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Small Claims 

The Lake County Center for Self-Representation website is designed to assist you in representing yourself in the court system of Lake County, Illinois. This is the Small Claims Self-Representation Section. Please review the Small Claims Overview in it's entirety, prior to proceeding to the other sections. 

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Small Claims>Small Claims Overview>


Alternatives to Court

How to Prepare, File, and Serve a Claim

Preparing for your Day in Court

Frequently Asked Questions & Additional Information

After the Judgment

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Small Claims Overview

A.  General Information
B.  What is the Small Claims Court?
C.  When Can I Use the Small Claims Court?
D.  Before you Sue
E.  Who Can Sue or Be Sued?
F.  Am I Required to Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Small Claims Court?
G.  In Which County Do I File My Claim?
H.  Where Do I Start a Small Claim Case in Lake County?
 I.  How Do I Start a Small Claim Suit?
J.  What Information should be Included in the Small Claims Complaint?
K.  What Is a Summons?
L.  How Will I Know Whether The Summons Has Been Served on the Defendant?
M. Court Costs
N.  May I Recover Court Costs From the Person I Sue?
O.  What Can I Do If I Cannot Afford the Filing Fee?
P.  I've Been Sued. What Do I Do?
Q.  How Do I Prepare My Case for Trial?
R.  Witness Subpoenas
S.  What Happens on the Trial Date?
T.  How Do I get My Money if I Win?
U.  What Can I Do if I Disagree with the Judge's Decision?
V.  A Few Suggestions
W. Glossary of Terms

Helpful Telephone Numbers

Lake County Center for Self-Representation - Location and Services available

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    The Constitutions of the United States and the State of Illinois not only guarantee the right to be represented by legal counsel, but also afford to each and every citizen the right of self-representation.

    In general, any person involved in a legal dispute is encouraged to seek the advice of a lawyer of his or her choice.

    Because of the nature of small claim cases, many litigants choose to represent themselves. If you have made that choice and are involved in a small claim matter in Lake County, you should read this booklet.

    Whether you are filing a lawsuit or responding to a claim made against you, this booklet will familiarize you with the procedures necessary to conduct a small claim action and allow you to be better prepared when you reach a courtroom.

    Although this guide presents the legal procedures as completely as possible, it is not designed to take the place of sound legal advice. If you do not fully understand the information in this booklet, find the procedures to be complicated, or need advice, you may decide to talk to a lawyer about your case. The choice is yours.

Chief Judge
Nineteenth Judicial Circuit

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A.  General Information

    The purpose of this guide is to explain, in simple language, the workings of the Small Claims Court in Lake County, Illinois. Because procedures differ from county to county, much of this information does not apply elsewhere. All persons involved in small claims proceedings should read this booklet from cover to cover. While certain sections may be directed primarily to the person filing the case (the plaintiff) or to the person being sued (the defendant), most of the information is important to both. The term “he” when used in this guide is intended to include a male or female.

   The Center for Self-Representation offers information, forms, and other assistance for people who want to represent themselves in Small Claims Court. The Center is located in the William D. Block Memorial Law Library. The library is located in the main lobby of the Lake County Courthouse and Administration Building, 18 North County Street, Waukegan, Illinois 60085. Hours are Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m.. Much of the Center for Self- Representation information is available 24 hours a day online at

   You may ask the Clerk of the Court general questions regarding procedures, but the clerks and court personnel are specifically prohibited from giving legal advice. If you need legal advice, see a lawyer. If you do not have your own lawyer, you may contact the Lake County Bar Association by telephone to obtain a lawyer’s name and phone number. Expect a nominal charge for this service. If you do not have the money to afford your own lawyer, you may contact the Prairie State Legal Services by telephone (847.662.6925) between 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. for an appointment. You may also contact the Lake County Volunteer Lawyers Program at the same number.

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B.  What is the Small Claims Court?

