After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their case for court.
Verify Defendant Served with Claim
The plaintiff should call the clerk's office two business day prior to the hearing date to determine whether a copy of the statement of claim has been served on the defendant. If a process server served your claim, you can contact the process server to confirm that the defendant was properly served and a notarized affidavit was returned to the clerk's office or you can visit the District of Columbia Superior Court Web site to check the status of your case.
Set New Court Date
If you can't appear on the set hearing date, you should notify the clerk in the small claims office. The clerk will be able to assist with setting up a new date.
Failure to Appear
If you don't call or don't show up in court on your court date, your claim will be dismissed or if you're a defendant, a judgment will most likely be entered against you. This means you have lost the case without a chance to present your version of the incident to the judge or participate in the mediation process.
Preparing for Trial
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. Contact any witnesses who have agreed to testify and inform them of the hearing date. Subpoena documents or summon witnesses to appear in court, if needed.
Both parties should bring all witnesses and necessary papers with them when they appear for the trial. Extra copies should be made for the judge and the other party. 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 will not voluntarily come to court, you have the right to subpoena the witness. A subpoena is a command to appear before the judge in order to give testimony or produce evidence. A subpoena can be obtained from the clerk of court.
Settlement and Case Dismissal
If the parties reach an agreement before the judge hears the case, the hearing can be canceled. The plaintiff will need to file a form stating the case has been settled and requesting the case be dismissed.
On the day of the trial, both parties must appear on time before the judge and testify. Except for corporations, no party is required to have an attorney. The court will also hear the defendant's counterclaim, if one has been filed. The plaintiff and defendant may question or dispute each other's testimony during the hearing.
The parties and witnesses are sworn in. The plaintiff goes first and presents any evidence or witnesses. The defendant goes after the plaintiff and presents any evidence and testimony.
If you think the other party or a witness is not telling the truth, you should ask questions which would expose this fact to the judge. Be polite and courteous to any witnesses and others in the courtroom. State your position in a respectful tone and keep it brief.
After both parties have presented their witnesses, testimony and evidence, the judge will make a decision, called a judgment, and record that decision in the court's records. The judge may grant an award of monetary damages to the plaintiff, to the defendant or both.
You won't receive compensation for any time off from work needed to handle your claim.
The judge may order the judgment paid in installments. In this case, the clerk will send the judgment defendant a memorandum of the amounts of the payments and the dates they are due via first class mail.
Award of Costs
It's up to the judge's discretion to award costs. The judge may include reasonable expenses incident to the suit incurred by either party.
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?