After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their cases for court. The party with the more convincing proof will win the case. Proof consists of physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses.
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 so forth
Bring with you four copies of any documents or photographs you need to prove your case. One is for the judge, one is for the other side, one is for the witness and one is for you.
Talk to people who may have witnessed any of the events in dispute. You may bring to court witnesses to testify to their personal knowledge and observations relevant to the case. If any witness refuses to attend the trial, you may have the court order the witness to come to court with a subpoena.
The courtroom procedure is simple and informal. You should appear at least 15 minutes prior to the hearing on the designated date and present your copy of the complaint to the court clerk. If you fail to appear on time for trial, the court may enter a judgment in favor of the other side. Bring your physical evidence and witnesses, if any.
You and your witnesses should meet in court in advance of the scheduled time for the trial. You'll have to wait while routine matters and other cases are heard. When your case is called, step up before the judge with your witnesses. If the other side doesn't show up, the judge will probably enter a judgment in your favor but may require you to present proof, so be prepared. Address the judge as "Your Honor" and stand up when speaking to the judge.
The plaintiff will present the case first. The plaintiff should tell the judge exactly what happened, mentioning dates, times and places. The witnesses, if any, should be questioned and all physical evidence given to the judge. After each plaintiff's witness testifies, the defendant has the opportunity to also ask questions. When the plaintiff finishes presenting proof, it's the defendant's turn. The defendant may testify, ask questions of witnesses and present physical evidence to the judge. The plaintiff has the right to question each of the defendant's witnesses. The plaintiff and defendant can also question each other.
Don't interrupt or argue with any witness. Listen carefully so you can tell the judge why you disagree when it is your turn to speak. If the judge asks you questions, answer them clearly and directly.
You will be offered the services of mediation if both parties agree.
If the defendant fails to appear in court, the judge will generally decide the case in favor of the plaintiff. This is called a default judgment. This means that the plaintiff wins without doing anything. If both parties are present, the judge will listen to each side and will make a decision. Sometimes the judge will render a decision immediately and other times you'll receive notice of the judgment in the mail.
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?