    The Small Claims Court is a place for the speedy trial of lawsuits (sometimes called complaints) based upon contract or tort (breach of a legal duty) seeking $10,000 or less. Filing and pre-trial procedures are simplified compared to other lawsuits. However, the rules of law and evidence that apply to other lawsuits also do apply to small claim trials. The parties are not required to have attorneys but may choose to have one.

     The complete small claim procedures are set forth in the following publications, which can be found in the William D. Block Memorial Law Library (as well as many public libraries) located in the lobby on the first floor of the Administration Building.

1. Supreme Court Rules 281-289 (These rules may be found at the end of Volume 7 of the Illinois Compiled Statutes.)

2. Part 7 of the Uniform Rules of Practice of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit.

     The materials which follow explain small claims procedures in everyday language.

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C. When Can I use the Small Claims Court?

     The following are some examples of small claim cases, when $10,000 or less is claimed.

  1. Someone carelessly damages something you own and refuses to pay for your loss.
  2. Your landlord refuses to return your security deposit even though you left the apartment clean and undamaged.
  3. Your tenant vacated in violation of a lease or leaves damages which cost money to repair.
  4. Someone owes you money for work you have done but refuses to pay you.
  5. Your newly repaired roof leaks and the responsible contractor refuses to repair it.

IMPORTANT: The Small Claims Court can order a Judgment only for money. It cannot require a person or business to perform a service or to stop a certain action or to return property.

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D. Before You Sue Try to Settle out of Court

    Before filing a claim, consider contacting the other person or business to solve the problem by coming to an agreement or settlement. If successful, you will save considerable time, effort and expense.

     Call or write the other party to explain your position and the settlement you are seeking. You have nothing to lose but much to gain by attempting to settle your claim before filing suit. Your offer to settle the case will not be considered against you at trial.

     Finally, make sure that the defendant has money, income or property so your judgment will be collectible. The Illinois Constitution prohibits a Judge from putting a person in jail for failure to pay a debt. Therefore, if a person does not have the money, income or property, there is no legal way for the court to get you the money you are owed even though a judgment has been entered.

     For more detailed information about other Alternatives to Court, click here

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E. Who Can Sue or Be Sued?

     Any person 18 years or older may file a small claim case. Persons under 18 must be represented by a licensed attorney.

     Persons and businesses must sue and be sued in their correct legal name. Before filing your lawsuit, check the phone book for the correct spelling, address and phone number of the defendant. If you sue an incorporated business, you must use its legal name which may be different from the name you know it by. You can find out if a business is a corporation and obtain its legal name by contacting the Recorder of Deeds Office (located in the Administration Building) or online at  You might note the name and address of the registered agent, who is one of the persons upon whom summons can be served.

     If you intend to sue the owner of an unincorporated business which operates under an assumed name (advertising name, such as “Action Plumbing”) you can find out the name of the owner (whom you must name as the defendant) by consulting the Assumed Name Index in the Office of the County Clerk (located in the lobby of the 1st floor of the Administration Building).

    Remember, a Judgment against a defendant who is incorrectly named will be worthless.

     For more detailed information about who can sue, click here

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F. Am I Required to Have a Lawyer Represent Me in Small Claims Court?

     Persons 18 years or older may choose to represent themselves or to be represented by a lawyer. Regardless of your choice, your opponent has a right to appear through a lawyer. The Illinois Supreme Court Rules provide that a CORPORATION may not appear as a plaintiff without an attorney, but may appear as a defendant through an officer, director, manager or supervisor. Corporate officers should consult with their lawyers regarding interpretation of this rule.

NOTE: A trial in Small Claims Court is speedy and inexpensive, yet it may be too complex for some people to handle on their own. While most parties in a small claim case do not have a lawyer representing them, some do. Consequently, you may find yourself facing a lawyer at trial. So consider having a lawyer represent you.

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G. In Which County Do I File My Claim?

