What to Expect in Small Claims Court.

As I'm sure you all remember (BECAUSE I KEEP BRAGGING ABOUT IT), I went to court last week.

This was my first time in small claims court and I thought it would be interesting to share my experience.

You know. Just in case you need to sue someone too.

1. Complete and submit a small claim in the county where the defendant/ defendant's place of business is located. (Mine was Los Angeles.) Your local courthouse should have these stocked, but I found mine online by Googling "filing a small claim in ________ County."

2. You'll receive a few email notices updating you on the progress of your claim and you'll also need to make a credit card payment. This amount depends on the amount that you are suing for. I don't remember what the ranges were, but my fee was only $30.

3. Serving the defendant: The bad guy needs to receive his notice and it has to be done by an outside source. This can be a friend, relative, sheriff's office, paid delivery service, whatever.

4. Prepare for your hearing. Make sure to get notarized affidavits (Form MC-030) from all of your witnesses. And if you can get your witnesses to appear with you in court, even better.

More important than witnesses, PRINT OUT COPIES OF ALL COMMUNICATION THAT COULD TOTALLY BUST THE DEFENDANT'S ASS. I made copies of email chains and Facebook chats and highlighted all of the pertinent information. (This will save the judge time and spare him from reading through your boring-ass conversations.) Do some internet sleuthing. Look up the defendant on the Better Business Bureau and print up their less-than-stellar rating. If you happen to come across a negative review someone has written about them, throw that in the mix too. You can never have too much evidence.

5. Hearing day: Show up to court early. Most courthouses have a security checkpoint and depending on your city, security can be a line out the door. Make sure to look presentable.

6. Hearing time: Our case was grouped together with about 30 other cases, all for the 1:30 p.m. time slot. At 1:30 p.m. on the dot, the courtroom doors opened and the bailiff let everyone in. The room looked like a mini People's Court. There was an audience section, two podiums, and the judge's bench. The court clerk calls role. The judge takes his/her seat. He/she explains that all litigants will step out into the hallway for one last attempt at a settlement. All cases who reach a settlement on their own will be processed immediately. Any cases who do not meet an agreement on their own will go before the judge.

7. One by one, in no particular order, cases are reviewed. This part is like sitting in a real-life, courtroom TV show. (I loved it.) When the judge calls "YOU vs BAD GUYS INC." you take your place at the Plaintiff's podium. The bailiff will take the evidence from both parties and the judge will look it over. He/she will ask the necessary questions to come to a lawful decision. If it is a simple case, a decision will be made on the spot. If the judge needs more time to consider evidence, you're SOL and the court will notify you of the outcome.

8. This part is a little foggy, but I believe both parties will be notified by mail as to the verdict of the hearing. The loser then has to pay up within a set amount of time, like 30 days. I think. I wasn't really paying too much attention because I was busy doing step 9.

9. Victory dance.

10. Go home satisfied and blog about the whole thing. Continue to watch Judge Judy and The People's Court and consider adding "Esq." to the end of your name so people will know you mean business.


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