yes, you are effectively an independent witness. This will give his claim more legal weight.

    3. M-C*

      Agreed. Maybe part of the divorce is that the guy doesn’t communicate well :-). But in any case testifying to unreasonable behavior is hardly getting punished, especially when your boss is bending over backward to make it easy. You should have been warned, yes. But all you’re being asked is to say, calmly and factually, what you heard yourself on the phone, and that you had to get your boss involved. Not to give any opinion about who’s at fault outside of work, or whether they could have gotten better lawyers or even behaved thoughtlessly toward you.

    4. Nervous Accountant*

      I feel like if the genders were reversed, not as many people would also be saying that Kendra handled it wrong or bringing up her dismissive attitude and would focus on helping the victim of DV

      1. TootsNYC*

        I think I’d be saying Kendra handled it poorly if she didn’t mention the subpoena before it arrived.

          1. OhBehave*

            He did handle it poorly but I would think he’s got bigger issues on his mind at the moment.
            The impact to you is fairly minimal. Your boss is letting you have time off AND paying mileage? That is very generous of him to do this.

            Definitely contact his lawyer and schedule a meeting to discuss your testimony. This should put you at ease. Tell the truth and you will be fine.

            I recommend trying to put yourself in Ken’s place and do this for him. Do what you can to rid yourself of anger over this issue. I really hope this incident doesn’t sour you on speaking up if you see something bad happening in the future.

          1. Dust Bunny*

            He should have given LW a heads-up as soon as her name was mentioned to the lawyer as a possible witness.

    5. Anonamoose*

      I think the OP is having a hard time understanding why this is in her wheelhouse since she’s ‘just’ a receptionist.

      OP should look at it as just another part of doing her job. She was harassed WHILE AT WORK, therefore, she has been called to testify ABOUT WORK. That’s it. Don’t make it personal about Ken because it’s not personal. OP, you are literally just giving your professional experience to the court. We would all have to do the same thing if, say, we were aware of embezzlement at a company. We would have to do the same exact thing; your court date is just about divorce instead of theft. No big! You got this.

      But yes, Ken seems pretty distracted and rightly so. The least you can do is show up. Well, actually, that’s really all you have to do.

  2. neverjaunty*

    I can’t fathom why Ken’s lawyer didn’t reach out to the OP first before dropping a subpoena on her.

    That said, OP, try to get past that rudeness and focus on what you’re being asked to do here: you witnessed harassment and you have an opportunity to help stop it. You aren’t being “punished” – in fact your boss is stepping up to make sure this won’t affect your work.

      1. neverjaunty*

        The lawyer is being paid to handle the unpleasant legal stuff – and what if the OP refused or said “I have a pre-paid vacation that week”? The lawyer really should have reached out to the OP here.

        1. Amber T*

          I’m delving into a bit off topic here, but what’s the legal ramifications of ignoring a subpoena for a civil suit (I’m assuming this divorce is in civil court)? Is there a way to legally disregard a subpoena without Ken’s lawyer canceling it?

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            Even in a civil case, ignoring a subpoena can get you arrested for contempt of court. Otherwise you’d probably need to hire your own lawyer to move to quash or modify the subpoena, assuming there was grounds to do so.

              1. Norman*

                That saying doesn’t apply. You are required to comply with a subpoena, but it’s not a court order. You can tell because it’s called a “subpoena” not an “order.”

                1. neverjaunty*

                  From my state’s statute describing subpoenas: “The process by which the attendance of a witness is required is the subpoena. It is a writ or order directed to a person and requiring the person’s attendance at a particular time and place to testify as a witness.”

                2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  A subpoena is usually issued on the authority of a court or government agency, so arguing over whether it’s a “court order” or not is a bit beside the point. It’s a legal document ordering you to do something and if issued correctly (or not correctly challenged) is legally binding.

                  In any case, I think the saying is cute and somehow managed not to hear it before.

                3. Annonymouse*

                  fposte is making the point you have to do it and there aren’t any if, ands or buts about it.

                  Even if it isn’t the correct technical language

              2. MM*

                Isn’t a subpoena different than a court order though? They can subpoena you and you need to respond to it but not necessarily comply? If I receive a subpoena for medical records I don’t hand them over, I just have to acknowledge it right?

                1. Adam V*

                  I am certainly no lawyer, but I thought a subpoena for documents meant “you have to either provide these documents, or else come to court and argue why you shouldn’t have to”.

                2. fposte*

                  It varies by state, and I’ll leave this to the actual lawyers; there’s also a difference between a subpoena for a witness and a subpoena for documents. But I don’t think there’s ever a “just acknowledge it” option–you can claim that the documents are privileged, or that the subpoena is invalid, but those are specific legal responses, not merely acknowledgments.

                3. MegaMoose, Esq.*

                  I’m not really thinking of how a subpoena is materially different from any other court order – you can certainly argue that you shouldn’t have to turn the medical records over, but you need to do so in the proper way, and a court can take action against you, up to ordering you imprisoned for contempt, if you don’t comply.

                4. Joseph*

                  Nope. It’s a legal order issued by a court that you are expected to comply or risk being held in contempt. You may be able to get out of providing documents if your lawyer can show a compelling reason why you cannot comply (e.g., violation of privacy laws, other existing litigation), but you can’t just say “not doing that”.
                  Also, since you mentioned medical records, it’s worth noting that since documents are easily destroyed, some states actually specifically address the issue of missing documents: If a document is known to exist but you cannot provide a copy, the judge and jury are allowed to *assume* that the missing documents would have been harmful to your case. After all, if the documents were irrelevant, why didn’t you provide them?

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Subpoenas are slightly distinct from court orders, but the difference doesn’t impact whether you need to comply.

                  I’m an attorney, and with the disclaimer that each state has different requirements and that the factual circumstances can result in different answers, I can comfortably say that you must comply with a subpoena to testify in court. You can request accommodation in terms of the day/time, but ultimately, if you don’t show up to a court hearing, you will be in contempt of court, and the court will issue a separate order (a capias warrant) for the police to locate and arrest you so long as you’re within the court’s subpoena jurisdiction. If you’re a witness and are asked to disclose confidential information in court, an attorney will object to the question. That doesn’t mean you don’t show up to the hearing, but that’s how the court tries to balance finding the truth and other legal rules/duties.

                  Subpoenas to produce documents, etc., are slightly different because documents can contain information that may be “exempt” from production under a specific evidentiary privilege (e.g., doctor/patient confidentiality, medical record confidentiality, attorney-client privilege, personnel files, etc.). That doesn’t mean you can decide not to comply—it means that your attorney can file a motion asking the court to quash the subpoena, and the court can deny or grant the request.

                6. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

                  This may by state, but at least in my state the only records that can be provided to the court on their own are medical records. For any other type of record, the record keeper must also appear with the records.

                  You can’t ignore a subpoena. You can, however, call Ken and/or is attorney, and as Alison suggested, ask to be removed from the witness list. I am often subpoenaed to testify about things that I cannot legally testify about (and the attorney is unaware that I can’t), and/or the limited amount of info I can legally share would be a waste of the court’s time. Generally, discussing this with the attorney gets the subpoena withdrawn.

        2. LD*

          Wouldn’t that be between the person being subpoenaed and the court? Sure it would have been appropriate for the lawyer and Ken to have given her a head’s up, but they don’t schedule the court case, although they might have influence. And maybe the letter would be enough. I gave a statement over the telephone for one party’s lawyer in a divorce/child custody suit when I was managing some of the job changes during a corporate restructure that required relocation for most jobs. It was a little intimidating, but one of the corporate lawyers was with me and helped me be more at ease. It was no big deal, at least not for me. And BTW, I’m all for doing whatever you can to help someone out when they are in a bind. And it sounds like there are not repercussions at all for the OP. Consider it a good deed for a coworker. Now if the OP feels intimidated by the wife/ex-wife, perhaps she needs to ask about a restraining order, as well.

          1. neverjaunty*

            No, the subpoena was almost certainly served by Ken’s lawyer (or at least at their request) because Ken and his lawyer want the OP to testify for him.

            1. TootsNYC*

              An attorney—because a duly licensed lawyer is considered an agent of the court—can issue the subpoena without getting a judge to rule. But it still has all the authority of the court itself behind it, and you can be held in contempt of court if you ignore it.

              1. neverjaunty*

                Right, but I took LD to be saying that we shouldn’t harsh on Ken’s lawyer because it’s a thing the court did. The subpoena issues under court authority, but Ken’s lawyer is almost certainly the one who drafted and issued it.

          2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            The court wouldn’t be able to take the letter into evidence without having the person who wrote it appear.

        3. Anon Accountant*

          Yes what if OP had a vacation prepaid or a major commitment (such as a parents surgery etc) for that week? Ken’s lawyer should’ve talked to OP about this regardless and given her a heads up.

          1. RJ*

            I can say from experience – one of the times I got served they wanted me to show up three days later on the day of scheduled delivery. The lawyer’s office was really stunned I would not figure out on my own a way to make it work to show up there then go to the hospital and have my son. I told them they needed to find an alternative solution for me and quick. Though it helped that my office had a legal team to go to bat for us. As a regular person, I am not sure what I would have done.

              1. RJ*

                Yeah I imagine it was one of those the person on the other line had a narrow focused idea. We all get it from time to time – but it does show that sometimes when they want you there – they mean it.

          2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            You should just be able to call either the attorney or the court and explain. Courts are usually pretty accommodating to witnesses who have legitimate barriers. Like, they wouldn’t expect you to cancel vacation plans or doctor’s appointments. Now, that might not be the case in say, a major murder trial, but for run-of-the mill cases it’s usually not that hard to do.

    1. Amber T*

      I agree that Ken didn’t handle this well at all. Maybe he was thinking it’s better to ask for forgiveness than seek permission (which, a) it doesn’t sound like he’s asking for forgiveness anyway and b) it’s a crappy thing to do).

      And while yes, divorce is personal between the two of them, the soon to be ex wife crossed that boundary when she called in and not only tried to screw with him, but screwed with you (I don’t want to use harassed because, as per Alison, it isn’t “harassment” in the legal sense, but it’s still NOT COOL). You going into court and saying the facts isn’t taking sides. It’s discussing something that actually happened that, again, is NOT COOL.

      PS – your manager sounds awesome.

      1. Honeybee*

        We can still call it harassment – even if it’s not workplace harassment in the legal sense, it’s still harassment.

    2. Adam*

      Agreed. I believe both Ken and his attorney didn’t go about this the right way. Ken may be at his wit’s end and didn’t contemplate asking OP first, so I can see that as an honest mistake. But the attorney who lives by situations like these really should have discussed it with Ken before bringing OP in.

      All that said, I would still ask that the OP to consider presenting her experience to the court. It would likely only be a one day inconvenience and her employer is offering to assist her as well.

    3. Koko*

      IANAL, but I wonder if there isn’t some option where she could sign a sworn affidavit in presence of a notary in lieu of appearing in court in person? I know cops do it all the time when they can’t be present in court for arrests/tickets they issued, and the DA just reads their affidavit out loud, but maybe that’s a special cop privilege that ordinary citizens don’t get?

      1. Edith*

        I imagine the wife’s lawyers would want to cross examine the OP. Considering they’ve subpoenaed OP for a court appearance instead of a deposition this sounds like an especially contentious divorce.

      2. Meghan*

        Whoa, hold on. That’s absolutely not a thing. The Confrontation Clause of the Sixth Amendment guarantees a defendant the right to confront the witnesses against them (and arrests tickets are criminal cases). Additionally, that would be hearsay evidence – in criminal or civil court – and also not admissible. For you to present witness testimony you have to physically be there and there has to be an opportunity for cross examination. There’s no special cop privilege.

        1. Koko*

          So weird. I have definitely sat in a courtroom where the DA said, “Officer so-and-so couldn’t be here today and has provided a sworn affidavit that reads as follows:” I even have a close friend who ended up with a nolo prosecui because the DA had lost the affidavit and requested a continuance to find it or have the cop be able to come in, and the judge ruled against the DA per right to speedy trial.

          1. Meghan*

            In an arraignment or a pretrial hearing a DA might read from a police report about evidence that they plan to/will be able to present at trial. Most cases don’t go to trial, and usually end in plea agreements. I’ve worked as a DA in a district court, and you spend a lot of time explaining to a judge what happened in a case, whether at arraignment, pretrial hearings or plea tenders. None of it is actually evidence. But at no actual trial can an affidavit be admitted as evidence. Generally, (though this will vary depending on the jurisdiction and the infraction) those traffic infraction cattle calls aren’t trials. Most of those cases are going to end in a plea of some kind, usually an agreement to pay a fine. But to be very, very clear, an affidavit cannot be admitted as evidence in lieu of a witness testifying. I can’t speak specifically to your friend’s case, but judges have lots of leeway in dismissing charges. But the important thing here is that you absolutely have the right to cross examine the witnesses against you, and police definitely are not exempted from that.

            1. Baker's dozen*

              In the UK, uncontested testimony can be heard as a written document in court, without the witness having to be there.

  3. Product Person*

    I’m 100% in agreement with AAM.

    While it may be an unpleasant situation, and Ken didn’t handle it very well, I feel like it’s a moral obligation that we all have to do what we can to help corroborate facts that need witnesses to be confirmed.

    I’m glad the boss is supportive, and since the OP doesn’t have to use vacation time and will get mileage reimbursed, I’d just go with the flow (and hope that if the situation was reversed, the person in the position to confirm the facts would also be willing to help me out).

    1. Bluesboy*

      You make a good point here about ‘if the situation was reversed’. OP, how would you feel if you were being harassed, there was a witness to it, but they didn’t want to testify to it because they felt they were being punished for reporting it?

      1. Turtle Candle*

        Yes–if I was being harassed, I’d really hope that people would be willing to provide evidence of the harassment. As such, I feel like it’s my moral obligation to do the same.

    2. TootsNYC*

      I’m with you on the moral obligation, especially in courts of law.

      If we would ever want the protection of the courts of law for ourselves, or for others, we need to be willing to participate. To be on a jury, to testify when we have material facts, etc.