      Generally, you must file your small claim in the county where 1) the defendant resides, or 2) where the events happened which you believe give you the right to sue, e.g., where the accident occurred, contract was signed or leased premises located. A corporation is considered to reside in any county where it does business or has an office. Filing the claim in the wrong county will not cause the case to be dismissed or thrown out, but may result in unnecessary court costs, delay and a transfer of the case to the correct county.

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H. Where Do I Start My Small Claims Case in Lake County?

    After you have determined that Lake County is the proper place to file your claim, go to the Small Claims Division of the Office of the Clerk of the Circuit Court on the lower level of the Court Annex, 18 North County Street (Washington Street entrance), Waukegan, Illinois, between the hours of 8:30 AM and 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday (phone number: 847/377-3226).

   You may also want to go to the Center for Self-Representation for further information and assistance on how to use the small claims forms included on this website. The Center is located in the William D. Block Memorial Library in the Courthouse. It is also open 8:30 AM until 5:00 PM.

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 I. How Do I Start A Small Claims Suit?

    To begin your small claim suit you must:

A. Fill out an original and three copies of the standard form Small Claim Complaint and a Small Claim Summons (available from the Small Claim Division of the Circuit Clerk’s Office and their website), file them with the clerk, and pay the standard filing fee;

B. Arrange to notify the defendant of the suit. This can be done in one of three ways:

1. If the defendant has a mailing address within the state of Illinois, you may choose to give notice by serving summons by certified mail, return receipt requested. You should fill out and sign the AFFIDAVIT FOR SERVICE BY CERTIFIED MAIL found on the reverse side of the Small Claim Summons. Only the clerk, not you, may mail the summons. This method is less expensive than the second. However, if the letter carrier is unable to obtain the necessary signature on the postal receipt (green card), you will have to ask the clerk to issue a second (alias) summons.

2. If you choose to have the Sheriff serve the summons, place the summons (one original, two copies, each having attached a copy of the complaint) with the Sheriff for hand delivery to the defendant. If the defendant is to be served in Lake County, deliver the summons to the Civil Process Division of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office. If the defendant is to be served somewhere outside Lake county, you must arrange to deliver the summons to the Sheriff of the appropriate county and state.

3. Place the summons and copies mentioned in paragraph 2 with a licensed/registered private detective for hand delivery to the defendant.

NOTE: Regardless of which of the three methods you choose, you must include with the papers to be served on the defendant, a paper entitled Clerk’s "Appearance" form, one for each defendant named in your complaint. One copy is to be filed by the defendant with the clerk, a copy is for the defendant to mail to the plaintiff.

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J. What Information Should I Include in My Small Claims Complaint?

    The complaint must contain the name, address and (if known) phone number of both the plaintiff and defendant along with a short simple statement of the following, clearly notifying the defendant of your claim:

1. The amount claimed (remember, amount cannot be more than the $10,000 limit set by statute).

2. Briefly state the facts which you feel describe why and how the defendant owes you money, e.g.; include dates, location, and circumstances of your claim.

NOTE: If the complaint is based upon a written document of any kind (for example, a lease, contract or promissory note), a legible copy of that document must be attached to all copies of the complaint. If you cannot find the document, you must attach to your complaint an affidavit describing the document and stating that it is not available to attach to your complaint. An affidavit is a written statement signed under oath in front of a notary public.

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K. What is a Summons?

     A summons is a pre-printed legal document supplied by the small claim clerk which notifies the defendant that they are being sued, the date for the "Return Day" and the date for trial. The Court has no power to hear a case until the defendant is served the summons. When the defendant receives the summons, he also receives a copy of the complaint telling the reason for the suit and the amount claimed.

     The plaintiff selects both the "Return Day" and the trial date. The trial date is AUTOMATICALLY the fourteenth day after the "Return Day."

     PLAN AHEAD: When selecting the "Return Day" plaintiff should be sure witnesses, if any, can be in court on the trial date.

