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If you find out
sufficiently ahead of time that you cannot come to court, then you should
file for a postponement at least 10 days prior to trial. You need to file
Request to Postpone Small Claims Hearing (Form SC-110).
Have all your
documents ready in chorological order. You should then make two
additional photocopies of those documents - 1 for the judicial officer and
1 for the other party.
If you have
witnesses you can bring to support your argument then do so. But be
careful you do not bring too many witnesses who will say the same thing.
You can use a blank
Declaration (Form MC-030) in which a witness can give a statement in
support of your argument. If the statement is from an expert witness who
is giving testimony on technical issues, make sure the witness lays out
his/her qualifications that make him/her an expert on those issues. At the
end of every statement, be sure the witness adds the following language:
"I declare under
penalty of perjury under the laws of the State of California that the
foregoing is true and correct"
and sign it.
For those witnesses
that will not come to court voluntarily, you can fill out and ask the
court the issue a
Small Claims Subpoena for Personal Appearance and
Production of Documents and Things at Trial or Hearing and Declaration
(Form SC-107). Of course you must weigh carefully whether forcing someone
to come to court to testify would benefit your case more than the
possibility the witness may give unfavorable testimony.
You can also
subpoena documents by filing the same
Small Claims Subpoena (Form SC-107).
You can have the subpoenaed party just provide the documents to the court
without appearing or to bring the documents to court and testify.
A witness who is
subpoenaed to appear and give testimony in court can ask for fees up to
$35 per day plus 20 cents per mile each way. Witness fees for government
employees and law enforcement personnel are $150 per day.
Anyone 18 years of
age or older, including a party to the lawsuit, can serve a subpoena.
It may be possible
for you to subpoena certain private, sensitive information. However,
anytime you are subpoenaing someone's consumer information, financial
records, or employee files, you must give notice to the person whose
records are being sought. Use a form called Notice to Consumer or Employee
(Judicial Council Form 982(a)(15.5)) to give the required notice and also
to prove to the party being subpoenaed that you have given due notice to
the person whose records are being sought.
The person whose
records are being subpoenaed can then file an objection to the release of
his information to you and the court will have to ultimately decide
whether the records are material and can be subpoenaed.
No. The law does not
allow any pre-trial discovery in a small claims action. That means any
subpoenaed information will be sent directly to the court in a sealed
envelope to be opened only by a judicial officer, normally at the time of
You should come a
bit earlier than the time your trial is scheduled for. If you arrive late,
your case may be heard without you. There will be several other cases
assigned to the same time as yours, so you may have to wait to have your
Children are not
allowed in the courtroom, so you should not bring them with you.
Come to court
organized and prepared.
Before your trial
starts, you will be asked to sign a consent form to have your case heard
by a pro tem. If you decline, your case will be postponed to a later date.
When your case is
called, you will stand at the podium in front of the judge pro tem. You
will be asked to present your evidence and give your testimony. The
plaintiff will argue his/her case first then the defendant will put on
his/her defense. Some judicial officers will take an active role in asking
questions, others may not. Always address the judge and not the other
If you are not
fluent in the English language, you must bring an interpreter with you.
Small Claims courts do not provide interpreters.
The court does
provide for hearing for impaired persons. Request for this type of
service must be made five (5) days before your court date.
Reasonable and calm
behavior is highly recommended during the trial.
Normally a pro tem
judicial officer will hear your case. A pro tem judicial officer is an
attorney with at least 5 years of experience who volunteers his/her time
and legal knowledge.
Before your case can
go to trial, you and the other party will be asked to consent to a pro tem
judicial officer hearing your case. If either of you decline, then a Judge
will hear your case. However, because of the great demand on the Judge'
time, your case will have to be postponed to another date.
presentations and questions must be directed to the judicial officer in a
polite and reasonable fashion.
You may bring one in
a DVD format, but you should let the courtroom clerk or the bailiff know
that you wish to show a DVD. You should then ask for the judicial
officer's permission before offering the DVD as evidence.
If your case was
dropped because you failed to file before or bring to the trial a valid,
completed proof of service for each defendant, then you must get another
trial date; you do not have to re-file your lawsuit. When you
receive the lawsuit papers with the new trial date on them, have each
defendant be served and be sure your process server fills out and signs
the proof(s) of service. You should then make certain that the proof(s)
is/are filed with the court clerk or bring it/them to the trial.
If you want your
evidence returned, it is very important that you request the evidence back
at the end of the trial. If the judicial officer wants to keep the
evidence until he/she decides the case at a later time, then make a clear
arrangement how the evidence will be returned to you.