Sued over an unpaid debt in a Texas Justice Court? Here's what you need to know to handle your debt lawsuit yourself.
You have 14 days to Answer from the date you are served.
An Answer is a written response to the lawsuit. You need to write up the Answer, file it with the court, and serve a a copy on the attorney that filed the lawsuit.
What happens if you don't file your Answer on time (or at all)?
If you don't file an Answer by the deadline, the plaintiff can get a default judgment entered against you any day after your Answer due date. For example, if your Answer is due on July 1st, the plaintiff could get a default judgment entered against you as early as July 2nd. A late-filed Answer is acceptable, as long as your Answer is filed before the plaintiff gets a default judgment entered against you.
Discovery is generally not allowed in Justice Court cases.
Discovery is not allowed in Justice Court cases unless the judge specifically authorizes it. One party or the other has to file a motion requesting permission to do discovery. If the judge grants the motion, then the party that requested discovery can send out discovery requests.
Here's what happens at the trial.
WHAT THE PLAINTIFF DOES AT THE TRIAL: The plaintiff shows the judge their account documentation, which usually consists of (1) some monthly account statements, (2) possibly a contract or cardmember agreement, and, (3) if the plaintiff is a debt buyer, some proof that they purchased the account from the bank or credit card company. WHAT YOU DO AT THE TRIAL: You probably owe the debt. So instead of falsely claiming that you don't, you should try to convince the judge that the plaintiff's account documentation is inadequate and that it simply does not prove that you owe the debt. THE JUDGE'S ROLE AT THE TRIAL: The judge decides who wins. Period. The judge does not take sides and will not "help you out" or "work out a payment plan with them" for you. If the judge feels the plaintiff has enough account documentation to prove that you owe the debt, then the judge will give them a judgment against you. If, on the other hand, you convince the judge that the plaintiff's documentation is inadequate, then the judge will rule in your favor and render what is called a "take nothing judgment" (the civil court equivalent of "not guilty").
If you lose at trial, the judge will award them a judgment against you.
If the judge decides in the plaintiff's favor, he will give the plaintiff a judgment against you. A judgment is a court order that says that you owe the money. The judgment will likely be for the full amount of the debt, plus interest, court costs, and legal fees. A $5,000 debt could result in a $7,000 (or more) judgment.
Here's what the plaintiff can (and cannot) do if they get a judgment against you.
A judgment is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely. With a judgment, the plaintiff can (1) garnish your bank accounts (within certain limitations); (2) file "lien paperwork" in the county property records that can cloud the title to your home; (3) subpoena you to appear at a deposition and produce and testify about your financial records; and (4) seize any "non-exempt" assets you have. Even with a judgment, the plaintiff cannot garnish your paycheck,
It is a good idea to get an attorney.
Even on small debts ($2,500.00 or less), it will probably cost you less to hire an attorney than it will cost you if you try to handle the lawsuit on your own. Fees are generally very low on small lawsuits. Many debt cases can be defeated outright. And if your case is defeated, then you don't have to pay anything to the creditor that sued you.
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