I lived in Oregon and my previous landlord did not return any of my security deposit and did not follow Oregon laws to justify why. I now live in Florida and traveling to Oregon to appear in small claims court would not be worth the cost of airfare. I can not afford a Lawyer.
You can ask the court to appear by telephone but it is not too likely since your opponent has the right to face his accuser, particularly if you are the plaintiff and elect to bring suit. Regardless, it will look bad to a Judge - you would in effect be saying "Award me money but it is not important enough to me to show up for trial" even if the Judge would understand the economics of it.
You may want, however, to rethink your idea about not hiring an attorney. If, after review of all the facts and evidence, an attorney agrees with you and feels you can prove that the landlord neither accounted for nor refunded your security deposit within 31 days of the end of your tenancy and restoring possession to him, and you are not liable for more damages than twice the amount of your security deposit, it is the sort of case that many landlord-tenant attorneys would take on a contingency wherein you would not owe them anything for their fees (beyond the initial case evaluation) but rather they would collect them from your landlord. If you somehow failed to win, your attorney simply goes unpaid. You would still be responsible for the court costs - filing fees, etc. It might also be that a stern letter from your attorney would simply get the landlord to pay without ever having to file in court (though your attorney's fees would likely then be out of your pocket since you are likely not entitled to recover them from the landlord unless and until a lawsuit is filed). So all around, you may want to think about reviewing it all with a local Oregon landlord-tenant attorney. Good luck.
Nothing contained herein should be considered as legal advice for any specific situation and nothing herein is intended to create a lawyer-client relationship. Every case is very "fact-specific" and persons wishing legal advice on a specific matter should contact me or another attorney for an appointment to review their particular circumstances and to create a lawyer-client relationship.
There are a variety of potential solutions to this problem. However, each comes with some drawbacks.
You can potential assign or negotiate the rights to your claim to a third party. However, if you're a plaintiff, you have the burden of proof, and having a third party assignee that inherits the rights of your claim would likely present some significant practical and evidentiary hurdles in meeting your burden of proof.
It's possible that you may be able to appear at hearings by phone, though this is often available on a court-specific, judge-specific, and/or case specific basis.
Having someone "simply" appear in court on your behalf is specifically what a lawyer does, however, and in the way you're seemingly intending, it's unlikely to be an otherwise available option.
If your claim is a landlord/tenant claim, however, you do likely have the right to assert a claim for attorney's fees. Thus, while attorneys fees are not available in small claims court, there are some significant procedural, practical, and tactical advantages to hiring a lawyer to represent you in normal circuit court.
As far as representing tenants, if you have a strong, viable case, many attorneys will take these cases on a contingency fee basis, wherein they're only paid for their time if they win. (And, as a fall-back, if an attorney is not inclined or able to take your case on a contingency fee basis, you're often able to assert a claim for attorney's fees and have any reasonable amount you spend on pursuing a successful claim get added to the judgment if you're successful.)
Often landlord/tenant claims end up having a significantly higher attorney fee liability than the underlying damage amounts sought by a plaintiff, and thus the gross leverage in utilizing an attorney (and adding that expense/liability to the landlord) is often significant, if not paramount.
Finally, you need to consider what happens when/if you win: you're awarded a money judgment from the court, which you then have to attempt to collect on. Even at the maximum amount of small claims damages ($10k), collecting on a judgment can often require some significant time and cost expenditure -- and often requires retaining a lawyer thereafter just for the post-judgment collection work. And, if you're pursuing a small claims judgment that omitted a claim for attorney's fees, that can quickly become a losing cost/benefit proposition. (Whereas a circuit court judgment that includes an attorneys fee award can continually increase during the liability to the loser during collection process itself.)
All told? You likely need to, at the very least, schedule a consultation with a lawyer and review the facts and viability of your case and advise you as to the specific risks and rewards of the various options you have in pursuing your claims.
If you found this answer helpful, please click the "Mark as good answer" button, below. If you'd like to contact me regarding potentially representing you with regards to your legal matter, please click on my profile and give my office a call. My answer to your Avvo question, however, is informational only and is not intended to be legal advice, nor does it form the basis for any attorney-client relationship whatsoever, which can only be formed upon signing an Engagement Agreement and depositing a Retainer Fee into client trust. Further, I am only licensed in Oregon and laws vary from state to state. If you have an Oregon-related issue, feel free to contact me for a consultation. If you are outside of Oregon, please consult an attorney in your area for legal advice.
In Oregon, generally, people cannot be represented by attorneys in small claims courts. (Although, creditors are able to have collection agents appear on their behalf.)
Consider writing to the court and asking for what you want to have happen.
Also, some courts require people to try mediation before the hearing. You'll want to ask if you can do that by telephone.
Small claims court referees have a lot of leeway to do justice, more so than judges in circuit court.
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