      I get that it’s unsettling–welcome to grownup-dom.

  4. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

    As a trial attorney, I’m side-eyesing defense attorney who didn’t go over this with you before subpoenaing. It’s a great way to turn a witness hostile. People don’t always want to get involved and it’s a big burden to put on a lay witness. That being said, subpoenaing you is probably the only way they can introduce evidence of the harassment, and it does sound like she was behaving beyond the pale toward you. Ask to speak to the lawyer and express your concerns. If anything, attorney might realize it wasn’t handled properly and apologize and try to make it easier on you in some way.

    1. neverjaunty*

      Right? Ken clearly didn’t even know if the OP would cooperate, and it’s not as if they can’t figure out how to reach her. The only thing I can think of is that they were facing a tight deadline and had to get the subpoena out the door, but then why not follow up immediately?

      1. Pwyll*

        That, or a new Attorney. My friend went solo right out of law school and one of her first cases was a divorce, which she knew literally nothing about. She found herself a mentor for a lot of it, but I can absolutely see her thinking “It’s a subpoena so she has to respond, and I’m not sure if I’m allowed to reach out to her first, so off it goes!” (She’s a terrific attorney now, anyway)

        I do agree that it’s generally not a good idea to have your own witnesses surprised by the subpoena.

    2. Kelly L.*

      Yeah, I do feel like someone should have given the OP a heads up before Surprise! You’re being served with legal papers!

      I do definitely think she should do it, but I can see why the surprise would get someone’s back up.

    3. chocolate lover*

      It’s been 20 years now, but I was once subpoenaed without the defense attorney ever contacting me, and I remember thinking it strange even then. She was calling a witness for her client and she never spoke to the witness and had no idea what they would say? In fact, she didn’t speak to me at all, even when I showed up in court (though it turned out I wasn’t needed, because the plaintiffs didn’t show up.)

      1. RJ*

        Yeah I came to say this – I was not stunned she wasn’t notified. At an old job myself and my coworkers were subpoenaed rather often. I can’t think of a single time that we got notification prior to the papers being served. And that was for requests to speak on both sides depending on the case.

      2. JessaB*

        Yeh number one rule of lawyering “Never ask a question you don’t know the answer to.” No lawyer should risk ending up with someone hostile to their client, or even just contradictory. For all the lawyer knows the client lied to them or was misinformed about what the witness knows. What if this witness didn’t get harassed and said so, or didn’t think the wife was out of line at all (even if she was being nasty and rude) because they knew fact x about the husband’s behaviour. It’s a really, really bad idea to just drop a subpoena without even a phone call AFTER. Someone at the lawyer’s office should have called the OP if not before the subpoena then after. There should be a deposition before the court case. They need to find out if the facts the OP knows are for them or against them. Heck now that OP is on the witness list if they let her go the other side might call her. Bad move.

        1. doreen*

          I know the OP said the hearing was related to Ken’s divorce- but it might actually be about the restraining order or about criminal charges related to the harassment (which would actually be called “harassment” in my state) and as far as I know, depositions are not usual in such cases. I agree that the lawyer should have called first- but I also know that I have never been called before being served with a subpoena so I don’t think it’s unusual.

      3. Kimberlee, Esq*

        Yeah, the one time I have been subpoenaed, I was not contacted beforehand. it wasn’t people I knew, tho, either; I witnessed someone beat up a woman on a bus, gave a statement to police, and then heard nothing for probably 6 months, when suddenly there was a subpoena in my mailbox. I suspect that if they have no reason to suspect you wouldn’t want to participate, then they just send and if there’s a problem you’ll contact them. I’m guessing the lawyer was like “this person will be happy to testify to this thing that happened to them” and didn’t think twice about it.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Wow… I never thought of that. What hit me was the lawyer thinks that there is no way that OP is going to want to show up so go straight to a subpoena.

        2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          My mother and ex-brother-in-law received a subpoena – to give depositions – about an incident nine years prior!

          Mom = real estate agent showing a house to my sister and her (then) husband. Upon going through the house – they found a recently deceased man. They called the police, statements were taken. Nine years later — even after my sister divorced the man – they were both subpoenaed to testify what they saw, surroundings, etc.

    4. LawCat*

      I’m definite side-eyeing the attorney as well. When I was a litigator, I always gave witnesses (cooperative and uncooperative alike) a heads-up that I was going to subpoena them. The lawyer should at least, at this point, be willing to help you with logistics, especially if you’re not familiar with the forum. The subpoena should explain any expenses you are entitled too, but if it doesn’t (not sure if is the same in all places), the lawyer definitely should.

      Kudos to your employer though for stepping up!

      1. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

        The last thing you want is to make someone angry enough to cause problems for your case because you didn’t call and talk to them first! I usually ask if they will testify before submitting the subpoena. If they say no, I listen to their explanation and ponder whether they are truly necessary for my case. Even “hostile” witnesses can be treated politely and give you good evidence. If anything, the attorney needs to be told that OP is reluctant to get involved. It looks worse in criminal cases, but a cross examination question where the witness says “I was forced to testify” looks nasty. (Note: divorces can have jury trials in my state. Generally judges understand the reluctance to get involved, but jurors are less forgiving…to the attorney who put the witness on the stand.)

        1. Temperance*

          This EXACT THING happened to my younger sister. She was subpoena’d to testify on behalf of a former coworker, who she didn’t like, and the inconvenience of the whole thing had her ready to testify on behalf of their former company instead. (Case was thrown out for one reason or another – I can’t remember why.)

        2. Anon attorney*

          Jury trials in divorce cases?!?!?!

          I think I’m glad I’m not practising in your jurisdiction!

            1. Office Plant*

              In some states, the wife’s behavior could be considered criminal harassment. But it does sound like the subpoena was just for the divorce hearing.

              1. JM in England*

                I didn’t know that. Here in the UK, trial by jury is almost always for criminal cases. Civil matters are decided by a panel of judges or magistrates.

            2. Natalie*

              Many types of civil cases have jury trials in the US. It’s quite uncommon for family law, though.

          1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

            AMEN! There’s no right to a jury in a divorce in my state either – that sounds like a mess!

          2. Putting Out Fires, Esq*

            I’m a criminal defense attorney so I don’t know much beyond bar prep 101, but yes. Weird and messy. My understanding is that they are rare? Honestly I can’t figure out what the jury decides, what counts as marital property? Division of assets?

            1. Been there*

              That’s exactly what the jury decides. Have been on a jury for divorce proceedings and it was terrible. I was living in an “at fault” state at the time and the whole trial was about determining who was at fault for the divorce, and then dividing the sizable assets. There were witnesses called along with endless testimony about who said what in front of the kids.

    5. GrandBargain*

      As Ken’s attorney, I think I’d want to know exactly what you were going to say in your deposition or testimony. What if Ken’s version of the “facts” differ from yours? It seems Ken’s attorney is taking a lot for granted and not doing her job. Further, if there is a discrepancy between your facts and his, that seems to create the possibility of bad feelings after… that might then come back in ways you don’t expect.

    6. purpleparrots*

      Also, pretty much anyone not familiar with the details of a case needs some preparation to be a good witness on cross-examination. Letting someone take the stand without helping them understand the firestorm coming from the other attorney (who I’m assuming is just as “pleasant” as Ken’s wife) will totally derail a perfectly good witness. Ken’s lawyer should be on the phone with her pronto.

  5. ThatGirl*

    In my opinion, Alison is right, Ken handled this poorly (should have given you a heads up) but you still have a certain obligation to do your part. Your boss is giving you the time and reimbursement, and all you have to do is report what happened.

    I see it as being a witness to any sort of legal matter or crime – you didn’t ask to see it or be there but you have a certain societal obligation to do your part.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger*

      That’s what I came here to say. Ken didn’t handle it well, but he’s probably under a lot of stress, since his end of this divorce is a lot harder than just being a witness to it, although that’s also stressful. But he’s trying to provide proof to the court, and the OP is the best source of that. If the OP saw someone run a light and hit another car, I hope she’d be willing to testify that it was the first car’s fault, even if it was inconvenient.

      The OP should contact Ken’s lawyer and ask about providing a deposition at her convenience. It’s possible the lawyer will come to her, or at least schedule a taped deposition at her convenience. (It may not be possible, but it’s worth asking.)

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yep, yep, yep to all of this. I didn’t think about a deposition at her convenience but that may very well be possible.

        1. neverjaunty*

          If she is being asked to testify at a court hearing, a deposition probably won’t be a substitute. But OP should definitely reach out to Ken’s lawyer.

    2. Beefy*

      That was my thought too–a lot of people who get subpoenaed as witnesses for all sorts of things would probably rather not be there. But this happened, and OP is the only one who can verify that it did.

  6. Anon Always*

    Ken didn’t handle this well, but I’m assuming (as a non-lawyer) that in these sorts of cases it’s critical to be able to document a pattern. I am also assuming that having the receptionist in your office verify that these types of calls were happening would be very valuable in a hearing such as this.

    And it could be that Ken really wasn’t given a lot of choices. His lawyer may have told him that he would need to provide witnesses to his soon-to-be ex-wife’s behavior that were not related to him.

    It stinks that you need to go and testify, but aside from the lack of heads up from Ken, I don’t see this as a huge deal.

    1. Is it Friday Yet?*

      I think OP should give Ken the benefit of the doubt. It sounds like he has a lot going on outside of work, and this probably wasn’t even on his radar.

  7. V2*

    I agree with Allison’s advice. You’re not going to be asked to take sides, or to explain whether you consider her behavior inappropriate. You’re going to be asked factual questions about the calls. We all have a civic duty to truthfully testify in court when called upon because we have relevant information. This is beyond a workplace issue now, it’s a legal matter, it’s no different than if you had been a witness to a crime or car accident on the street.

    1. Dynamic Beige*

      My fear would be that, depending on how adversarial this divorce is, the other side might ask OP questions about whether or not OP has had a relationship with Ken, or things like that. I would imagine it depends on the laws of the state (no fault?) or if there were accusations of things like that in the past. Here’s hoping Ken’s lawyer is on-the-ball enough to shut things like that down fast.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Some lawyers like to plant the seed of doubt, so questions like that would be part of the opposition’s strategy to plant random seeds of doubt. OP, if you get questions like this, pause before answering. The other lawyer may object, the judge may intervene or something. Even if no one intervenes your pause will help to off-set or ruin the pace of the attorney’s questions and it will give you a second to help keep your cool. Just answer any of these questions in a flat, factual voice, like you are reciting statistic from a manual or something equally dry/boring.

  8. Temperance*

    It’s actually really cool that your company is going to reimburse you mileage and not take your PTO away for it. Being compelled to testify sucks …. but in this case, you’re the best evidence that this poor guy has to show that his wife is interfering in his employment. He should have talked to you first, absolutely, and it’s pretty rude that he didn’t, but it sounds like he’s in a terrible, stressful situation.

    1. Tax anon*

      This. While Ken and his lawyer should have talked to you beforehand, major props to your employer for how they are handling this.

      And I think that it’s your civic duty, of sorts, to testify to the behavior you witnessed, and not a punishment in any way.

      1. Temperance*

        I can see how it would feel like punishment, though. It can be extremely onerous, and it sounds like in this case, it is – 40 minutes driving each way, who knows how long she’ll be stuck waiting for court to start, and being forced to face the woman who kept harassing her on the phone.

        One of my sisters was once subpoena’d by a former coworker who was alleging age discrimination. This subpoena would have required my sister to find childcare for her then-infant and young toddler, to find transportation to the courthouse, and to potentially spend hours waiting to testify on behalf of a woman that she despised. (My sister also did not feel that her claims were meritorious, and I find it perplexing that the attorney didn’t call anyone before just sending out a process server. My sister was planning to testify that the woman expected special treatment and an unfair schedule, and that many other elderly people worked at that particular company.)

        I have sympathy for anyone who gets brought into someone else’s civil issue, even if I think testifying is the right thing to do.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I am so curious how that situation resolved! It sounds like your sister didn’t end up having to testify — was she able to get the subpoena cancelled?

          1. Temperance*

            Two different things happened. 1.) Her lawyer sister let her know that they didn’t serve her properly, since it was delivered to and signed for by our mother, and my sister had not resided there in years. My sister informed the attorney of the improper service, and that she didn’t accept the subpoena as served. 2.) IIRC, the case didn’t go forward because the company filed a motion for summary judgment and won.

    2. Florida*

      It is likely that Ken’s attorney told him not to tell OP that she would be subpoenaed. It sucks to find out the way she did, but there might be more to it that we (or OP) don’t know.

      1. Temperance*

        As a lawyer, that is so vexing to me. You want your witnesses to be on your side, and not dragged to court with threats, which is how many people see subpoenas.

          1. Temperance*

            Exactly. It should be softened at least.

            I just keep thinking about when my sister was subpoena’d to testify in an age discrimination suit on behalf of a woman that she hated working with, and how my sister was prepared to go in as a hostile witness rather than help the woman’s case in any way. Don’t piss off your witnesses!

        1. Florida*

          I’m not saying that what Ken or his lawyer did was the best thing. I’m just saying that Ken may have been following the advice of his lawyer (which is usually a good idea). So maybe the blame shouldn’t be on Ken but on his lawyer.

    3. my two cents*

      If OP was subpoenaed to testify, I think it might be a legal obligation that the employer has to grant the time off. Wouldn’t that be along the same lines as jury duty?

      But offering to reimburse mileage is above the call of duty for your employer, and shows they understand the necessity of your testimony.

      1. AnotherHRPro*

        I’m not sure about being required to provide time off, but even if it is required, pay for that time off would not be required (let alone mileage reimbursement).

        1. Lyssa*

          It’s probably not a legal requirement, but, given that this arose out of her doing her job, I would consider it unethical for the employer not to consider this (paid) work time.

      2. Natalie*

        Just from a quick google, it appears that your employer is generally not allowed to retaliate against you for missing work due to a subpoena. But they’re not required to pay you for your time or your mileage, as you say.

          1. Natalie*

            For pay? Probably. As far as I know jury service is protected in every state though, as well as by US Code.

