Things are kept simple. The judge's office has a form, called a petition, that you fill out to file your case. You need the name and street address of the party you with to sue. You must have a street address because the sheriff's office must serve a copy of the petition on the person you are suing. A post office box number won't work. The filing fee can be any amount up to $65. You can request it in the petition that the other party have to reimburse you for these court costs, as well as the amount you are suing for.
You can sue for any amount of money up to $5,000. You can only sure for money, not an object, like your TV that your roommate kept. You can sue for the value of the TV. Be prepared when you fill out the petition to briefly write the reason why you are suing. By that, be prepared to say that you are suing for your wrongfully withheld $200 property deposit, rather than that you are suing for $200 with no explanation.
You'll be notified about the hearing date. If you need to force witnesses to come to court, you can do so by asking the judge to issue a subpoena. There is an additional charge for this. Ask for the subpoena well in advance of the hearing date, so the sheriff's office will have time to serve the subpoena on your witness. Before the hearing, the respondent may contact you to settle out of court. If the offer is acceptable, take it. If you insist on going to court, there is always the possibility you might lose and get nothing. If you want to recover the filing fee, make that part of your settlement. You do not get the filing fee back from the court if you cancel the case.
Your hearing is really a trial. It will be a trial in front of the judge alone unless you or the respondent ask for a jury trial. There is a small jury fee of around $10. The jury will be made up of 6 people. Normally, small claims court trials take place fairly quickly after you file, sometimes as little as three weeks.
If you decide to hire a lawyer, do so at the beginning of your case or as soon as possible. If you are representing yourself, make an outline or notes for yourself to help you present your case in a logical and brief fashion. The judge will give you some help with procedure. Below are some basic rules to follow:
- In selecting a jury, ask questions of the jury to find out if the jury members are unbiased and have average knowledge of the subject of the suit.
- You have the right to mark out the names of any three jurors. The respondent has the same right. The first six not struck out will be the jury.
- If you are the plaintiff, you go first. You may tell your side of the the story yourself. You can use notes. When you finish, the respondent gets to ask you questions.
- You present all of your side of the case before the respondent presents his or hers.
- If you have witnesses other than yourself, you must ask them questions like a lawyer would. They cannot just tell their story without questions.
- When you are finished with your side of the case, the respondent gets his or her turn. After the respondent testifies, you get to cross-examine the respondent and all of his or her witnesses.
- After all testimony, the judge or jury makes the decision and announces the winner.
- Either party can appeal the results to the county court for a new trial if he or she does so within ten days of the judgment. If no appeal occurs within that time period, then the judgment is final.
- If either party does not show up for the trial, the party that does show up wins by default.
- You must have live witnesses. Sworn written statements do not count.
- Written estimates of car repairs are admissible. If you need to sue for more than $5,000 you must file in a higher court. This means you must hire an attorney to help.