     The "Return Date" may be on any weekday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday, at either 9:00 AM or 1:30 PM, not less than 14 nor more than 40 days after the issuance date on the summons. The plaintiff must consult the small claims clerk to avoid court holidays and dates which are already filled with other cases. If a trial is mistakenly scheduled on a holiday, it will be held on the next following court day.

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L. How Will I Know Whether Summons Has Been Served on the Defendant?

   Several days before the summons return date you have selected, contact the Clerk’s Office, the Sheriff’s Office or other person authorized to serve process (licensed detective) to determine if your complaint and summons were delivered/"served" on the defendant(s). If they were not served, you will need to request to have a second summons (referred to as an "Alias Summons") issued by the clerk and repeat the service process outline on page 8b., 1,2,3.
(Web Manager Note: Click here to view Section I, paragraph b. Subparagraphs 1,2,3)

     If the complaint and summons was served, you should inquire of the clerk whether or not the defendant(s) has filed an appearance. An appearance is a written document filed with the Clerk of Court by the defendant or an attorney representing him, indicating his intent to have a trial on the complaint plaintiff has filed. Although the plaintiff does not have to appear on the return date listed on the summons, it may be beneficial to do so, since the defendant may wait to file an appearance in court on the date and time listed on the return, or may fail to appear physically or to file an appearance. If the plaintiff is present on the summons return date and the defendant(s) has been served, but failed to appear in court or file an appearance, you may ask the Judge to enter a judgment in your favor on the summons return date. If you choose not to appear on the summons return date, and the defendant has been served but failed to appear and/or file his written appearance, you would then have to contact the clerk to arrange a later date to have your case called in court. On that date your file will be brought before the Judge who, upon your request, can enter a Default Judgment in favor of you and against the defendant. In either case, the Judge may want to hear some evidence, so be prepared to explain your side of the case and bring any evidence you would have used during trial, such as photographs, contracts, leases, paid receipts or other written documents.

     If the defendant has filed an "Appearance", the case is automatically set for trial 14 days after the "Return Day." If the defendant has timely filed a written appearance -- neither plaintiff nor defendant need to appear on the summons return day and would need only come in 14 days later, prepared to present evidence during the bench trial heard before the Judge.

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M. Court Costs

    Plaintiff and defendant must each pay fees or costs before getting into court. These fees and costs are listed on the Court Cost page inserted into this booklet
(Web Masters Note: Please check the current Filing Fees Schedule on the Circuit Clerk's web page.)

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N. May I Recover Court Costs from the Person I Sue?

    The Court will usually order the party losing the lawsuit to reimburse the winning party for the court costs. This includes the cost of filing suit, service fees and subpoena fees.

     "Court Costs" do not include all of the plaintiff’s expenses, for example, travel expenses to and from the courthouse, income lost in pursuing the claim, or telephone calls to the clerk or the opposing party.

     Remember that if you file the Small Claim Complaint but lose in court, you will be ordered to reimburse the opposing party for their court costs.

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O. What Can I Do if I Cannot Afford the Fees?

    If you are a poor person, you may ask a Judge to allow you to file your complaint either without paying the filing fee or allowing payment of the fee in installments and/or at a later time. You begin by filling out an "Petition and Order to Sue or Defend As A Indigent Person". You can obtain this form from the Small Claim clerk. After you have completed the form, the clerk will tell you how to have an informal hearing on the application. If the Judge waives the filing fee, the Sheriff’s fee for serving process will also be waived.

     If you are sued and wish to have a trial on the plaintiff’s claim, you may likewise complete an "Petition and Order to Sue or Defend As A Indigent Person," and request that a Judge waive the filing fee otherwise required to file your appearance.

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P. I've Been Sued. What Do I Do?