            1. fposte*

              Jury service is; response to a subpoena seems to be more variable. I’ll append a link with an overview.

            2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

              Jury service IS protected. In fact, if an employee is threatened by management while sitting on a jury or grand jury – the manager (here in Massachusetts) can face charges.

              In Mass., your employer must pay you for the first 3 days of jury duty. After that, the state pays $50/day. (it was in 2010, today I am not sure) BUT – if your employer pays your salary for a period longer than 3 days, he can demand that you collect the $50 and pay it to HIM.

              Subpoenas are different….

      3. TG*

        They may consider the OP to be sort of acting on their behalf. The wife called the workplace but the OP happens to be the person answering the phones.

    4. Rusty Shackelford*

      Considering that she’s testifying to something that happened to her as part of her job, I think it’s the absolute least they could do.

  9. Apparatchic*

    I have to say, I am not reacting to OP that positively in this case. She was a witness to some pretty serious stalking/abuse, subpoena’ed to testify on what she directly saw, and given time off and reimbursement for mileage so that she could do so. None of this seems like that much of a hassle – versus the hassle of having an unhinged partner trying to ruin your career, for example. I think a little empathy for Ken might be in order here, and some consideration for the social obligation to help the justice system work smoothly (as someone else mentioned).

    1. Tax anon*

      I would bet that the OP’s initial reaction is that she feels that she’s getting sucked into a coworker’s divorce drama – which is not an unreasonable way to feel! I agree that she should feel compassionate towards Ken and testify as requested, but I can’t blame her for feeling confused and overwhelmed by the situation. Especially since neither Ken nor his lawyer gave her a heads up that she would be subpoenaed.

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        All of this. I’d be highly annoyed that Ken’s wife’s messiness was now impacting my life – but I wouldn’t be annoyed with him. You just don’t bring this kind of drama into the workplace. His wife has serious boundary issues.

        1. Mike C.*

          This is key here – it’s Ken’s wife that is doing this, not Ken or the lawyer. Things could have been handled better but the wife is ultimately the one responsible.

          1. Turtle Candle*

            Yes. The person who is making this necessary is the person doing the harassing/stalking/whatever, not the people trying to get legal protection against it.

            It sucks for the LW that it’s an inconvenience, and it’s unfortunate that they didn’t get warning beforehand, but ultimately the situation is the fault of the harasser.

    2. neverjaunty*

      I suspect OP is seeing this as a personal matter because it’s a divorce, rather than a criminal case.

      1. Observer*

        So? This woman is abusive. MYOB is a good rule for a lot of life, and I generally am reluctant to pull the “it’s your moral duty” card. But in this case, both of those rules do not apply.

        1. Bookworm*

          No one is excusing this woman’s behavior. But before judging OP, let’s remember that she hasn’t witnessed any abuse of Ken – she’s experienced the verbal abuse herself. Then, she stood up for herself – and then suddenly received a subpoena (which is a kind of scary-looking legal document if you’re not used to those things) with no warning?

          It might feel like she’s getting drawn into this because she stood up for herself. I highly suspect that if Ken had spoken to her (or even been less nonchalant after she received the subpoena) we would not be getting this e-mail.

          As it is, many people don’t have a lot of experience (or have had bad experiences) with the court system and I can understand why OP is balking.

          BUT – she’s not backing out, she’s asking around, gathering info. We shouldn’t judge her too harshly for that.

          1. Observer*

            I’m not judging the OP. I’m making the point that “it’s a personal” matter simply is not relevant. And, the OP’s job is not to defend Ken, or anything like that. All she should do is to testify to the abuse that she was subjected to.

            Neither we, nor the OP, know whether Ken abused the soon-to-be ex, she’s making it all up, or it was a situation where both of them are at fault. But no matter which it was, the behavior the OP experienced was abusive, and it needs to be called out.

          2. Turtle Candle*

            she hasn’t witnessed any abuse of Ken

            So… this is a really touchy issue, I realize, but IMHO this isn’t actually true. She didn’t just randomly call up to yell at the LW; she called to yell at the LW in an attempt to get at her partner. Attempting to contact someone who does not want to be contacted isn’t necessarily abuse, but it often is. But more to the point, a very common abuse tactic is to attempt to alienate people from their sources of social, institutional, or financial support–which this definitely seems like it was.

            The LW was being harassed by the wife, but that doesn’t mean that the husband was not also being harassed. Harassment doesn’t have to be first-person to be real.

            It may not rise to the legal definition of harassment (I’m not a lawyer, I don’t know), but presumably that’s what the subpoena is intended to determine. I don’t judge the LW for being frightened or hesitant or, frankly, annoyed. But I think it is really quite literally a social and civic duty to do this and not try to duck out of it, becuse she is a witness to what is at least potentially harassment or abuse.

      2. Marillenbaum*

        For now.
        Not to get too dark here, but we all know how abusive behavior can and does escalate.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I agree. She was trying to move away from this s-storm and some how she got drawn in deeper.

    3. Temperance*

      Eh, in all fairness, going to court itself is stressful and a hassle. It’s a 40-minute drive each way, and testifying can be humiliating and awkward. I think you’re minimizing how awful it can be … and I say that as an attorney. Ken should have talked to her first before she received the subpoena, or at least his attorney should have reached out to her.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Yes, no matter how relatively amicable it is, being cross-examined is a pretty stressful thing. Even more so when it’s not amicable, as it is likely to be here.

      2. Apparatchic*

        I’ve been there, so I do totally appreciate that, and maybe I’m not being fully fair to OP since it was not a particular stress point for me but might be moreso for someone else. I do agree that Ken and his attorney bungled it; I just didn’t think, based on the letter, that the bungling changed the obligation.

    4. PolarBearGirl*

      Interesting, but I don’t know that I’d take it that far. I did note this item in the OP’s letter: “It might be worth mentioning that I’m a woman in my late 20’s, and almost everyone I work with is a 50+-year-old man (including Ken), and I have the least seniority in the office.”

      This made me wonder if there have been other times when the OP has been treated with less than professional courtesy by Ken or others to such a degree that is has become a significant distraction from the question of testifying. While I agree that if someone has relevant information to a crime they should say something, I also think this is a reminder that how we are treated at work day in and day out at work has a much bigger effect than just how professionally we do our jobs. If there’s been a pattern of dismissiveness by Ken, I would definitely take the course Alison suggests about talking to his lawyer to learn a little more BEFORE I got on the stand.

      (And I’m not saying Ken is not deserving of the same protections a Kendra would be, but I’m wondering if the line above is indicating that OP has more concerns here than just the logistical ones.)

      1. Apparatchic*

        I don’t know, I take your point but I think you’re extrapolating WAY too far based on the comment about seniority. There’s nothing in the letter that made me think anyone – except Ken (who is in a difficult, and based on the update below, extremely messy and ambiguous position) and his former partner – treated OP with less than professional courtesy. I think the points about the stress of being subpoena’d are well-made, but going just by the letter, I still think that it’s not an unreasonable situation to find yourself in, even if it is annoying and inconvenient. The factors OP mentioned below are certainly modifiers for me, though.

      2. Dynamic Beige*

        I’m glad some lawyers have weighed in on this because and what’s “normal” because with OP being the least senior person in the office, I can’t see how Ken could have asked her this earlier without it appearing as some power dynamic thing. Also, when was Big Boss informed of all of this so that he could offer the reimbursements?

        In a perfect world, after Ken told his lawyer about the abuse OP was dealt from his wife, the lawyer should have said something about OP possibly being a witness (should it go that far). At which point, Ken should have talked to Big Boss about what was going on and that OP might be required to testify in his case. Then Big Boss and Ken could have had a meeting with OP informing her of the situation, asking her if she had any records of dates these calls were made and that she might be subpoenaed. If that did happen, Big Boss would be willing to reimburse X, Y and not pull a PTO day for it. That would have given OP time to consider and get information for herself about the process and what was required. I agree that OP should testify and that yes, it is a PITA, it’s just the boom! last-minuteness of it all that just doesn’t seem right to me.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I thought that comment meant that not any of the older employees got subpoenaed. As in the older employees would (supposedly) know how to handle it to get out of it OR have the financial resources to get their own attorney. The youngest person in the group might not have the life experience or the money to give Ken and his attorney some argument.

    5. themmases*

      The OP didn’t just witness abuse of another person; she was subjected to abusive phone calls herself. I read her as feeling punished for standing up for herself; she intended to end her contact with this woman, and instead is being compelled to testify in her divorce.

      On top of that most people wouldn’t be thrilled to be subpoena’d about anything, almost by definition. It’s natural to have it leave a bad taste if someone jumps straight to compelling your cooperation with something, rather than just asking you. The court system can be intimidating too if you never deal with it.

      I think the OP’s mistake is in attributing this whole thing to Ken rather than to Ken’s lawyer. It sounds like Ken didn’t realize his lawyer would handle the situation this way, and may also not realize that a subpoena is not a request. It truly is weird, IMO, that Ken’s lawyer would jump to serving the OP with a subpoena when the OP has cooperated to help Ken with this issue in the past. While it probably wasn’t due to malice on anyone’s part, that is a dynamic that would rub many people the wrong way.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for pointing this out. Also, Ken has had extensive experience in the legal system (he told us a story once about a years-long battle he had over a red-light camera ticket) and so it’s hard for me to believe he didn’t know what a subpoena is. I can understand him feeling awkward/embarrassed about asking me to testify, but it wasn’t due to misunderstanding.

        1. JessaB*

          Yes but is it also possible that he expected his attorney to reach out to you before the subpoena was sent and was just as blindsided by how it was handled.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          A years-long battle over a red-light camera doesn’t give him “extensive experience in the legal system,” particularly not in a divorce case. He has a lawyer, and from what you’ve said, it’s just as likely he expected his attorney to get in touch with you and explain (which his lawyer should have done). I understand you feeling overwhelmed, but it’s not fair to blame Ken for his lawyer’s failing.

          As a lawyer, I can’t tell you how important it is to our entire justice system that people be willing to get beyond inconvenience and testify about information they have knowledge of. It may feel unfair, but you are not being punished. You are being asked to do your part to keep the wheels rolling on our system of justice. I really do get how you’re feeling–even feeling how I do about the importance of impartial witness testimony, I’d be annoyed about the inconvenience if I were in your shoes. But it’s really not punishment. It’s just the right thing to do.

          1. OP*

            I never said I was blaming him, and below I’ve already said that I will testify and I regret the tone of my letter.

      2. aebhel*

        This. I would be furious if I was in the OP’s position, and I don’t know that I’d ever be able to have an amicable working relationship with Ken again (at least not without some form of apology, which doesn’t look like it’s going to be forthcoming). That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t be willing to do my civic duty, but Ken and his lawyer utterly bungled this situation on every conceivable level, and she isn’t required to be thrilled to be a part of his divorce hearing. Also, as others have noticed, she has not witnessed Ken’s ex abusing him; she has been the direct target of this woman’s abuse.

        1. Observer*

          Yes, she was the target of abusive behavior. That’s relevant information, so I’m not sure why so many people are making such a big issue of that. Of course, the OP should not try to judge between the two of them. *That* is not her problem. And, if Ken’s lawyer has a smidgen of sense, he won’t let the opposing lawyer even go there with her. (And if the lawyer IS an idiot, she can just keep repeating like a broken record “I don’t know. I have no opinion.” Eventually, the judge would intervene, I expect.)

    6. Apollo Warbucks*

      That’s a little unkind the OP is obviously worried by the situation and is nervous about testifying in court and I think that’s a very natural and normal feeling to have.

      1. Apparatchic*

        I both agree that it’s natural and normal and disagree that the naturalness/normalcy changes what the right thing to do is. Ultimately, the consequence for the OP is an unpleasant day in unfamiliar circumstances; I absolutely have sympathy for her, but sometimes life just goes that way and it doesn’t sound from the letter as though this will cause her any undue financial burden; emotional burden, possibly, but that’s not always avoidable. The consequences for the parties involved in the dispute

        I don’t know; I sympathize with the reaction (and, as others have pointed out, Ken’s lawyer made a major error), but I still feel like ultimately OP will be done with a standard civic duty pretty quickly, and will be compensated for her time and travel.

        1. Apparatchic*

          *for the parties involved in the dispute… are potentially much longer-term and further-reaching. I should double-check before I click submit!

        2. Apollo Warbucks*

          I agree the right thing to do is to testify, I just don’t think Apparatchic needs to judge the OP for having some concerns about doing so.

          1. Apparatchic*

            Uh… you don’t have to refer to me in the third person. I’m right here? You’re replying to me?

            All I said was that I wasn’t reacting positively, and after discussion with other posters conceded that I may not have been as sympathetic to OP as I could have been either, as the situation could be very stressful. That being said, the OP’s question was, “Am I wrong in thinking this is unreasonable? Do I have any recourse?” And I thought she was wrong. It’s not a judgment on anything other than what she sent in her letter, but it is a judgment that I did not feel she was being reasonable in her letter and it was, in my opinion, not the right perspective on the situation. How else should I say that?

            1. Apollo Warbucks*

              Sorry I had read the name on the comment I replied to properly and copied the name from the top comment.

    7. Hannah*

      I get the OPs attitude that it feels like she’s being drawn into something inappropriate, since this is something related to her coworker’s personal life that she got dragged into through no fault of her own. This is a legitimate legal court case and the OP is a witness, so I think she has to suck it up, for lack of a better term. But I think it’s fair to be really annoyed by the situation she’s stuck in, it is really crappy and inconvenient for her. Someone else’s problems are being made her problem, and that’s life sometimes, but it stucks.

