After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their case for court. The trial will be scheduled within 60 days from the date the defendant files an answer with the court.
The clerk will notify both parties of the time and place of the trial. If either party wishes to postpone the trial to a later date, a request for continuance form must be filed with the court by that party. You may get this form from the court clerk.
You should gather documents, select witnesses, prepare what you will say in court, decide on the order in which you will present your evidence and formulate questions to ask the witnesses. The party with the more convincing proof will win the case.
If the plaintiff and defendant settle the case prior to the trial, the plaintiff should notify the court, in writing, to dismiss the action. A form may be obtained from the court for this purpose.
Preparing for Trial
Prior to trial, both the plaintiff and defendant should write down the facts and details of the case in the order in which events occurred. Both parties should bring all witnesses and necessary papers with them when they appear for the trial. The plaintiff must prove the amount of damages.
The evidence you should bring to trial to support your claims or defenses includes:
- Documents such as contracts, notes, leases, receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, agreements and so forth
Determine if there are any witnesses who can come to court with you and help you tell your story. You should avoid witnesses who only know what someone else told them, that is, only have second hand information. Try to get witnesses who know relevant facts because they were there.
If a witness is important to your claim but won't voluntarily come to court, you have the right to subpoena the witness and force that person to come to court.
On the day of the trial, both parties must appear on time before the judge or hearing officer and testify. The court will also hear the defendant's counterclaim, if one has been filed. After both parties have presented their witnesses, testimony and evidence, the judge or hearing officer will make a decision, called a judgment, and record that decision in the court's records.
You should be prepared, wait your turn to speak, and be clear and concise. Your presentation should take no more than a few minutes.
The plaintiff gets to tell his side of the story first. The plaintiff will have an opportunity to speak without being interrupted by the other side. When the plaintiff is finished, the defendant will have a chance to ask the plaintiff and the plaintiff's witnesses questions.
After the plaintiff and the plaintiff's witnesses have told the judge what they know, the defendant will be asked to explain his defense. The defendant also has a chance to tell his side of the story without interruption. After the defendant is finished, the plaintiff may ask both the defendant and the defendant's witnesses questions. The judge may also ask them questions.
If you think the person you are suing or the witnesses aren't telling the truth, you should ask questions that would expose this fact to the judge. Be polite and courteous to the witnesses and others in the courtroom. State your position in a respectful tone and keep it brief.
In most cases the judgment is announced at trial; however, the judge has 10 days to consider the facts in the case, research the law, make a decision and notify the parties of the judgment by mail.
If the defendant doesn't appear in court at the appointed time and has received proper notice of the trial, then the judge or hearing officer may hear testimony from the plaintiff and his or her witnesses, examine other evidence presented by the plaintiff and enter a judgment against the defendant.
If the plaintiff fails to appear at trial, the court will probably dismiss the case.
Questions for Your Attorney
- Can an attorney come with me into the courtroom?
- What should I take with me to court?
- What happens if I can't make it to court on my scheduled trial date?