After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their case for court. The judge will decide the case based on the evidence presented by you and the other party. Therefore, you should come to court prepared to prove your case.
Bring Estimates to Court
It is important to have written estimates of costs relating to your claim. The plaintiff and the defendant may want to bring estimates if the amount of damages is in dispute. An estimate submitted by an expert can be used as persuasive evidence if it is submitted on a property damage affidavit form, which is available from the clerk of court.
Write a Case Summary
As part of your preparation for trial, you may want to write a summary of your side of the case and refer to it during the trial. This way you won't forget to mention any important details.
Attend Small Claims Court before Trial
You may find it helpful to attend small claims court before the date of your trial in order to observe the proceedings. Unlike other courts, small claims court doesn't give either party the right to use a process called discovery before the trial to obtain information from the other party.
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 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 (a court order directing someone to appear in court or produce something) 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 of documents should be made for the judge and the other party.
You will want to present evidence at the trial. Evidence is anything that helps you prove your case. 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 and agreements
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. 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. You must have the subpoena issued at least 10 days before the trial date.
If you receive a subpoena to appear as a witness, you must obey it since it is a court order. Failure to appear in court in response to a subpoena could place you in contempt of court. The subpoena may contain information or instructions about the trial. Also, each county in Maryland has a state attorney's office with a witness assistance coordinator who can answer your questions and help you through the court process. You can locate the state's attorney for your jurisdiction at the Maryland State's Attorneys' Association Web site.
On the day of the trial, both parties must appear on time before the judge and testify. 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.
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.
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?