    8. CuhPow*

      I think that OP is seeing it too much as a personal deal that’s just a minor annoyance for him. However, he’s protecting himself. He could have ignored it, since most of the hostile calls were diverted through OP. However, I feel it’s selfish of OP to think this way considering that, as she said, she was taking most of these phone calls. So if anyone was going to get annoyed and report it to the boss getting Ken fired, it would be her. How many calls would she have to take like this before bringing it to her boss’ attention because Ken didn’t handle it? And then he’d be fired, or in some serious trouble for letting it go on. He’s trying to handle it. It seems as though his primary reason for the Restraining Order is because of the harassing phone calls at work (he didn’t mention any ones at home, so obviously she’s doing it at work for a reason, whether to get him fired or because he changed his personal number) and he fears for his job. If the primary way she’s harassing him at work is by going through OP and his work numbers, there is no other proof except her word. So if OP doesn’t testify, there’s no proof and therefore no restraining order. So this is also beneficial to OP. If the OP doesn’t want to testify, then there won’t be a RO and she’ll have to deal with the calls continuously but has effectively waived her right to complain or get Ken fired for his wife’s actions, since she was in a place to help take care of it and chose not to because it was an inconvenience. Obviously her boss knows she needs to do it, since he’s being so gracious, and may reflect badly on her if she doesn’t protect the integrity of her workplace because of an inconvenience that’s really not much of an inconvenience at all.

    9. DoDah*

      I don’t think anyone has the right to tell the OP how to feel. If she feels upset or angry or hassled, so be it. The OP didn’t write in to have her feelings policed.

  10. Lora*

    Ask Ken’s lawyer if it would be possible to prepare a statement to the court instead – either via affidavit or a deposition at a more convenient time for you. It may not be possible given the subpoena, or under the conditions that the subpoena was written, but it doesn’t hurt to ask. You could point to the fact that given the ex’s behavior, you’re concerned she may try to target you for harassment as well; I know I would be worried about that.

  11. TotesMaGoats*

    Alison is absolutely right. Ken didn’t handle it well but given what he’s going through I can kind of understand why he could have fumbled this. The thought to switch genders makes a good comparison. I think anyone would be comfortable in the situation. You are getting in the middle of something messy and personal but I think this falls under the “right thing to do”.

    Story time. In my first job, my female boss was being harassed at work via phone by her husband that she was divorcing. Part of that harassment stemmed from the divorce and part was due to cognitive degeneration on his part. I had to take several nasty phone calls from him and as a young 20 something right out of college, it was super uncomfortable. I was never asked by her lawyer or anyone else to do anything but I would have. For my boss, who I loved dearly. But also because I didn’t deserve that treatment and testifying would have possibly been a little bit of justice on that score.

    1. Bob Barker*

      God, how many people has this happened to? I wasn’t the boss’s direct assistant, but I worked with her, and she had to do a LOT of “No, I’m sorry, I don’t know where he is at the moment, he is my boss and not the other way around (you complete crazy person I’ve never even met face-to-face).”

      I mean, this was also the boss who left his divorce papers on top of the communal copy machine for several days. So his discretion and judgement weren’t great; it turned out he HAD been having an affair, just not with anyone in our local branch office. (Those sales conventions, man. So many hijinks.) But man, harassing your spouse’s assistant when your spouse is obviously avoiding you is not a good look on anybody. And of course, the boss never even managed to apologize for involving all of us in his personal melodrama.

  12. specialist*

    You will do fine. Your boss is paying you and reimbursing mileage, and I suggest you take him up on it. You can make it clear to Ken that you aren’t happy about this.

    When you get to court, you answer with the facts. You give yes and no answers whenever possible. You avoid emotionally charged statements.

    1. Michelle*

      Agree on the avoid emotionally charged statements. Who knows what the wife has told her attorney and some attorneys are very good at twisting words. As long as OP sticks to the facts, everything will be fine.

    2. Dan*

      She can make it clear to Ken she isn’t happy about this, but that won’t matter one bit. Remember, he’s actually trying to divorce this woman, and he isn’t the one calling and harassing the receptionist.

    3. Jersey's Mom*

      And that is exactly why Ken’s attorney should talk to her now, at least. I’ve been a professional witness numerous times. You answer the question asked, you do not explain, or digress, or answer a question you think should have been asked. You answer the question asked. Your attorney (or in this case, Ken’s attorney) should be on the ball to ask follow up questions, to ask the OP to explain or expand on an answer she previously gave.

      If Ken’s attorney does not have at least a brief discussion with OP ahead of time, Ken’s case could see difficulty ahead.

      But OP, just remember to answer the question asked, answer it briefly. And remember, there is no prize for giving an answer fast! I usually take a long breath and a couple of seconds to think about what the exact question is and how I will answer it before I even open my mouth. Your role is to be calm and precise. Good luck.

        1. Jersey's Mom*

          A couple other things to keep in mind: first and foremost, always tell the truth. If the question asked is confusing, it is ok to say “I don’t understand the question, could you rephrase it for me?” It’s ok to ask for a glass of water if the room is hot or your throat is dry. (I once had a hot flash in the middle of my testimony – that was an interesting day).
          Sometimes an attorney can act mean – try not to take it personally and just stay calm (I had one attorney try to rattle me by asking loudly and in my face “well, am I supposed to call you Miss or Mrs or Ms or Doctor or what?!”. I calmed answered “Ms is fine”. Don’t engage if the attorney acts mean or asks something insulting (“do you even know what today’s date is?”). Don’t worry, the judge (and jury, if there is one) can see what he is doing.
          You’ll be fine. Your boss is being great and understanding about this. And, remember this – at least you won’t have a hot flash in the middle of your testimony! I’m sure some people in the court watched me get red in the face and sweat like a banshee and wonder if I was about to explode! Fun times…

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Witness intimidation. OP, in this example here, remember the attorney looks like a jerk to those who are watching. Remain calm and simply answer the question that is asked, pretend like you can’t hear voice inflections.

          2. babblemouth*

            I don’t understand the advantage for a lawyer to deliberately antagonize a witness. Why would they do that?

            1. BananaPants*

              I was told by someone who serves as an expert witness very often (it’s his full time job, basically) that the goal is to try to rattle or discredit the witness by pointing out supposed inconsistencies in statements or getting them to admit that their recollection isn’t solid. That said, judges and juries can usually tell when opposing counsel is being an ass and making personal attacks versus simply trying to bring the witness’ statements into question.

              OP needs to stay calm even if opposing counsel is on the attack. Ken’s soon-to-be-ex’s attorney may indeed try to make her seem like a bubbleheaded “just a receptionist” who has the hots for Ken. Some divorce attorneys have reputations as pitbulls who will stop at nothing to help their client win – friends who have been through divorce have both retained and faced such attorneys and it’s not a pretty scene. Or opposing counsel could be totally professional! Ken’s lawyer really ought to prep the OP prior to the court appearance so that she’s prepared for what she might have to face.

      1. Peter the Bubblehead*

        A good lawyer will never ask a question he/she does not already know the answer to.

  13. Jesmlet*

    Ken obviously could have been more courteous about this but testifying seems like the right thing to do in this case. Try to put yourself in his shoes. He’s probably really stressed out and that could’ve been why he didn’t ask you himself. If this was happening to you, you’d want any ‘witnesses’ to say what happened as well.

  14. MegaMoose, Esq.*

    Ken absolutely did not handle this well*, but I agree with Alison that sometimes life is messy, and getting sucked into other people’s legal issues can happen to anyone. Maybe instead of thinking of this as punishment for reporting harassment, think of it as a civic duty after witnessing domestic abuse. It’s certainly a pain to get dragged into your coworker’s/neighbor’s/random stranger at the bus stop’s personal affairs, but that’s part of living in a society. You have the ability to testify to information that could help see justice is done, PLUS your boss is making it much, much easier for you to do so than usual.

    *We don’t know any details other than what’s here of course, but maybe try and give Ken a little more compassion here. A friend of mine was in a very similar situation as you not too long ago, and it ended in her Ken committing suicide. Obviously that’s not going to happen in every case, but being harassed by a spouse can be incredibly traumatizing and who knows what else might be going on.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Clearly the words “civil duty” jumped to a lot of our heads here. :) No intent to pile on, OP. Getting involved in the legal system stinks for most people.

    2. my two cents*

      Had two male coworkers who both had terrible TERRIBLE divorces.

      One, the guy had married and produced a child with some woman. They got divorced. Ex-wife knew he occasionally imbibed some herbal refreshment. Ex-wife gets new-boyfriend to call our employer and report that he ‘was stoned in front of customers and was slurring his words and staggering about’. Dude gets tested, fails, and then gets fired. There was such an influx from his customers and accounts DEMANDING he get hired back that they finally did. Dude had to take a bunch of ‘dependency’ courses and other crap, but at least he was able to get his career back.

      Other guy, he held so much about his divorce in. It only occasionally came out if he stepped outside for some air while I was smoking, and he’d vent a bit about his 20-something son spinning his life’s tires. He suddenly was doing a bunch of midlife crisis-esque behaviors – went sky diving twice, did some sort of conversationalist canoe trip (something about ducks?), and even ‘anonymously’ gifted each of us in the office $40 cash (we knew who it was). He was a phenomenal coworker – always the advocate of others’ work, polite collaboration, a true workplace egalitarian (despite his 20+ years of industry experience). He committed suicide right after the holidays. The funeral was…awkward. He had left a lengthy suicide note detailing each one of us in the office, saying that we were his safe place and support. While trying to pay our respects, I introduced myself to the mother-son pair. “Oh, You’re MyTwoCents? He spoke highly of your work”. I told a quick anecdote about how he was such a great person – we had gotten into it ONCE over a datasheet re-write, and when I arrived the next morning he left a really great apologetic note (“sometimes I hold too hard to the reigns, and I’m sorry for acting that way” very sweet note) and some flowers. Woman says “well, he certainly never left ME flowers” and it was the most awkward ever because she was terrible. The ex wife didn’t even ‘allow’ coworker to be buried near his family.

      Psychological and emotional abuse is definitely abuse, and abusers come in all shapes/sizes/salaries. It’s LW’s duty to help put a stop to the harassment.

      1. Dan*

        I could have been Ken. But my receptionist had been around the block a few times, and would have jumped at the chance to testify in court.

        Yes, I informed a few people what was going on, because if it rained all sorts of crazy upon the office, I wanted people to be prepared.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        That suicide sounds eerily similar to what my friend has been dealing with. That is rough. I’m glad your first coworker was able to get his career back, though.

        1. my two cents*

          It was a couple of years ago, back in 2013. My heart still aches as I typed that out, and as I re-read it posted here.

          He was an all-around amazing guy.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Thank you for sharing that story. It touched my heart. Sometimes people seem like they are rising above the insanity that surrounds them, but sometimes it is just to much for a person to bear.

            The ex won the coin toss of where to bury this man, but that is all she won. She lost on every other front and she knows that. Please hang on to that thought. I am sorry for you and your coworkers’ loss.

      3. Poohbear McGriddles*

        I want to make a joke about the “duck” canoe trip, but just doesn’t feel right now.

    3. Sara M*

      I agree with all this–Ken and his attorney handled this badly, but try to find compassion for Ken if you can. I’m sure he’s miserable and suffering, and probably just trying to hold his life together at this point.

  15. jack of all trades*

    I suspect Ken is embarrassed about the whole thing and didn’t know how to bring testifying up to LW. Testifying to the facts of the phone calls isn’t any different than if anyone called your office and threatened an employee.

    1. B*

      Agree with this and AAM”s advice. Ken was probably embarrassed by this situation and obviously did not handle it well by not speaking with you first. However, I do think OP you are overreacting. You are not being punished, in fact your employer is going out of the way to show just how much you are not being punished.

      As many have said, if there were in reverse (woman asking you to testify against her verbally abusive husband) would you really be so upset and feel like you do. If the answer is no, then that same answer should apply for this situation.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Really great point. Society does not respond to/ think about husband abuse in the same manner they think about wife abuse.

  16. TotesMaGoats*

    My original response got eaten. Suffice to say that I agree with Alison and everyone else. Anyone would be uncomfortable but it’s the right thing to do.

  17. BRR*

    Although I understand not wanting to get involved, I think you should testify because it feels like a social contract to me. I’m with ThatGirl above as seeing it as just being a witness to any legal matter and you’re just providing facts. I would also let Ken know that he mishandled this.

  18. OP*

    OP here- I completely understand Allison’s advice and I realize that 1. it’s not legally a hostile work environment, and I’m not being “punished” as you said and 2. I didn’t react in the best way either, so I can see why there are some comments pointing that out.

    I found out after sending in my question, however, that the real reason for the hearing is that Ken is trying to overturn a restraining order that his wife has taken out against him because he (allegedly) hit her – he was arrested and subsequently released without charges, and claims he didn’t hurt her. It’s not really a cut-and-dry case of her harassing him, as some have suggested. I know that doesn’t change anything but it does make me even more uncomfortable with the situation.

    1. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Blech, that’s double rough. I had a job not long out of college where a coworker and his girlfriend had this dueling restraining order thing going on that was just a mess for everyone involved – as it turns out, harassment can be a two-way street and sometimes it sucks a whole lot of bystanders in as well. As other folks have said, talk to the attorney who subpoenaed you about what to expect and just stick to what you personally witnessed. Good luck!

    2. Temperance*

      That does make it a little less … compelling, but at least you only have to testify to what you know, which is that his wife was harassing him at work, and harassing you. That’s a thing that actually happened.

      Also, I obvs don’t know what state you’re in, but if there’s a restraining order in place, she shouldn’t be calling your office screaming and demanding to talk to her husband. That’s against the entire point of a restraining order, which is to keep victims of DV safe from their abusers. There also have been cases of people using the restraining order system to perpetuate abuse, FWIW, because it keeps the alleged victim in control. (Like she can keep calling him, and maybe even stay in their house while he can’t respond to her provocations and can’t go in his own home.) This is OBVIOUSLY not me saying that she’s lying, or that victims are not to be believed, BTW.

    3. hbc*

      Just tell the truth. Don’t speculate on what you didn’t hear/see. This isn’t you “helping” him or taking a side, this is reporting information that helps form a more complete picture of a legal issue. Maybe this is easy for me to say, but there shouldn’t be anything uncomfortable about telling what you know.

    4. Adam V*

      Fortunately, you shouldn’t have to speak to any of that, and hopefully neither lawyer will be allowed to ask you about that. You should only be asked about the things you were privy to – the phone calls.

      It will all work out, hopefully.

