How to Win in Small Claims Court as a Plaintiff
First StepsGo to the Small Claims window of your local Superior Court clerk. There will be written instruction on to fill out your complaint and get a summons issued. You can also receive this information online at the website of your local court. Go to the window with your completed summons and complaint, pay the appropriate filing fee and receive copies of your filed papers. The clerk will assign you a future hearing date. You must then arrange to have the defendant(s) served with copies of the papers together with written instruction on what he or she should do after being served. These should appear on the bottom of the Summons; the clerk may also have additional form of instructions.
Anyone can effect service other than yourslf. A friend, family member, registered rocess server or a law enforcement officer may do it.
Preparation for trial(1) Document your case in writing as completely as possible with the use of contracts, canceled checks, notes, e-mails, copies of advertising, etc. Bring the original for the judge; have two copies for the defendant and yourself.
(2) Prior to the hearing, make a detailed written outline of your case. Start with the relationship between you and the defendant(s). Proceed to the basis/amount of the obligation; back this up with written evidence whenever possible. If you have witnesses, list them; usually includes yourself, third parties and the defendant(s); conclude with a summary of the testimony/evidence. Review the outline carefully to check that you have not forgotten something.
(3) Prepare to tell your story from beginning to end. Try to make it interesting. Don't remind the judge that he or she has heard it all before.
Conduct of trial(1) Dress well. It shows respect for the judicial process. Look as if you have recently bathed. Ditto. Be courteous to everyone in court. Do not snarl at the defendant, but it is all right to ignore him or her.
(2) You and the defendant(s) will probably be sworn in. Have your written evidence in the order of your outline. Give the originals to the judge; prepare copies for the defendant(s) and yourself. Ask the court "Your Honor, may I approach the bench to present written evidence?" Do NOT move toward the judge without permission. He or she will probably tell you to give it to the bailiff or the clerk.
(3) Present your case in a clear, firm voice, but without much emotion or argument. Stick to your facts as you have outlined them. Don't forget to refer to your written evidence and call the judge's attention to it. If you have witnesses, tell the court "Your Honor, I wish to call [full name] as a witness; or you may name "the Defendant." You should also testify.
When the defendant speaksYou must not comment or make faces when the defendant testifies. You should listen very closely to the opposing case. See if the response is emotional or if it contradicts your case in any way. Frequently the opposition is not substantial and it is obvious that you are owed the money. After the witness concludes, you may question the witness (whether or not this is the defendant) and try to lessen the impact of the testimony. Feistiness is a bad idea; so is even the slightest indication of personal disrespect. If the defendant is lying, think of documentary evidence which you have presented to show this. Ask the witness to explain any discrepancies between your evidence and the opposition testimony.Remember to keep calm and be courteous.
ConclusionThis is the time for you to make your argument.
(1) Go through the elements of your case. Remind the judge how and where it is supported by the written evidence and testimony.
(2) Remind the court where these have remained unattacked and respectfully suggest to the judge that this failure should be deemed an admission of the truth of your position. When you are finished, say "Thank you, Your Honor" and sit down.
(3) Your opponen will then have the chance to summarize his or her position. Once again, be silent and respectful.
(4) The judge will allow you to make very brief comments about the opposing summary. Don't feel you must say anything here.
(5) When you have concluded, say "Nothing further, Your Honor. The case is submitted and thank you very much, Your Honor."
JudgmentWhen the case is submitted, the judge will either give an immediate judgment or it will be mailed to you. Good luck.