Before the Court can decided your case, ALL the following must have occurred: (1) your alleged creditor (the plaintiff) must have demanded IN WRITING that you pay him or her a certain sum as a debt; (2) after the demand, you must have refused to pay the debt by doing nothing or by contesting the debt: (3) you must be sued in the local court where you live, where the underlying agreement was made OR where the contract was to be performed.
First, telephone or see the plaintiff and try to work out a common round (tell why you don't owe the money or work out a payment plan); convince the plaintiff you are something other than a total deadbeat. Second, arrange a payment schedule if you can't pay the whole thing at once. You can try to settle for less if you offer to pay the money before a future court date. If you think a delay would be helpful, apply for a continuance from the Small Claims clerk at your local court, You can usually fet one continuance if you have a reason.
Your day in Court
Prepare your case in writing before your court date. Come into court in neat, clean clothes; always be respectful to the judge and call him "Your Honor." Be prepared to tell the judge why you should win. The plaintiff will have already told his or her story. USE YOUR RIGHT OF CROSS-EXAMINATION. This will break the rhythm of the case. Ask him any latent questions in the contract, purchase order or work order. These commonly are prited in small types and are disliked by courts; they are called "contracts of adhesion" because people try to stick you to them. Try to get the plaintiff to admit you discussed his work, told him he did a lousy job (or sold you damaged goods or said he overcharged you or whatever your story is); then tell the court that this is the reason that you didn't pay the bill. This will interest the judge and you will have his attention. You should bring witness and/or photographs or the faulty goods themselves to court with you.
After you have put on your case, the plaintiff will summarize the case against you. You have the same right. You should remind the judge of your evidence in the order you presented it. You should stick to your game plan and not change directions. Whenever possible, refer to the evidence which favors your position. The judge will then ask both parties if they have anything further to say. If you don't, give the judge a smile and say "thank you for your time, Your Honor" before the other party does. You probably will get a ruling shortly after the trial. Remember, you have a right to a new trial in Superior Court if you lose; the plaintiff has no remedies if he or she loses. Good luck.
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