    5. sparklealways*

      OP- I’m sorry you are dealing with this. I give you a lot of credit for recognizing your reaction wasn’t the best. It’s very strange that the ex has a restraining order on him but is is still calling him like that and that he wants this restraining order overturned.

      Hopefully after you testify, it’s a done deal, but it sounds like neither spouse in this relationship is emotionally stable.

      1. hbc*

        Both “bad” and “good” people want restraining orders overturned. The bad actors want to keep doing bad things like “accidentally” showing up at the same grocery store, and the innocent ones don’t want the limitations on their movement (like worrying about whether they can go to their usual grocery store) and don’t want it affecting the divorce decisions.

      2. Doe-eyed*

        Yeah, it’s not entirely unheard for an emotionally abusive wife to call domestic violence on her male partner. (Not saying that’s the case in this situation, but the police tend to believe the woman in abuse situations)

        1. Office Plant*

          It can go either way, but yeah, it’s common for an abusive person to claim the victim is abusing them. Because of that, it can be hard to tell what’s really going on and who’s abusing who.

            1. aebhel*

              Without getting to far into the gory details of it, I’ve had (and witnessed) experiences that suggest that police tend to believe whatever conforms to their worldview. Sometimes that means believing the woman regardless of evidence; sometimes (particularly if the woman is not acting like a perfect victim) it means disbelieving the woman regardless of evidence. Basically, it’s not that simple, and I think it’s inappropriate to speculate when we really know almost nothing about the situation.

              1. Crazy Canuck*

                My experience was that I had to get stabbed before the cops believed me over my ex-girlfriend. Perhaps I’m projecting my own biases, but I’ve never heard a woman say she was afraid to call the police over DV because they afraid they would arrest her, while I have heard multiple men say exactly that.

                1. Turtle Candle*

                  Lundy Bancroft’s work with abusive men indicates that exactly that does frequently happen–the woman is “hysterical” or “emotional” and thus the (calm, rational) abusive man is believed when he says that she was the one who pulled a knife on him first, or whatever.

                  I do think, though, that this is something that depends hugely on the preconceived notions of the individual police who show up. If they think that only men are abusive, that’s what they’ll see. If they think that over-emotional women will do anything, that’s what they’ll see.

              2. Turtle Candle*

                And with depressing frequency, it means believing the least “emotional” or “hysterical” person on the scene. So if you have a woman weeping in a corner and a man going “I dunno, man, she just flipped!”, the man is the “less emotional” and thus more believable. The fact that getting threatened or hit might make you “emotional” is not especially considered. Because their preconceived cultural narrative is that hysterical, emotional people are criminals, and calm, reasonable people are not.

                I always think of Patrick Stewart’s depressing recollection of his mother’s abuse (which was admittedly something like fifty or sixty years ago, but still) where the police who came to find her bruised and battered said “Mrs. Stewart, it takes two people to start a fight!” Because that was their preferred cultural narrative.

            2. Not My Usual Name*

              Yes, at least in in divorce/custody cases that has been my experience as well. The bar often is a lot higher for a man to prove he is being abused than it is for a woman to prove she is being abused.

              1. anonforthis1*

                You can child abuse cases too, it took a pretty good sized bruise from my mother till the authorities (and a school admin who was an ally) did anything.

          1. Doe-eyed*

            I think that’s a fair criticism, I attempted to be brief and wasn’t very precise. I guess it’s more precise to say that many cops will follow the storyline in their head that they’ve laid out, which often conforms to things like “abused and downtrodden female victim calling for protection” or “hysterical over-reactor who can’t solve own problems”. Unfortunately in our area, the standard seems to be to primarily assume the former and request that the male leave the home for the night, regardless of who they think is the aggressor.

    6. Roscoe*

      Well, I still think if you are sticking to the facts, you aren’t really involving yourself in it. They want you to say what you mentioned. It is getting messy, but still just say what you said here, and be on your way.

    7. OP*

      Also, for what it’s worth – to answer a few more questions – I didn’t “take it out on him” or try to turn coworkers against him, and I did already gave a statement that they could have used in lieu of live testimony. I have behaved professionally in the workplace toward him, which is maybe why a lot of the emotion I was feeling came out in the letter.

      1. Dulcinea*

        (Just FYI, they often can’t use the statement in lieu of testimony because the other side has to have the chance to cross-examine you)

        1. OP*

          Okay, that’s good to know! The hearing is tomorrow, and as things stand I’m going to go and testify.

          1. neverjaunty*

            Good luck, OP! And I really want to smack Ken’s lawyer now, for also not telling you that signing that statement would make it more (not less) likely that you had to go into court.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            You will be okay. Tell the truth. If you honestly do not know something, then say you do not know, that is fine to do.

            Hold it in your mind that it’s not up to you to solve this. The judge will make a decision to settle matters, that her job. You are just there to say you saw X, Y and Z happen. It is up to the attorney to build his case and give it to the judge.

            Remember about pacing. If the questions start coming at you too fast, count, “one Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi” before answering. My husband was an insurance adjuster many years ago. He had a few cases go to court. He always talked about breaking the pacing, you CAN control the timing of your answers. Don’t be afraid to be even paced and deliberate.

          3. Rylie*

            I know I’m late to this post, but I’m thinking of you today OP. Hope things are going well.

            (I just had to de-lurk to let you know that even the AAM lurkers are thinking of you. :) )

      2. Michelle*

        Just stick to the facts that you know and you will be fine.

        I had to testify against my brother once. He was suspended from school and mom asked if he could stay with me one day while our grandmother went to the doctor. I was married and off work due to pregnancy complications. I feel asleep on the couch and he stole my car. He picked up a friend and they went to the high school and courthouse parking lots and did reverse donuts. I reported the car stolen and he was picked up less than a mile from the courthouse.

        I was subpoenaed and had to get permission from the doctor to go to court. It was a hassle and messy and emotional. I tried to say nice things about my brother because I didn’t want him to go adult jail (he was 17) instead of just the facts. If I only knew then what I know now…

          1. Michelle*

            The judge decided to sentence him to a year-long “youthful offender diversion program”. He did very well in the program (program coordinators said he was respectful, well-mannered and followed the rules) but as soon as he was released and started hanging around his “friends”, he got in trouble again. He spent a few years in and out of the system. He was extremely lucky that he never spent any time in a “real” prison. He always got sentenced to diversion programs, boot camps, etc. He never committed any violent crimes, but he was still a criminal.

            He’s in his 30’s now, cleaned up his act and is doing well. We are estranged because he pressed his luck with me one too many times.

            1. Marisol*

              Well good for you for taking care of yourself and realizing “no contact” was the way to go.

    8. Dulcinea*

      Ugh, I can see what this adds to your discomfort. Just remember that when you testify you don’t need to take sides- literally just say what you personally saw/heard. You aren’t responsible for anyone else’s actions here and you just need to tell the truth about what you actually know and nothing more. Beyond that you have to put your faith in the justice system to take account of all the facts and sort things out. The wife will have her chance to testify about anything else that may have happened as well as present other witnesses to support her version of events. ( I know the “faith in the justice system” part can be really, really hard- it’s my job to do it every day and I have a hard time with it, but that’s the reality we live in).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        This is important, you are not taking sides. There is no particular way you are “supposed” to answer. Just stick with facts.

    9. Big10Professor*

      Are there kids involved? If there are, try to think of it as doing the favor for innocent kids caught in the middle. Your testimony helps the court decide what is best for them.

    10. Catalin*

      Eugh, yes, that would make me uncomfortable, especially if I had any concern about whether or not he may have been the aggressor/co-aggressor (a no-innocent situation). Still, all you can do is what the court requires.

    11. Florida*

      If you don’t want to hear all the drama of Ken’s life, it is very reasonable to stand in the hallway during other testimony. In fact, the judge can require it is one attorney asks for that. Bring a book or other entertainment and tell them that you will be sitting right outside the courtroom until your testimony is needed. The judge will absolutely allow that. After you testify, go back out in the hallway (or back to work or home, if they let you)

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Yes, do bring a book. The judge may not allow cell phones in the court room and the court room might be the only place you can sit. I sincerely doubt it, but bringing a book will make it easier for you if there is a rule about cell phones in the court room.

    12. A Non*

      Ugh, what a mess. That makes it even weirder that Ken’s attorney would subpoena you without first talking to you – for all he knows, you might introduce evidence that would hurt Ken’s case, like a bad temper or history of lying. I wouldn’t want to be involved either. Fortunately being a witness does not mean you’re compelled to take Ken’s side, just answer some factual questions with the truth.

      My little brother was called as a witness for a minor criminal case. His part was verifying that the accused had been seen in the same time and place as the property damage. There was other evidence against them as well, my brother’s testimony was just an extra nail in the coffin, so to speak. He had to sit in the courtroom waiting to be called, but once he was it took less than fifteen minutes. He reiterated what he’d told the police on the day it happened – he saw the defendant in X time and X place while doing X activity, he said X common greeting. The opposing lawyer pointed out that his statement to the police had included Y common greeting instead, he said yeah, it’s been a year, the written statement is probably more accurate. And that was all.

    13. Frances*

      Be wary of making any assumptions or listening to any claims of he said/did she said/did. A nasty divorce can get really nasty and change people. As an outsider, it is hard to tell what is really going on (From the inside, reality might be a little warped too.)

      During a bitter divorce, my cousin was arrested at his workplace multiple times because his wife called the police accusing him of various crimes. They would arrest him and then, after investigation and realization the crimes never took place, the charges would be dropped. Eventually it got so disruptive at work he finally lost his job. Turns out that his wife was so upset and angry at him that she had made up all sorts of bogus claims of abuse.

      I’m not saying Ken is or isn’t innocent of anything. I’m just saying divorce can warp people and sometimes folks will do anything to hurt the person they once loved. You are better off just sticking to the facts that you know.

    14. the_scientist*

      Well, OP, that certainly makes it messier! But keep in mind that as others have said, you’re only speaking to the facts of what you know- that Ken’s wife has been making aggressive phone calls to the workplace and that you’ve been on the receiving end of some verbal harassment.

      Also, keep in mind that domestic abusers frequently use restraining orders to manipulate the court system and keep their victims under control- “getting there first” (i.e. being the first one to allege violence and get a restraining order) can affect custody arrangements/visitation and can obfuscate what’s actually going on in the relationship, whether there is abuse, no abuse, or the abuser is making it appear that they are the *true* victim. Stick to just the facts, and you should be fine!

    15. Observer*

      So, it sounds like they may both be nuts. Lovely.

      You still have an obligation here. You don’t need to take sides – in fact you absolutely shouldn’t. But, what you have to say is important, since she clearly isn’t playing by the rules. Some women DO lie about the spouse / SO assaulting them, so the fact that she behaved this way to you is relevant.

      As the others said, stick to the facts. Leave emotions out of it, and don’t express ANY opinions. Not about whether she “might” lie or whether he “might” hit someone, etc. “I have no opinion on the matter” is a perfectly valid answer to those kinds of questions.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        OP, sometimes two people bring out the worst in each other. This could be couples, siblings, friends any type of relationship. Left to their own devices they can be decent people on their own, but together they are oil and water. We don’t know what goes on in relationships.

    16. Christine*

      You just do not want to know the sad details of a co-worker’s failed marriage and the ugly divorce. It’s hard to look them in the eye when you learn the worse about them and the ex-spouse.

      It’s also possible that he did hit her. I had an ex that everyone thought was great, couldn’t understand why I walked away. I had reason to, didn’t like some of the behavior I saw. Was made to feel like the bad guy, went back to him and was hit. Now I have ruptured discs in my neck.

      Never assume that an individual (co-worker, friend, end) is willing to share things with you that puts them in a bad light.

      Wish you didn’t have to participate in this. Gag. Feel for you.

    17. fposte*

      Honestly, OP, I’d just try to think of this as being like jury duty; it doesn’t call everybody, but it called you, and you go and do your bit and you’re done. Depersonalize this as much as possible; it’s just something the system needed right now.

    18. Dr. Johnny Fever*

      I don’t think you are obligated here. You gave a statement about the wife’s calls. you did your part.

      Now Ken wants to testify in a matter between he and his wife to which you bore no witness. You have no connection. How relevant is your information except for Ken to use it to try to smear her?

      If I were you, I’d get out somehow. This is not yours to be involved, and Ken and his lawyer stink for compelling you without your permission.

      1. Crazy Canuck*

        This is bad advice. One does not simply “get out” from a subpoena, which does actually legally obligate a person to appear in court.

        So, Dr. Johnny Fever, if I witness you get mugged, do you think I should refuse to testify? After all, we have no connection. Why should I get involved?

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        A little belated “woah hey now,” but Crazy Canuck is right: this is bad advice. The OP is being called to testify about the phone calls to which she is the only witness – hardly something she has no connection to. Those phone calls may or may not support Ken’s argument that the wife is harassing him or trying to get him fired or whatever, but that’s up to the court. If the OP wanted to “get out” of it, she (or more likely her attorney) would need to argue that the subpoena was invalid or overly burdensome or something like that, and there’s nothing here to indicate that it is. Either way, Ken or his attorney should have prepared her better, but they did not need her permission to compel her to testify if there’s a reasonable argument that she’s got evidence supporting their case. That’s just not how the justice system works.

      3. Not So NewReader*

        I always say, no one “owes” anyone any thing. Maybe you could talk your way out of it. But at some point, we start to realize that we are all interconnected and interwoven and that stands alone as a good reason to care about our fellow human being. I think if you reframe it as “If I needed this kind of help, I hope my coworker would speak the truth” you might find that perspective helpful.
        PS. I hope you never, ever need your coworkers to testify on your behalf for anything!

      4. Dr. Johnny Fever*


        1) Mugging is false equivalence. About as false as wife called to harass = OP can overturn my restraining order for assault. Neither one is equal to the other.
        2) OP experienced the verbal assault of the wife. She can’t testifiy to Ken’s character in anyway re: the restraining order.
        3) What’s with the assumption that I’m giving bad advice, therefore I am a bad person and none of you hope to know me. I don’t know you either, and I don’t care to associate with those so quick to judge.
        4) Never claimed to be a lawyer in my years of coming here.