    If you are sued, you will be notified when you receive a copy of the Small Claim Complaint and Summons in one of two ways:

1. By certified mail.

2. By hand delivery from the Sheriff or other authorized person to you or a member of your household.

     The complaint will tell you the reason you are being sued and the amount claimed. The summons will tell you when and where to file your "Appearance" if you contest the claim. DO NOT IGNORE THE SUMMONS. If you do nothing in response to the summons, the Court will probably award the plaintiff the amount claimed in the complaint plus court costs.

     When sued, you may choose to do any one of the following things:

1. Admit you owe the plaintiff all of the amount claimed.

2. Deny you owe the plaintiff all or part of the amount claimed by filing an "Appearance" with the clerk before the "Return Day" and mailing a copy to the plaintiff.

3. File a lawsuit against the plaintiff called a counterclaim, if you believe the plaintiff owes you money in connection with the reason he claims you owe him money.

4. Settle the dispute out of court.

     If you admit owing the amount claimed and you can pay the plaintiff before the trial date, you may be able to avoid a Judgment being entered on the court records against your name. Contact the plaintiff immediately if you admit the claim. If you can’t pay the whole amount in one lump sum, perhaps you both can agree to smaller payments over a period of time.

     If you contest the plaintiff’s claim in whole or in part, you must file an "Appearance" with the Clerk of the Court and pay the "Appearance" fee before the "Return Day". IMMEDIATELY MAIL A COPY OF YOUR "APPEARANCE" TO THE ATTORNEY FOR THE PLAINTIFF, OR, IF NONE, TO THE PLAINTIFF. You are not required to appear in person in court on the "Return Day" IF an appearance has been timely filed. The purpose of the "Return Day" is to see if the claim is contested or uncontested, and if contested to put the case on the trial call 14 days later. The trial is AUTOMATICALLY set for the 14th day after the "Return Day," at the same time (9 AM or 1:30 PM) as the summons was returnable. On the trial day a Judge will listen to both sides of the case and render a decision.

     If you claim that the plaintiff(s) (person(s) who filed suit against you) owed you money as a result of the same transaction on which they base their claim, you may file a lawsuit called a counterclaim against them. This is done by filling out a standard Small Claim Complaint form and giving it to the clerk along with the filing fee. The person filing the counterclaim is known as the counter-plaintiff and the person being sued is known as the counter-defendant. The title on the standard complaint form should be changed to so name the parties. The counter-plaintiff need not serve a summons on the counter-defendant but must notify him by mailing a copy of the counterclaim as soon as possible and be prepared to prove the mailing (for example: Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested). The original complaint and counterclaim will be heard at the same time. The Court may postpone such a trial so everyone has an opportunity to be prepared.

     You may contact the plaintiff to attempt to settle the dispute out of court. The fact that you offered to settle the case will not be considered against you at trial. If you settle out of court after being served with a complaint and summons, you would be wise to have your settlement in writing. The settlement agreement need not be complicated but should be sufficiently detailed to be enforceable in court if there is a later misunderstanding between the parties. Always notify the clerk of any settlement so that the case may be removed from the court calendar. The plaintiff should write and sign a short note to the clerk advising of the settlement.

     If you do not settle out of court or file an "Appearance" before the "Return Date", a "Judgment By Default" may be entered against you for the amount claimed plus the court costs.

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Q. How Do I Prepare My Case for Trial?

    You must prove your case. Proof consists of the testimony of witnesses and physical evidence. Before going to court for the trial, you should write down the facts and details of your case in the order in which they occurred. Use only the necessary details but be prepared to tell the whole story. Gather all physical evidence, for example, documents, contracts, leases, receipts, canceled checks, rent receipts, I.O.U.’s, sales receipts, diagrams, guarantees, warranties, photos of damaged items, etc. Bring original documents and at least one legible copy of each.

     If you claim the other party carelessly damaged your car, you may prove your loss by a paid repair bill or by bringing as a witness a qualified car repairman who has inspected the car. Estimates of repair costs are not sufficient for this purpose, unless the persons who prepared them are in court and are qualified (experienced, trained) repairmen.

