After the complaint has been filed and the defendant served, both sides need to prepare their case for court. The party with the more convincing proof will win the case. Proof consists of physical evidence and the testimony of witnesses.
You should write a statement, 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.
Clear and Concise Statement
To prepare for your trial, you should begin by writing a clear and concise statement. The plaintiff has the burden of proving all of the facts that establish that the plaintiff should recover money because of the defendant's acts or failure to act. The plaintiff must prove the amount of damages.
The evidence you should bring to trial to support your claims or defenses can include:
- Documents such as contracts, notes, leases, receipts, canceled checks, credit card statements, agreements and so forth
Most courts require that you bring two copies of all relevant evidence and estimates of damages. Each document should support some part of your story. Make sure you bring the subject matter of the dispute. The best evidence you have is the damaged good.
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. If a subpoena is necessary, go back to the county clerk as soon as you have a trial date and ask the clerk to issue the subpoena. You must provide the complete name for the witness and an address where the witness may be served with the subpoena. The subpoena may require the witness to bring to court any documents that the witness has that help prove your claim. You must pay an extra fee for getting a subpoena served on a witness.
Prepare What You'll Say
Next, prepare what you'll say when you get to court. You should also decide in what order you'll present your evidence. List the questions you expect to ask each witness. Make an outline of what you want to say when you testify.
When you arrive, take a seat in the courtroom. Procedures vary from court to court. Answer when your case is called. Some judges will ask you whether you are ready to proceed with your case.
Most judges will briefly explain the procedure to be used in your trial. When the trial begins, the judge will ask you and your witnesses to swear to tell the truth. The judge will also swear in the defendant and the defendant's witnesses.
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're 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.
If the defendant doesn't appear in court at the appointed time and has received proper notice of the trial, then the judge will grant judgment in the plaintiff's favor for the amount the plaintiff proves is due.
If either the plaintiff or defendant chose to have a jury trial, the jury, and not the judge, will usually decide whether the plaintiff has won his case. If the jury decides that the plaintiff won, it will also decide the amount of money the plaintiff should receive from the defendant.
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?
- Start the process with our Texas Small Claims Worksheet
- Next in the Small Claims series: Witnesses at a Small Claims Trial in Texas
- Success In Small Claims Court
- Small Claims Court Definitions
- Defending a Small Claims Court Case
- Visit our Small Claims Court Forum for more help