        Disagree with me, fine. Cast aspirsions on me and judge me? To hell with you. You don’t know me, and you predispose who I am from a single comment.

        To hell with you.

    19. nonegiven*

      Maybe you can get the lawyer to come down and discuss the questions you will be asked or may be asked by the other side. It could keep you from freaking out about testifying. I don’t care what it is about, I’d need tranquilizers to testify the sky was blue.

  19. Dulcinea*

    Other commenters have already covered what I would have said about the “societal obligation” part. But, as an attorney, I want OP to know I do feel for them a bit- this kind of thing can be very stressful for people who aren’t used to it. The attorney and/or Ken should have given you a heads’ up. I suggest you call the attorney who subpoenaed you and talk to them about what your concerns are. Even though you don’t have to use PTO, are you losing a days’ pay over this? Are you nervous about what you will be asked? Are you worried that the wife will try to harm you? The attorney should be able to direct you to some resources that can help with those things and give you an idea of what to expect on the court day.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Dwelling on the darkside: OP, if you do think you might be in danger please tell someone. Don’t let us persuade you one way, when you have red flags popping up all around you. I don’t think you do, you sound good and you sound like you have your thoughts collected now. But the rule of thumb is “gut feeling” trumps ” strangers on the internet”.

  20. Kaybee*

    Embarrassment (actual or the threat of) in the workplace is a common way to attempt to control people and is a form of abuse.

    I’ve known a few people who were witnesses to crimes. They never wanted to be in that situation and participating in the court proceedings took an emotional toll on them. I don’t know if you were witness to an actual crime, legally, but you were witness to something very ugly. Just go in and answer the questions; you’re not being asked to make a call on who is in the right and who is in the wrong. And know that okay to feel uncomfortable and emotionally weirded-out: it’s a stressful situation that you didn’t choose to be in, that you got sucked into by virtue of picking up the phone. It’s okay to have feelings about that. Just try to set aside some time for self-care or talking to someone professionally about it, instead of inadvertently taking those feelings out on your coworker, because turning his office against him is one of the things his abuser was trying to accomplish when she made those calls.

    And yes, your coworker absolutely should have told you. But if there’s ever a time to cut someone a little slack, this might be it.

    1. Kaybee*

      Oof just saw your update. I feel for you, OP. Thankfully, you’re not in a position to have to judge who is in the right and who is in the wrong. All you can do is go in and share the facts so that the actual judge can make an informed decision.

  21. Swistle*

    I agree with Alison. Ken didn’t handle it well, it’s true. But he’s not just dragging you into his personal life for fun or because he doesn’t understand work/personal boundaries: his wife inappropriately and aggressively involved one of his co-workers in their personal life, and he is asking you to testify that she behaved inappropriately. He’s agreeing with you that you should not have to be involved in something between him and his wife.

    But you have my sympathy about the testifying. I’d be scared and uncomfortable. I was called as a witness once and it had that surreal feeling of “Why do I have to be involved when I didn’t DO anything or CHOOSE to be part of this??” combined with “This feels like TELEVISION!” But the lawyer should help you prepare a bit to make it less scary, and I ended up thinking of it as Interesting Life Experience.

  22. AW*

    I feel that this is seriously inappropriate. First of all, I really do not want to get involved in a coworker’s personal affairs.

    I think the OP feels like they’re being asked to cross the line between work and personal life and/or having the boundary between the two disrespected, but it was Ken’s wife that did that, not Ken. Yes, Ken handled this poorly (including not even realizing that you’d be legally obligated to testify if subpoenaed) but this is Ken’s wife’s fault. She’s the one that crossed the boundary by harassing him at work.

    Also, this is a legal proceeding. This isn’t you doing a personal favor for him, this is more like doing jury duty. If you’d witnessed a car accident and gave a statement you could get subpoenaed if that went to court. This is the same thing, you just happen to work with one of the people involved.

    1. AW*

      And I just read your update and OOOOH YEAH, I can see how that would make you super uncomfortable.

      I wish I had more to add or better advice but all I’ve got is sympathy. Yes, that sucks a lot.

  23. animaniactoo*

    Regarding this not being harassment in the legal sense – I believe that’s not correct. This likely IS harassment in the legal sense, despite it not being based on race, disability, etc. Most states have laws against harassment that are (paraphrased) “actions designed to annoy, threaten or intimidate the recipient in a repeated manner”. Definitions and penalties vary from state to state, but *all* states now have harassment and stalking laws, and it is under this kind of definition that there likely is a legal case for harassment based on what’s been described here.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ah! It may be harassment in the sense that it’s used outside of labor law. I’m so used to thinking about it in the sense of workplace harassment that I forgot there’s a totally different non-workplace definition. If that’s the case, it still wouldn’t be “hostile workplace,” but it could be criminal harassment.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Criminal harassment, yes, that is right. The judge will decide if the ex’s behavior rises to the level of criminal actions. So all you are doing OP is telling the judge what happened. She will read the law books and refer to case law to determine what level of criminal harassment, if any, this is.

  24. What In A Name*

    I feel for your situation, but agree with all advice given – definitely give the facts of the case and remain neutral. It also totally sucks a big one that you were blindsided and Ken didn’t have the courtesy to even fake a “oh I thought I’d have time to explain” when confronted.

    However, this sentence really stood out to me: “First of all, I really do not want to get involved in a coworker’s personal affairs.” Unfortunately, you got involved when you wrote the letter supporting the restraining order.

    Before I get piled on, let me explain I do not say this to mean that she should not have done exactly what she did. I in no way support ignoring abuse (verbal or physical) regardless of gender direction. Just stating that after the letter you were already involved and this was probably inevitable.

    1. Temperance*

      Even if she didn’t write the letter, she was going to get subpoena’d once she informed her boss of the harassment. So I don’t really think there was anything she could have done to prevent this.

  25. Sarah*

    I agree that Ken didn’t handle it well at all, but I think the OP really needs to testify. No one likes getting caught up in someone else’s problems, but there’s a moral obligation to speak up when you’ve witnessed something. It’s the OP’s bad luck that they were the one on the receiving end of the phone calls, but now it’s their responsibility to testify to what happened. It sounds like their boss is being incredibly supportive about it, which is great. I think the OP is feeling a bit too “woe is me” when really it should be, “Wow, poor Ken. This must be an absolute nightmare for him.” Ken probably feels incredibly awkward and embarrassed about his personal drama being on display for everyone, and for his coworker getting sucked in. If the situation was reversed, I’m sure the OP would hope that their coworker would testify. The right thing and the easy thing are rarely the same thing. The OP has to take a deep breath and do the right thing.

  26. LQ*

    “Sometimes life is messy, but that doesn’t mean the messiness is punitive.”

    This is cross stitch worthy. It is so important (especially after the update) to recognize that sometimes you get sucked into something that is messy and not nicely clear cut as to who is the good guy and the bad guy. Sometimes life is really all over the place and messy. And sometimes what you have to do is just do your part in the mess.

    Here? That means going to testify. (And it does sound like your boss has been pretty good through this, which is always nice to know. Hopefully good in other ways, but addressing the issue with Ken, getting it resolved so you aren’t continuing to be harrassed, paying for mileage, no pto.) You don’t have to speculate on any of the rest of it. You can just focus on what you know. As much as we (sounds like you, and I know me) would like to just stay out of the way of other people’s lives, sometimes they cross our paths and we need to find ways to cope with that.

  27. C Average*

    Back when I was working in social media, a married couple had a very public fight on our company’s message board. He accused her of having an affair with another poster, she called him names, they posted each other’s private information (names, phone numbers, etc.), and it got really ugly. I was moderating out the posts as fast as I could (and, of course, saving copies of them). It was a very awkward position. Some months later, when they divorced, I received a subpoena to testify. I didn’t wind up having to do it after all–the trial was out of state and they were able to use my written feedback rather than summoning me in person–but I was ready and willing to go.

    I agree with Allison. This was handled badly, and ideally you would’ve gotten a heads-up. And I see that you’ve posted some additional details that make the whole thing even more unsavory. But it’s the lawyers’ jobs to sort out all that. All you have to do is show up and tell the truth and honestly answer any questions you’re asked. It can be hard to sort out who did what in messy divorce situations, because you often have two unreliable narrators and their attorneys. Third parties who can clearly describe what they witnessed and when are really valuable in this kind of situation.

    1. Chris*

      I believe the option of writing a written submission rather than appearing in person has been somewhat under-represented in these replies and is worth investigating further. It’s a bit of poor communication that there was no warning before the subpoena, but since the company owner seems pretty supportive of getting this dealt with, it’s likely worth asking the lawer if the OP can just do a written submission of evidence, and write a letter or affidavit outlining what’s gone on, to reduce the impact on their schedule and time.

      1. C Average*

        In my case, I think it made a lot of sense logistically for me to submit my information in writing, because I’d never actually met or spoken to either of the parties in person; all of my involvement in the whole sorry drama had been in writing, and I was able to provide that material with some brief explanatory comments. Beyond what was already existent in writing, I honestly didn’t have much to provide. I was working for a large company at the time, and our corporate counsel did all the communicating on my behalf, so I don’t know how hard they had to work to make the case that I shouldn’t fly from the west coast to Georgia to offer my testimony in person. I was willing to do it, but it would’ve involved a long flight either way and probably a hotel room and rental car at my company’s expense, so they had some financial incentive to fight for written testimony as an alternative.

        I guess I don’t see the OP’s situation as similarly compelling. She will have to take some time away from work and drive for an hour or so, and it has the potential to be awkward and uncomfortable. But she heard things and saw things and witnessed things, and I’m doubtful that she could fully address those incidents, in writing, in a way that would provide answers to the types of questions the attorneys are likely to have. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe she could, though.

      2. MegaMoose, Esq.*

        I’m not sure that the OP’s situation is all that comparable. Unlike C Average’s case where 100% of interactions were in writing, it sounds like the OP’s testimony largely or entirely relies on her memory, and being able to cross-examine as to the exact words used and tone and frequency of the calls is very important. The company owner’s supportiveness is pretty irrelevant. Certainly the OP could ask, but I think you’re overestimating how likely giving a written statement would be an option if this is actually material evidence.

      3. neverjaunty*

        It’s been “under-represented” because it doesn’t work. As the OP found out the hard way.

        Imagine that you’re a lawyer in a case, and the other side hands you a written statement by a witness who says things very damaging to your side. You wouldn’t simply accept that statement and throw up your hands. You’d want to know how much of that statement was really the witness’s own words, and how much was written by the other side. You’d want to know if the statement was reliable. You would want to make sure that the witness actually was willing to stick to her statement and wouldn’t suddenly change it under oath or in front of a judge.

        This “all you have to do is sign” is a trick I see played all the time by opposing lawyers on laypeople who don’t know better – but the lawyers know darn well that a signed statement is going to make us more interested, not less, in making that person testify under oath. But the lie that it will get them out of hassles later is sure handy for making people sign whatever’s put in front of them.

  28. Rocky*

    Uggghhhh…this happened to me when I was a college student. I had a retail job, and one day a guy came in asked, “Is Jane working today?” I said no (the truth). A few weeks later I got subpoenaed because Jane had a restraining order against her husband, and that was him showing up at her workplace.

    It was a long time ago, but I think I did get a brief phone call from an attorney about it beforehand, which seems smart when you’re relying on a 19-year-old. I had to get a professor to let me out of his class so I could go to court. I never did end up testifying – the husband was already in jail for something else by that point, there was some kind of mix-up with court dates, and then I was sent home and never heard about it again.

    Unfortunately Jane also ended up getting fired suddenly for something I never knew the details about. There were kids involved and it was all very sad.

  29. kapers*

    To be fair to Ken, I don’t think it was on him to warn OP. Technically he’s not supposed to be discussing pending litigation. And if he were to campaign for you to testify and share details with you that you wouldn’t otherwise have, that would put you in a really awkward position, professionally and legally.

    His lawyer should have talked to you first, though. That’s the lawyer’s job.

    I would go, in your position, and tell the truth. What it does to the case is out of your hands.

  30. Nervous Accountant*

    Why does being a young woman mean anything here?

    Plus the employer sounds VERY reasonable and generous by not making you use PTO AND reimbursing you.

    1. Erin*

      Having been a woman in my mid-20s working with only older men that are 50+ I can tell you it absolutely does matter. It could possibly explain Ken’s nonchalant attitude, just assuming that she was going to go along with this, no questions asked. Obviously I’m speculating, but it’s enough of a power dynamic that her mentioning her gender and age is absolutely relevant.

      1. Manders*

        Yeah, it sounds from some of OP’s other posts that Ken has a history of not being the greatest guy to work with, and his attitude towards her age and gender might play into that.

    2. Marisol*

      She specifically says she has the least seniority in the workplace. That was why she mentioned the age disparity.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I mentioned above, that I wondered if the thought was that middle-aged people might have the life experience and financial resources to get themselves out of it. So maybe OP felt like they picked her because she would be easier to force into court.

  31. Erin*

    I think it could be interesting (but I also think jury duty is interesting, so…). You get out of the office for awhile. You don’t have to take vacation time. Your boss is repaying your mileage. This isn’t terrible. I don’t think you should fight it.

    Obviously, Ken handled this terribly and I don’t think you would be out of line if you mentioned that to him. Especially if he’s in a position where he needs help, he might want to be aware of how he’s turning people off from wanting to assist him.

    “Hey Ken, I just wanted to mention something to you – I will testify in court for you, but I have to say I felt really off guard when I was subpoenaed. I know you have a lot on your plate but is a huge deal, and I wish you had given me a head’s up that this was coming.” Maybe adding, “Again I don’t mind doing it, I just thought that was worth mentioning.”

      1. Sami*

        I’ve been sent jury duty summons FIVE times. And never had to serve. I think it would be so interesting!
        To be fair, two of those times were for federal court and I was only 21 (yeah, summoned twice in five months), so it wasn’t surprising that no attorney wanted me.

      2. Petronella*

        Thank goodness, I thought I was the only one reading this letter who was all “A chance to get out of the office? And watch part of a trial? And get to testify? And get paid for it and travel costs expensed? Where do I sign up?”