     You may bring to court witnesses to testify to their personal knowledge and observations relevant to the case. Do not bring letters from witnesses on the theory the witnesses could not appear personally. Such letters are not admissible in evidence even though written under oath and notarized. If witnesses refuse to attend the trial, you may have the Court order the witness to come to court with a subpoena. (See Section S.) Naturally, you may testify as a witness in your own case. You may also call the defendant(s) as a witness(s) and ask questions of them. Be prepared to make a brief but complete statement explaining your side of the case using your physical evidence, if any. It is a good idea to practice ahead of time what you are going to say to the Judge. Write out all questions you want to ask your witnesses.

     If you intend to support your claim by something said to you or your witnesses by the defendant, let the Judge know when and where the conversation took place and who was present to hear the admission.

     If you have several paid bills which you claim the other side owes you, it is helpful to prepare a separate list of those items and amounts, and to add up the total claimed.

     Be prepared to show your exhibits to the opposing party as the Judge may direct you to do this before the trial begins.

     After the trial begins, it is extremely rare for the Judge to allow a continuance to another day, so be prepared to prove your entire case. Plain ahead to answer the proofs of the opposing party.

     For more detailed information about how to prepare your case, click here

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R. Witness Subpoenas

    If a witness to the dispute you want as a witness refuses to appear in court voluntarily, you may ask the Clerk of the Court to issue a subpoena to make the individual appear. You must complete the face of the subpoena by filling in the caption of the case as well as the name and address of the witness.

     The subpoena may be delivered to the witness by the Sheriff. The cost of serving the subpoena varies depending upon the distance between the Sheriff’s Office and the place where the Sheriff serves the witness. Also, the witness is entitled to advance payment of a fee plus mileage each way for necessary travel. The winning party may ask the Court to order the losing party to reimburse (pay back) these expenses.

     A witness should be subpoenaed a reasonable period of time in advance of the trial date so they can plan to come to court.

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S. What Happens on the Trial Date?

    Small Claims are heard in Courtroom C-306 Annex Building. Arrive early so you have time to find the Small Claims Courtroom and to get organized. If you fail to appear on time for trial, the Court may enter a judgment in favor of the other side.

    Bring your physical evidence and witnesses, if any. Ask your witnesses to read this section of this guidebook.

     You will have to wait while routine matters and other cases are heard. While waiting for your case to be called, listen to the other cases to learn the courtroom procedure. When your case is called, step up before the Judge with your witnesses. If the other side does not show up, the Judge will probably enter a Judgment in your favor but may require you to present proof, so be prepared. If your opponent appears for trial, the parties and their witnesses will be placed under oath and must tell the truth.

     The plaintiff will present the case first. The plaintiff should tell the Judge exactly what happened, mentioning dates, times and places. The witnesses, if any, should be questioned and all physical evidence given to the Judge. After each plaintiff’s witness testifies, the defendant has the opportunity to also ask questions of them. When the plaintiff finishes presenting his proof, it is the defendant’s turn. The defendant may testify, ask questions of witnesses and present physical evidence to the Judge. The plaintiff has the right to question each of the defendant’s witnesses. The plaintiff and defendant can also question each other.

     When presenting your case, be brief and stick to the facts. Use the outline and questions you have prepared. Tell what happened in the order that it happened. Do not interrupt or argue with any witness. Listen carefully so you can tell the Judge why you disagree when it is your turn to speak. If the Judge asks you questions, answer them clearly and directly.

     After hearing both sides the Judge will, based upon the law and the facts, reach a decision called a Judgment. The Court may award the plaintiff all or part of the money claimed or find in favor of the defendant. The Judgment is in writing and entered on the court records. The Judgment will require the losing party to pay the winning party’s court costs. The party who wins the case will be required to write the order granting judgment.

