Preparing For Your Hearing In Small Claims Court
While you’re waiting for your hearing date, it’s important to prepare your case as thoroughly as you can.
Double-check your facts. Gather all of the evidence you think you may need. Organize your thoughts and evidence to make your claim as easy as possible to understand. Prepare a written outline of the important facts and the points you intend to make to the judge.
By presenting your case clearly and in the least amount of time, you will make it easier for the judge to understand your case and make a decision. You can help the judge and also increase your chances of obtaining a favorable decision by being well prepared. It’s also helpful to sit through a small claims court session before the date of the hearing. This will give you firsthand information about how small claims cases are heard in your local court.
On the day of your hearing, schedule enough time to get to the court, allowing for possible transportation or parking delays. Try to arrive early so you can locate the proper courtroom. If you don’t speak English well, and may have difficulty presenting your case in court, it’s okay to bring someone who can interpret for you in court.
Prepare for the hearing by gathering any evidence that will help the judge understand the case. Your evidence may include any written contract, receipt, letters, repair orders, photographs, canceled checks, account books, advertisements, warranties, service contracts, or other documents.
Make two copies of any document you intend to give the judge. The judge may ask you to give one copy to the other party and may place one copy in the court’s file. Therefore, don’t hesitate to bring any items or documents that you believe may help the judge understand the case.
Most small claims courts rely on temporary judges (sometimes called pro tem judges) to hear and decide small claims court cases. A temporary judge is an attorney who has been licensed for a minimum of ten years to practice law in California and who volunteers to assist the court by hearing certain kinds of cases. The temporary judge is required to complete a training program for small claims court judges before hearing cases.
If you’re given the option of a hearing by a temporary judge, you should consider several factors:
- Many small claims court calendars are overcrowded, so it’s possible that your hearing will be held on the scheduled date only if the hearing is conducted by a temporary judge.
- Attorneys who serve as temporary judges are expected to have basic knowledge about consumer and small claims court law.
- All courts must provide special training programs for their temporary judges.
Usually, you’ll have only a few minutes to explain your side of the dispute and answer questions, so be sure to present your most important points first. Be sure to have all your evidence and any important documents with you.
Be brief in making your points. The judge will be interested only in hearing the facts of your dispute. Don’t raise your voice or make insulting remarks about the other party or any witness, no matter how angry you may become. During the hearing, speak to the judge and not to the other party.
- Be Organized
- Have three set of copies of the exhibits or proof of your claim
- Focus on the key facts
- Stay calm
- Don’t argue with the other party
- Don’t speak out of turn
Example of exhibits to present your case: (if applicable)
- Ledger books
- Pictures (Before and After)
- Estimates of Repairs
- Itemized list of Damages
- Security Deposit Disposition
- Rental Agreements
- Proof of Eviction (Landlord/Tenants Disputes)
- Copies of Bad Checks
- Police Reports
For further information please see the California Department of Consumer Affairs information regarding Small Claims Court
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