In California, small claims hearings take place in a courtroom. These hearings are often very short (sometimes as little as 10 - 15 minutes), so you really need to plan ahead if you want to give the judge your information before he or she makes a decision. To get ready for your court hearing:
Know Your Own Case
Read the court papers carefully. Understand what you asked for, or what the other side has asked for in their papers.
Before your own hearing, summarize, organize and write down the key points you want to tell the judge. Try to make it as clear and simple as you can. Be ready to explain why the judge should approve (or not approve) each request. Practice speaking a few times - if you can, practice in front of friends or family.
Make an outline listing your reasons for each request and how the other side responded. This will help you to speak to the judge if you get nervous in court.
Be sure to focus on the reasons you are going to court, as stated in your claim. The judge cannot address issues that are not identified in the original paperwork filed to request the hearing. If you have other problems to resolve, you can schedule a separate hearing for that purpose.
Get ready to bring copies of all of your paperwork with you to court, including:
Copies of everything you've filed with the court concerning your case,
Copies of everything that has been served on you in this case, and
Any other paperwork that is related to your case.
Also bring a copy of an documents you have filed recently to show the judge - just in case the paperwork did not make it into the file.
Find out Where to go and What These Cases are Like
Learn how to be on time for all court dates. Look on a map and find out where the courthouse is. Learn the schedules of the buses that will get you to the courthouse, or figure out what roads would be best if driving. Learn where to park.
It may be a good idea to go to the courthouse and observe another small claims hearing before going to yours so that you can get a better idea of what to expect.
NOTE: If you know ahead of time that you are unable to attend the hearing in person, there may be a possibility for you to arrange to participate by telephone. Call the court clerk in your county for information and to make the necessary arrangements.
Arrange for childcare for your children. Children are not permitted in the courtroom.
Arrange for an interpreter if you will need one. You may use an adult friend or relative to interpret for you.
Plan to dress for your court date as if going to a job interview. If you are coming from or going to work, your uniform or work clothes are fine. Make sure that you have made an effort to be neat, clean, and well groomed.
For a checklist for preparing for your court date, click here.
To view a short video called “Tips on Going to Court”, click here.
To view some short videos on the Basics of Small Claims Cases,click here.