  32. OP*

    I can’t respond to every comment but I wanted to say that the hearing is tomorrow and that I will testify. Thank you to everyone for your advice. I have definitely adjusted my view of the situation.

    I also wanted to say that I haven’t complained to Ken or our Boss about this, or given him a hard time. I know I sound really dramatic in the letter. He has a long history of making my life difficult at work (unrelated to this matter) but I still should have been more sympathetic to his situation.

    1. RJ*

      You can do! I have had to serve before as have some previous coworkers, it always felt stressful and a bit bothersome afterwards. But you did not do anything wrong and just need to report what happened.

    2. Anon Accountant*

      Good luck. You will do fine. (I’m not the best person to take advice from) but I’d consider calling Ken’s lawyers office to speak to him to ask what to expect tomorrow.

      (But I’d also finish the conversation with a “this is my first time with anything like this and I’d have appreciated advanced warning on this subpoena and I’m glad I didn’t have anything else scheduled during this time before I received this”).

      Like I said I’m not the best person to take advice from and have been known to be a little heavy handed.

      1. Anon Accountant*

        And I truly believe the lawyer should’ve talked to OP about this before she was served with the subpoena and have offered to walk her through the process and what to expect.

    3. Government Worker*

      With the additional context from your comments here, I totally understand the tone of your letter. You’re being compelled to testify *on Ken’s behalf*, or at least it’s his/his attorney’s choice to call you as a witness. Given what you know about the messy divorce and how Ken has been as a coworker, I can definitely see how you felt like you were being put in a really awkward position. If you say anything that makes Ken look bad, will he hold it against you at work? Does agreeing to testify somehow indicate that you think he’s in the right about everything in the whole divorce, or even just that you think he’s a good person? (It doesn’t, but in your position I might feel that way, like testifying was vouching for a person.) Will his ex start harassing you now?

      The subpeona means you need to go, and it’s your civic duty. All you need to do is tell the truth about your small part of things. But I totally sympathize with your attitude in your letter.

      1. OP*

        Thanks for writing this – this is exactly how I feel. I am going to testify and I will only state the facts as others have suggested, and I’m not trying to guess what did or didn’t happen. But honestly I don’t trust him as a person, and I know this might sound crazy but I’m also afraid of hearing something later along the lines of “the restraining order was overturned and then he did something terrible to her.” I realize I wouldn’t be responsible for that either, and that should not affect what I say or do as a witness, but the thought is there.

        1. Temperance*

          Putting on my former-DV-intern hat on: nothing that you are doing or not doing by testifying has any impact on whether he hits or harms his wife. You shouldn’t feel any sort of guilt; realistically, his wife is the one who put you in this position by harassing *you* and making threats to *you*. Also, to put a depressing point on it, if he was going to harm her, it would happen whether or not a piece of paper compelled him to stay away.

          I’ve worked with many people who have the reason to fear their parents or former partners. They don’t make phone calls and harass the people that they’re trying to get away from.

          1. Addie Bundren*

            “Abused people do this; abused people don’t do that” is really dangerous territory.

        2. Dr. Johnny Fever*

          Honestly, being the odd one out, I’m impressed you’re going to testify.

          After the new information you posted, the subpoena has nothing to do with his wife’s harassment, but around the events when Ken may or may not have committed assault. In your shoes, I would have contacted the lawyer to say I did not want to testify and begin looking at other options.

          If this were about the pattern of harassment from HER, I’d say that sticking to facts to help Ken would be the right thing to do. But you did that, and Ken is pulling you in deeper. In my mind, that isn’t cool and you aren’t under obligation for this.

      2. Former Retail Manager*

        YES! The additional comments from the OP definitely provided some clarification on the matter and I completely understand her viewpoint now.

    4. HannahS*

      Yes, good luck! I echo the advice about bringing a book. From what I’ve hear, it can be a lot of sitting around.

      1. Christine*

        Take a paperback. I had to go to court for a ticket (chose to so I could do the training course to drop speeding ticket) and they wouldn’t let me take my kindle or cell phone in. Had to turn around and walk back to my car.

    5. Merida May*

      Maybe you should tell him if you feel safe to do so. I know you alluded to it when you were served, but a more straightforward ‘Hey, I know I came and did this for you but I didn’t appreciate being blindsided with a subpoena’ might be cathartic?

    6. LD*

      Good for you! And maybe you can think of it as an interesting story to tell your friends and family later on. It’s certainly understandable to be frustrated and uncomfortable at having to testify; I think anyone would be! You did the right thing to express your frustration here instead of at your workplace. Through handling it this way it is likely that you will be seen as someone who handles uncomfortable situations and doesn’t create drama around them. Good luck to you!

    7. Marisol*

      Oops, I didn’t read this post before commenting. Maybe this will give you some leverage with Ken, or at the very least, maybe you can confront him about his bad behavior in the office. Good luck tomorrow!

      1. Christopher Tracy*

        No. Just no. If Ken does turn out to be violent, the last thing OP should want to do is use the details of his messy divorce as leverage against him because he orders her around the office. Plus, she doesn’t even want to be involved in all this drama in the first place – bringing up his divorce and her testimony later will just get her deeper in the nonsense.

        1. Marisol*

          By “leverage” what I meant was, maybe Ken would be more inclined to stop giving her grief since she has done him a favor, albeit because she was compelled by the court, or, maybe she will feel more comfortable confronting him about his bad behavior, which she is entitled to do whether or not she testifies in his court case, but doing so could give her a little psychological boost and make her feel more comfortable about having the conversation. I didn’t mean she should bring up private details, or blackmail him, or do anything untoward.

    8. Turtle Candle*

      This is 100% not legal advice, which I am not in any way entitled to give, but when I had to testify in a similar situation I remembered a particular line from–oddly enough–a novel; Lois McMaster Bujold’s Borders of Infinity. The main character says this to a woman who needs to give testimony but is rightly terrified, because she lives in a society where ‘justice for all’ is barely even lip service:

      “Just stand up straight and speak the truth. Try to be clear. He’ll take it from there.”

      It has held me in good stead lo these past fifteen years.

  33. Cookie*

    I imagine Ken is in the eye of the storm at the moment and he might have thought he shouldn’t say anything to you as it might be seen as influencing? (several actual attorneys up thread make that moot but Ken might not have known).

    This is one of the downsides to be a receptionist….you get thrown into all sorts of stuff you don’t want to.

  34. L N*

    Yeah, this was handled really poorly and sucks – a lot – but this situation is just one of the hazards of living in a society where we interact closely with other people. If that sounds flip, it’s not meant to – I have intense social anxiety so this kind of thing is my ultimate nightmare, but it’s one of those realities that you have to accept MIGHT happen unless you completely withdraw from society and live in a geodesic dome. I never want to be involved in someone else’s personal issues, or have my schedule dictated by strangers, or potentially be in CONTEMPT OF COURT (!!!) if I can’t comply, but it might happen someday…and really, it’s no one’s fault in this situation but the ex-wife. Mr angry at her for involving you in this situation, and try to get some satisfaction out of your ability to help the court serve justice.

  35. boop*

    As someone who feels anxiety about literally everything, I get how you’d be annoyed about being sucked in to this huge process so forcefully and without warning.

    That said, I hope this doesn’t actually discourage you from reporting harassment. I hope it empowers you further! After all, many people report harassment only for nothing to come from it, and many people continue to live in nightmares because of that. This nightmare can finally be addressed, if someone is actually willing to help.

  36. Stellaaaaa*

    I understand that many people probably wouldn’t be jazzed about something like this, but perhaps you could view it as a new experience? I don’t think it’s wholly bad to have experience with the court system, it’s costing you nothing, and you’d be earning major “good person” points. Take the day, have a nice lunch. You never know when you might need this kind of help from someone.

  37. Female-type Person*

    OP, take a book and a bottle of water. You will probably sit in the hall all day, and may not ever actually be asked to testify. In divorce and custody, a common tactic seems to be to call as witnesses all sort of people to leverage the other party, with the end goal being a settlement.

  38. Christine*

    Is this a court appearance in support of a “restraining order” or a civil suit? Depending on the state they’ll issue a restraining order immediately, but a court appearance is required to extend it past 1 – 2 weeks. You could be arrested if you fail to appear. I’m also wondering if the co-worker told the lawyer that he would notify her about the court appearance and failed to do so. The lawyer could have been operating under the assumption that she had been notified.

    The employer can block the woman’s phone number. I recommend that the employer’s lawyer send a letter to the “future ex-wife” stating that she not contact anyone at the place of business, etc. Charges could be filed for harassment. I had an ex that kept showing up at work, my boss referred me to their attorney. The company attorney did it, but the employer passed the cost on to me since it was a domestic issue. I got charged $25.00 versus the standard $150.00.

  39. No rulers needed*

    It’s not rocket science to understand. She says she is young and, going by her reaction to the situation, seems more intimidated and anxious about the situation than someone older and with more life experience would be.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Truth be told, there are many people of a variety of ages who would be thrown by this situation. And no, civic duty would not be the first thing they think of. It’s not when you have no idea what the heck you are getting involved in.

  40. Aonn today*

    My college age daughter witnessed a pretty severe beating at a house party gone wrong. So did other people, but nobody else seemed to be able to remember or conveniently lost the messages when they were called for their accounts. It was hugely stressful to go through the deposition process and when it went to trial, she was called as a witness on the first day of the semester, so she had to go talk to her teachers and get assignments, etc… in advance. Then ,like on television, they put her through the ringer by questioning all sorts of non-essential parts of her account and made her feel dumb. And now, she’s been the star witness against angry guy in prison. nice. In the end we agreed she had to own this as part of being a member of the human race and hope she gets good karma from doing the right thing. Maybe the dude won’t beat anybody else in a drunken rage. This workplace story is less dramatic, but the moral to the story is the same. Sucks how it went down but do the right thing and report the facts. Loyalty vibe to supportive employer.

    1. LD*

      Wow. Sympathy for and supportive thoughts for your daughter! You sound like a good role model and she’s following your advice.

  41. Aca-Believe It*

    I don’t get why OP thinks they are being punished, or why the demographics in the office have any relevance. I get that it’s inconvenient and wasn’t handled well, but OP hasn’t said why they don’t want to do it – when they are the only person who can verify that these phone calls happened.

    1. vanBOOM*

      I’m taking a guess here, but I think she is saying that she feels like she’s being put in a vulnerable position at a time when she, perhaps, already feels like she simultaneously sticks out and has relatively less power and status than everyone else at her workplace. (I am trusting that age and status/power are correlated in her workplace.) In other words, she may already be feeling like she’s in a vulnerable spot at work and is now feeling more vulnerable.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Picture it this way, you report something with the idea that you are going to make it stop. Instead of stopping, you get drawn in deeper, now you have to make the same report to a larger group of people.

      Yeah, that skips a couple steps, right? But panic does this, it causes us to skip steps in our thought process and draw the wrong conclusion.

      With a closer look, one can see what happened was Ken became aware of OP’s experience BECAUSE she reported it. So Ken told his attorney and his attorney hopped right on it. Is the attorney or Ken punishing OP for reporting it? No, they are being opportunistic and latching on to OP’s report to support their case.

      Wisely, OP landed on the idea of writing AAM. She found someone whose opinion she respected and asked Alison. We have a right to feel whatever way we want to about something. But OP did not allow her feelings to guide her reaction, which is an EXCELLENT choice. She sought outside sources for help instead.

      It’s when people allow their feelings to guide their actions that the real problems begin.

  42. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    Interesting to hear attorneys say the attorney should have contacted her first, but I wonder if that’s a jurisdictional thing. I’ve been subpoenaed more times than I’d like to admit (divorces, accidents, employment cases, crime) and I have NEVER been contacted in advance. It’s only been in 2 states, but the first subpoena I received was in the late 79’s and I still seem to be popular. Consider your answers carefully, remember to breathe, and if an attorney tries to badger you, look to the other one for help. Oh and remember to breathe some more.

  43. vanBOOM*

    Oh, OP, I feel for you. I would be feeling scared, too, and angry at the lack of advance notice (though others here seem to be suggesting that advance notice may or may not have been possible; I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on that).

    When I was younger than you, I found myself in a stalking situation (in which I was the one being stalked and threatened). To my shock, one of my peers had extremely valuable information that helped my case (and in the court’s eyes, it probably carried more weight as he had no stake whatsoever in the outcome of my case). Without me knowing that he even had this information and would be asked to testify, he agreed and simply told the courts what he objectively knew to be true. To this day, I am so grateful to him. In terms of testifying (from the perspective of the person who was being harassed), I was scared to do it and getting started was difficult, but it ended up passing by much faster than I thought it would.

    Which is to say: You’re in a difficult spot, for sure….but like Alison said, you’re not being asked to take a side. If you think you are able and willing to do this, think of it as just taking your *own* side by simply repeating what you know to be objectively true. I wish you luck regardless.

  44. LeRainDrop*

    If you want to blame someone for getting you involved in your co-worker’s affairs, blame the wife who is 100% responsible for calling you, cursing at you, and making threats multiple times. I completely agree with Alison that Ken didn’t handle asking you to testify well, but I think it’s the right thing to do to heed the subpoena and testify truthfully at court about what factually happened that you witnessed.

  45. Norman*

    It’s particularly strange that Ken’s LAWYER didn’t contact LW in advance. It doesn’t give me much confidence in Ken’s lawyer; I think he’s in for a rough time in court.

    Most states have a type of restraining order that allows and employer to get it against a third party when that third party is harassing an employee at work. LW’s employer should consider this.

  46. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    You’re not a suspect or a person of interest.

    You are legally obligated to appear. This is not like jury duty where you can beg out of it because your Mom has toenail fungus or little Johnnie has a little league game.

    If you don’t – yes, you can be locked up for contempt.

    So go – tell the truth – answer questions honestly, as you will be under oath.

