This section has information about getting ready for a small claims trial, going to court, and appealing the court's decision.
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See the Going to Court web page for information about getting ready for your trial.
ADA Accommodations and Interpreters
If you would like to ask for an ADA accommodation or an interpreter, contact the court right away.
- The form to request an ADA accommodation is on the Americans with Disabilities Act web page.
- The form to request an interpreter is on the Language Access: Interpreters and Translators web page.
Asking to Reschedule the Trial
The court will send you a notice of the date and time of the trial (which is sometimes called a "merits hearing"). If you need to reschedule the trial, you must make the request in writing. The request is called a Motion for Continuance. Continue means to postpone or reschedule. The motion should be filed well ahead of the scheduled court date. You can find information about the process to ask for a continuance and the form to make the request on the Asking to Reschedule a Court Date web page. The judge will decide whether to reschedule the trial. The trial is still scheduled for the time and date on the court's notice unless the court agrees to change the date.
If you have a last-minute emergency on the day of the trial, please call the court as soon as you know you will not be able to attend.
Observing Another Trial
If you are the plaintiff, you must be prepared to prove your case. If you are the defendant, you should be prepared to provide evidence to the court that the plaintiff is wrong and that you do not owe the money that is claimed. You may want to watch another small claims trial before yours so you can get used to the courtroom and the process. Check the Court Calendars web page for upcoming small claims trials. Choose a county, and then choose Civil Division. Use CTRL+F to search the page for "small claims." You can also contact the court to ask about upcoming small claims trials.
The most important thing you can do before your trial is to gather all the papers (also called documents or exhibits) that have anything to do with your case.
Use your common sense in deciding what papers you need. If you bring documents to give to the court to support your case, you should bring a copy for the other party and keep a set for yourself. In general, you might consider bringing:
- Any written agreements between you and the other party (such as a lease, in a landlord/tenant case)
- Any letters between you and the other party
- Any bills, paid or unpaid, and any cancelled checks having to do with your case
- Any repair bills or written estimates for repair, if your case involves money owed to you due to faulty repairs
- Photos of damaged property
A witness who saw or heard something may help you make your case. Sometimes witnesses can provide helpful expert testimony. For example, in cases involving poor workmanship (such as repairs on your car), an experienced and neutral person in the same trade makes an ideal witness to testify on your side. If you will use witnesses to help make your case, you should make arrangements with them well before the trial. The court will usually not accept written statements from witnesses who are not present in the courtroom.
If you have a witness who is important to your case, you can ask the court to issue a subpoena.
Some witnesses are willing to come to court voluntarily. Others some may be reluctant or unwilling to testify. A subpoena is a court order requiring a witness to come to a hearing to testify. A witness who has been subpoenaed to testify must attend the hearing. If they do not, the court may issue an arrest warrant, hold the person in contempt of court, or reschedule the hearing.
You must have a copy of the subpoena delivered to (served on) the person you are subpoenaing. Parties in the case many not deliver a subpoena, so you can’t deliver the subpoena yourself. Anyone over 18 and who is not a party in the case may deliver the subpoena.
There is no fee to ask the court for a subpoena, but if the subpoena requires the person to attend a hearing, you must pay them the witness fee and mileage reimbursement. The amount of the witness fee is different in criminal and non-criminal cases. The witness fee and mileage reimbursement must be paid at the same time the subpoena is served on the witness.
See the Subpoenas in Civil Cases page for more information.
On the day of the trial, arrive early so you have a chance to look around and feel comfortable. Getting there early also gives you a chance to talk with the other party and maybe settle the case without a trial. When you get to court, please check in with the court officer in the courtroom to let them know you are there.
The judge will try to make the trial as simple as possible. You should come prepared to present your side of the case. You can bring a lawyer if you want. You should bring any people, papers, or anything else that might help your case. If you bring papers, be sure to have copies for the court, the other party, and yourself.
When your case is called, you should come forward. The court officer will guide you in taking an oath to tell the truth.
If the other party has a lawyer, don’t worry. It is the judge, not the lawyer, who controls the trial. The judge will ask you to tell your side of the story. At that time you should show any proof you have. The judge may also question any witnesses that either party has. Finally, the judge may ask both of you if you have a final statement or questions to ask the other side. If you are the defendant and you have a counterclaim, be sure to explain that when you testify.
At the trial the judge focuses on:
- Allowing you and the other party to have your say
- Getting the facts so they understand the case
The judge may decide the case right away or may take more time to think about the case. If the judge needs more time to think about the case, the court will send you the decision in writing. The judge's decision is called a judgment. It is a written order saying who won the case and whether one party has to pay the other party money.
Some Do’s and Don’ts for Your Trial
- Be brief. Give the court all the information it needs but don’t be long-winded. The judge will want to hear all of the important facts as briefly as possible. It may be helpful to make an outline of what you want to say for your own use, but you should come prepared to explain your claim or defense to the court. This way, you will be sure you haven’t left anything out.
- Be polite at all times.
- Don’t interrupt the other party, the judge, or any of the witnesses.
See the Going to Court web page for more information.
An appeal must be filed within 30 days of the date the court issued the judgment.
Either party in a small claims case may appeal the decision.
To appeal, file a Notice of Appeal form (100-00291) and pay $120 filing fee within 30 days from the date the court issued the judgment. If you can't afford to pay the fee, you can ask the court to waive it. See the Application to Waive Filing Fees and Service Costs web page for information and forms. File the Notice of Appeal with the Civil Division of the Superior Court.
An appeal is not a new trial. On appeal, you can’t present new facts to the judge. An appeal is a chance for a different judge to review the case and decide whether the first judge made mistakes in the law when deciding your case. On the Notice of Appeal form, explain what legal mistakes you think the small claims judge made in your case.
Appeals can be complicated. Consider talking to an attorney for help. You can find information about the ways to get the help of an attorney on the Finding Legal Help web page.