How To Represent Yourself In Small Claims Court - WSPA.com

How To Represent Yourself In Small Claims Court

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By Diane Lee

When a contractor's done shoddy work, or someone refuses to repay a loan, you can fight back here  without ever hiring a lawyer.        

"Anything under $7500 can go into magistrate court.  So it recognizes that a lot of people filing those cases cannot always hire an attorney.  So they make it easier for someone to represent themselves in that case, " said Attorney Andrew Hart.

He says filing a complaint with small claims court is simple and judges are usually a little more lenient with the rules.  Still he says you'd be wise to review them. 

Before jumping head first, Attorney Christopher Brough says make sure you have the evidence to back up your case.

"The main thing that you need to be successful is you need the documentation.  If you're saying that you're owed money back, if somebody took money from you should have the written contract.  You should have a copy of the written check that you wrote the business," said Brough.   

He says that evidence may also include witnesses. Small claims court allows you to file a subpoena.     You also have the right to chose between a judge or a jury to hear your case. 

A warning, it takes a lot of time to go through magistrates court.  Usually between 6-8 months.  So experts say be open to settling outside of court.

Hart cautions, if you aren't comfortable speaking in public, it's best to hire a lawyer.  You can file a motion for a new trial if you lose, but beware;

"If they decide later on that they don't like the result and they want to go to an attorney then, they aren't going to overturn the result just because an attorney could have presented their arguments better," said Hart.

Some lawyers offer free consultations for civil cases.  Start there, and you may get a better idea of whether you have what it takes to win your case.

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