You can get ready for court by planning what you are going to say. Decide what your main points are and bring proof. Try to think of what the other person might say and how you will answer.
Who Goes to Court
If you're suing someone, you must go to court. Generally, you can't send anyone else to represent you in court. But there are some exceptions. You may not have to go to court if:
- You're serving on active duty in the armed forces
- You were assigned to your duty station after your claim arose and your assignment is for more than six months
If you're the only owner of a business, you must go to court unless the claim can be proved by evidence of a business account in which case a regular employee with knowledge of that account may represent you. If you have a partner, one of you must go. If the business is a corporation, an employee, officer or director must go to court.
You will go to court between 20 and 70 days after a claim is filed.
Your must ask for a continuance if you want to change your court date. You must either file a Request to Postpone Small Claims Hearing (form SC-110) or write a letter explaining why you need to change your court date. If your hearing is in less than ten days, you may bring your completed SC-110 form or letter to the clerk's office and ask that it be attached to your file. Alternatively, you can go to your hearing and ask for a continuance at that time.
If you're given a continuance, the court will mail a new date to you and the other people named in your claim.
What Happens in Court
When you do go to court, the judge will call you to the front of the room. The judge may ask you to try to settle your case before the hearing takes place. The judge will listen to both sides of the story but the plaintiff will present his case first.
Length of Hearing
Small claims cases vary but usually only last 10 to 15 minutes. You must be quick and to the point. If you're the plaintiff, you need to prove your case to win.
You should explain the following to the judge:
- How you were affected by what the other person did
- Why it is the other person's fault
- Why it is not your fault
- What happened, in the order it happened
Bring any papers that support your story, which is called evidence. Your evidence can be:
- Diagrams that show how an accident happened
- Police reports
If you need papers that someone else has, you can fill out a subpoena form (SC-107) and request the documents. Visit the Fill Out Your Forms section of the California Courts Self-Help Center to get forms.
A lawyer can't represent you in court. But you can talk to a lawyer before or after court.
If you don't speak English well, bring someone with you who can interpret for you so that the judge will understand you. Another option is to ask the court clerk for an interpreter at least 5 days before your court date. There may be a fee for using a court interpreter.
The judge may make a decision at your hearing, or mail it to you later. Instead of a judge, you may have a commissioner or temporary judge at your hearing. They are both just like judges. A temporary judge is a lawyer who hears and decides cases. If you don't want a temporary judge, you can ask the court to have a judge hear your case but you may have to come back another day.
If the defendant doesn't go to the trial, the judge may give the plaintiff what he is asking for plus court costs. This is called a default judgment. If this happens, the plaintiff can legally take the defendant's money, wages, and property to pay the judgment.
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?