    1. Norman*

      1. You cannot be “locked up for contempt” for failing to comply with a subpoena. If you fail to comply, you may be required to pay the court fees of the party who subpoenaed you when they have to get an order requiring you to appear. If they do get that order, and you don’t comply with it, it might at some point rise to the level of criminal contempt allowing you to be jailed, but it would be highly unlikely to occur even violating one court order to appear. Maybe if you did it repeatedly, but even then it would be pretty unlikely.

      2. Actually, you can get out of a deposition if you have something else important you need to do (like take your mom or child somewhere). Well, you can’t get out of it completely, but you can get it rescheduled. Just like jury duty.

      At least this part of your comment was right: “So go – tell the truth – answer questions honestly, as you will be under oath.”

      1. Crazy Canuck*

        Point one will assuredly depend on the judge and jurisdiction. I have known someone who was jailed for contempt for blowing off a subpoena. I also strongly recommend that one consults a lawyer licensed in your jurisdiction, and not some anonymous dude in the internet, before ignoring a subpoena.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Here in Massachusetts you can be locked up for it. A subpoena IS an order to appear. In OP’s case, she’s likely going to be asked about harassing phone calls. That’s probably all she’s going to be asked about.

        Some years ago, I spent some time on a jury. When a witness – under subpoena – failed to show – she was picked up, locked up. When she refused to answer questions, she was brought before a judge and advised = answer or be charged with MORE contempt.

        High school Latin = subpoena – “sub poena” = “under penalty”. You can appeal to get it quashed but you have to have some valid argument or cause — such as an upcoming criminal prosecution against you. “I don’t wanna” would likely not be an acceptable reason.

        Yes you can obtain a re-scheduling (obviously – we saw one lady discuss the birth of her child) … if there are extenuating circumstances. Yes, it’s going to be tough on OP for a day or so – but — we have a justice system for a reason.

  47. DCGirl*

    OP, it could be worse. I used to work with someone whose previous job was a lower-level accounting clerk for a national company that was being sued by its franchisees for financial misfeasance. She was subpoenaed over and over again by franchise owners for their individual trials. She finally had to get her own attorney to represent her and explain to the various franchise owners’ attorneys that she was so low on the totem pole that she had no responsibility for what had caused the suit and no direct knowledge of the circumstances in order to get the subpoenas to stop.

  48. Faith*

    My main issue is with the fact that Ken couldn’t be bothered to give heads up to the OP about the subpoena. Yes, their boss is not making her use up her vacation and is reimbursing her mileage, but Ken couldn’t have known that this was going to be the case. Also, OP could have had personal or family commitments for that particular date. This is coming from someone who had to defer jury duty twice – first, because of a job interview; second, because my toddler woke up with a 104 fever on the day I was supposed to serve and I had no backup childcare lined up. My understanding is that the court is going to be a lot less flexible with a witness than they might be with a potential juror. I feel like Ken should have taken that into consideration.

    1. nonegiven*

      My friend wasn’t allowed out of jury duty without showing up in person. She called and told them she was sick and throwing up. So she had to drive across town, like 30 minutes in traffic, and go to the courthouse with her baby carrier in one hand and a trash can for puking in the other.

      1. Faith*

        I just flat out didn’t show up. I was supposed to report there at 8 am, and their office hours for Jury Services help line were from 9:30 am. I called at exactly 9:30 and told them what happened. No issues at all. Making a sick (and possibly contagious) person drive to the court house just to ask permission not to serve sure is a power trip on some clerk’s part.

  49. Ava Avarice*

    Ken didn’t handle this well; he was rude about springing this on LW. But is the inconvenience of spending a few hours (paid!) dealing with this really that big of a deal? I feel like LW is whining because she has to use morals and be honest. Go to court, tell them what was experienced, and go back to the office. There isn’t any testifying on behalf of any one side. LW is relaying what her interactions were. I feel like it’s on the scope of basic human decency – someone is in need and a minimal amount of help resolves a great source of stress.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Whoa, I think that’s a pretty unkind interpretation of the OP’s stance, particularly given the further details she’s explained in the comments here.

  50. Camellia*

    I’m a bit surprised at the negative tone of many comments. Most of us don’t want to get involved with coworker’s messy personal situations. OP wrote a statement for Ken and thought that would be the end of it, and now she has a potentially uncomfortable and stressful situation to deal with, and she is angry about that, boss’s generosity notwithstanding. I think that is perfectly justified. She has not said she won’t do it.

    Also, OP, you will now be subjected to a person who is, at the least, belligerent and apparently required a restraining order just to keep her from calling your office. Now this person will have a face and a name to put with the voice on the phone. I would be a bit concerned that her belligerence might expand to include you personally. Not sure what you can do other than exercise a bit more caution by keeping an eye out for her around the premises of your work (has she ever shown up there before?) and report any calls, etc., that are directed at you. I hope none of this is necessary but it would certainly be on my mind if I had to go to court and testify under these circumstances.

    1. EddieSherbert*


      Most people don’t want to get dragged into other people’s drama. You deal with it when it happens (like OP is), but who hasn’t mentally kicked themselves? Or imagined doing it differently and saving yourself from the situation? Or fantasized about a magic word or phrase that would get you out of it now?

      And I would 120% be the incredibly-stressed-person imagining worst-case-scenario-results like your second paragraph, Camellia!

      Good luck OP and remember that paragraph two is not likely to happen :)

  51. Bossy Magoo*

    I agree and if she’s concerned about getting beat up by the wife’s lawyer she should reminder herself that she (OP) has no stake in this. Don’t take it personally, just report the facts. If you don’t know something, just say “I don’t know”…don’t try to draw conclusions or explain what you think someone’s intentions are or were. You’re there to answer questions about the phone calls you took and that’s it. Good luck!

    1. Bossy Magoo*

      I mean I agree with Alison’s original advice…I wrote my comment before I read any others.

  52. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Yeah … Ken and his lawyer both handled this poorly. But I’m glad to hear that you’ll be testifying – I think it’s the right thing to do. Good luck tomorrow!

  53. Marisol*

    OP, I can think of two reasons why testifying will be good for *you* personally. Firstly, you’ll be getting goodwill/karma points with Ken, and with your boss, who I imagine relies heavily on Ken since it is such a small office. This is an unusual way to be a team player, but doubtless helping Ken resolve his issues will also help your company.

    Secondly, it is not a bad idea to gain some familiarity with court proceedings. At some point in your life you may have to sue someone, or be sued yourself, and since dealing with a court situation can be intimidating, having a little exposure to the process in advance can only help. I had to take someone to small claims court when his auto insurance refused to pay me fully for the damage he caused, and doing so actually felt like a kind of adult milestone. Getting a little streetsmarts is always a good thing.

    You’re not being asked to do anything unethical. Ken was kind of a buttface by not giving you a heads-up, but he may be stressed out of his mind dealing with the divorce stuff, or he might have been too embarrassed to speak with you, or he might have thought his attorney would handle it, (which he should have) or some other reason. My suggestion nonetheless is to stop being recalcitrant and help your team member out.

    Plus, someday you’ll need a favor like this from someone, and you’ll want them to help you.

  54. Gene*

    Though it’s likely there won’t be a jury, I’ll give you advice from a jury members perspective. I sat on a civil jury once for 4 months (they settled and we never even got to hear the defense side present their case). I’ve sat on a criminal jury. And I’ve been a witness in several trials, civil and criminal, on both sides.

    If the question asked can be answered with one word, don’t use two. If three will do, don’t use four. And, FFS, if you are asked something like, “How long did you live in X?”, don’t start your answer with, “I was a small girl in the Dust Bowl in the Great Depression …” and go through your entire living locale history! Yes, that happened.

    Relax. It will be difficult, but take a deep breath before you take the stand.

    Don’t dance around answers, just answer the question asked.

    It’s likely you will not be allowed into the courtroom until you are called in to testify, bring a book. You may be allowed to stay and watch after your testimony is finished.

    If someone starts chatting with you while waiting or you feel the need to chat with someone to kill time, don’t say anything about the trial.

    Arrive early and sober. Yes, some people need to be told that.

    And look at it as a learning experience. Most people never see what actually happens in a courtroom beyond Perry Mason and Law & Order; those aren’t representative of real life.

    Since it’s tomorrow, unless it’s in the afternoon you can’t do the other thing I’d recommend. Go to the courthouse and sit in on a couple of trials. Someone may ask why you’re there, just answer that you are observing trials. They are just making sure that you aren’t (a) lost or (b) there to testify in that trial.

    1. Marisol*

      I think the last paragraph is good advice, but I think the suggestion about being succinct could be putting too much pressure on the OP. I personally sometimes struggle with being concise, and “trying” to rein myself in only makes me self-conscious and makes the rambling worse. I think the only real obligation the OP has is to tell the truth, and not try to be a “perfect” witness.

      1. Observer*

        Sure. But it’s to her benefit to be succinct. There is less scope for the lawyer to badger her into saying something that “helps” their side.

        1. Marisol*

          If she gets badgered, then opposing counsel can object on those grounds. And I don’t think she needs to concern herself with whether or not she is helping or hurting anyone’s case, or whether or not she is being too long-winded for the jury’s comfort (as Gene alludes to above). None of that is her concern. I mean, only the OP knows if the advice above is helpful, and if she can be succinct, and finds that suggestion helpful, then that’s great for her–maybe she can do it quick-and-dirty and get out of there fast. But really I think her only obligation is to tell the truth to the best of her abilities, rather than try to be a “good” witness or an “effective” witness or a “savvy” witness or whatever. If she says something that winds up hurting Ken’s case, his lawyer is to blame for failing to communicate appropriately with her and/or for subpoenaing her in the first place.

          1. Observer*

            Oh, I agree with you about the OP’s obligations – or the obligations of any witness, for that matter. But, I don’t think that the advice to succinct was intended for the benefit of the jury, but rather based on what the jury saw happening.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I think that OP is feeling plenty of pressure anyway, but OP, I hope you feel encouraged and reassured by us telling you to listen to the question and answer directly the question that is asked. You may wish they ask you something else and they don’t. Don’t worry about it, it’s up to them to put the facts together into a case. So just listen closely to the questions asked.

  55. OP*

    The hearing has been postponed because Ken’s wife is in the hospital. It will probably happen next week.

    I asked Ken if his attorney would want to speak with me at all beforehand to prep me as a witness – as some commenters have suggested – and he said that wouldn’t be necessary (although it sounds like I can expect to be cross-examined).

    Listen, I know I came off as sounding really unsympathetic to someone in need in my original letter. But something about this whole situation makes my blood run cold. I’m still going to testify and again, I haven’t said anything to Ken to make him uncomfortable. I’m taking a lot of the advice here into consideration and I’ll just tell the truth and not “take sides,” of course. I have no intention of lying under oath. Anyway, thank you to everyone who has weighed in, and thank you Alison for answering my letter.

    1. Marisol*

      Hi OP, I think the way you’ve responded to all the commenters here has been great, and hearing the additional information that Ken has been really difficult to deal with makes it much more understandable why you would have objections to testifying.

      I think the reason people suggested you speak with the attorney beforehand was more for *your* comfort rather than for any legal necessity. If you want some information as to what you will be facing on that day, particularly if you will be cross-examined, then I think you should call the attorney. Just call him. It doesn’t matter what he wants. It matters what you want. You’re driving 40 minutes out of your way and getting yourself involved in something you’d rather not be involved in. Who gives a shit what Ken or the attorney think is “necessary?” You don’t need anyone’s permission to pick up the phone and call that guy. If you want to, then do it.

      If you don’t really want to, of course, then don’t obviously. Good luck either way! I don’t think it will be that big of a deal when it actually happens, since you’re basically describing a few phone calls you received.

      1. Observer*

        I agree. If YOU would be more comfortable talking to the attorney, go ahead and do so. Or, don’t. They key is to do what you are more comfortable. And, don’t ask Ken about this – it’s not his call to make.

    2. Petronella*

      What’s she in the hospital for? And OP, please don’t worry that your letter didn’t sound sufficiently sympathetic and especially do not worry about whether Ken is uncomfortable or not. It’s not your job to make him comfortable. Also not your problem that he appears to have a crappy lawyer.

      1. OP*

        Thanks – I don’t know why she’s in the hospital, but Ken made it sound like she may have hurt herself.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Court cases are strange animals, OP. You might even end up NOT going to court. Or the case could be postponed five more times. Exhale. And take a wait-and-see approach. If you catch yourself getting tense, reread some of these comments here or jump on Friday’s open forum.

    3. neverjaunty*

      OP, glad you get a little bit of breathing room.

      But can I make a suggestion, since you have some time? Talk to Ken’s lawyer directly – not to Ken. The lawyer’s name and phone number should be on the subpoena. I would not assume that Ken is a reliable narrator here, and if his attorney really doesn’t want to speak to you (which to me, is ridiculous and foolhardy), you should hear that from the lawyer directly.

    4. Ann*

      I had to testify against a friend who was accused of abusing her children. I sat in the courtroom and listened to her testimony after my turn on the stand.
      Talk about blood running cold.
      She was my FRIEND. I saw her and her family weekly, if not more often.
      She ended up losing her parental rights.

      You can only speak to what you know– do that and you will have done well.

      There is truth and there is the unknown. Your job is to bridge that gap for the judge. That is all.

    5. MegaMoose, Esq.*

      Thanks for the update! As others have said, legal proceedings can be really unpredictable so who knows how and when things might shake out. I’m glad the comments have helped put things in perspective and I really hope you don’t get pulled into this any further than you already are – I’ve seen office divorces go quite ugly, so if things do deteriorate further, I’d encourage you to make sure you’re taking care of yourself, too! Good luck!

  56. Dust Bunny*

    I don’t know where the “punishment” feeling is coming from–this isn’t from your boss, it’s from a lawyer who doesn’t have anything to do with your place of employment. You’ve been called as a witness because you are, in fact, a witness. You’re not being asked to take sides, even: You’re only being asked to take a statement about the types of calls you received. You won’t be the only person whose testimonty is factored in here.

    And yes: As suggested above–deal with the lawyer, not with Ken. It’s the lawyer’s area of expertise, not Ken’s, so you’ll get better answers and probably feel less inclination to associate this with your coworkers/place of employment.

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