     The Judge cannot help one party over the other regardless of the presence or absence of attorneys. However, Supreme Court Rule 286 allows the Judge to hear and decide Small Claim disputes at an informal hearing. During such a hearing, the Judge may ask questions of any witness or party (plaintiff or defendant). In such hearings, the rules controlling procedure and evidence may be "relaxed or loosened" by the trial judge. If this informal hearing procedure is used, at the end of the hearing the Judge will announce the decision and explain the reasons to the parties.

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T. How Do I Get My Money If I Win?

    If Judgment is entered in favor of the plaintiff or the counter-plaintiff for all or a part of the amount claimed, that amount is payable at once and interest begins accruing immediately at the rate of 9% per year, per statute (simple interest, not compounded daily).

     If you obtained your Judgment by default, the defendant probably does not know about it. Write or phone to inform that party. You should mail a copy of the written court finding. For a small fee the clerk will provide you a copy for this purpose.

     If the losing party (now called the Judgment Debtor) does not pay the Judgment within 30 days, the winning party (now called the Judgment Creditor) may begin legal collection proceedings.

     If you decide to begin collection proceedings to enforce your Judgment on your own, you can ask the small claim clerk for the list of enforcement methods called the "Common Collection Sheet". Remember, the clerk cannot give you legal advice. Since this area of the law is complex, you may well consider retaining a lawyer to represent you.

     You may also want to review the "After the Judgment -- Collecting a Judgment in Illinois" information available on this website.

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U. What Can I Do if I Disagree with the Judge's Decision?

    First, you can file a Notice of Motion and a Motion to Reconsider before the Judge who heard the case. A copy of your written Motion to Reconsider and the Notice of Motion (notifying the other party of the date you have scheduled with the clerk for hearing on your motion) must be mailed to the other parties in the case. If the Motion for Reconsideration is denied, you may then appeal the decision from the Judgment of the Small Claim Court to the Second District Appellate Court in Elgin, Illinois. If you decide to appeal, you must file a Notice of Appeal in writing with the clerk within 30 days of announcement of the Judge’s decision. You may want an attorney’s advice on whether and how to appeal. Unless excused, a bond is required to stop enforcement of a Judgment pending appeal.

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V. Additional Suggestions

a. The clerk will assign a number to each Small Claim case. Write down the number and refer to it in all dealings with the clerk and sheriff.

b. If you should change your address after you file your case or your "Appearance", be certain to notify the clerk and the opposing party of your new address. Likewise, if you change your phone number.

c. All Small Claims Court sessions are open to the public. You may attend any of these courtroom proceedings to familiarize yourself with the procedures. The courtroom is opened at 8:45 AM and 1:15 PM, Monday though Friday.

d. Court reporters are not provided in small claim cases. If you want a transcript of your trial, you must arrange for a court reporter at your own expense.

e. If you need additional information, you may call the Office of the Circuit Court Clerk. Remember, the clerk is not allowed to give legal advice.

     For more frequently asked questions and additional information, click here

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WGlossary of Terms

     These are the common terms used in Small Claims proceedings, for a more complete glossary, click here to view a more complete Judicial Glossary of Legal Terms

Answer - a written statement of the defendant’s case in which the plaintiff’s claims are admitted or denied. A written answer is not required in a small claims case. The defendant notifies the court and the plaintiff that he want to contest the plaintiff’s claim by filing the Appearance.

Appearance - the paper the defendant in a small claims case files and also sends to the plaintiff to notify them that the defendant wants to participate in the case.

Circuit Clerk - this elected official is responsible for maintaining the court records, issuing summons and subpoenas, collecting fines, and carrying out other business activities which support the Circuit Court.

Complaint – the paper the plaintiff files stating the claims against the defendant.

Counterclaim - claim presented by a defendant against the plaintiff following the claim of the plaintiff.

DBA - Acronym for "Doing Business As."

Defendant - In a civil case it is the person(s) or corporation the plaintiff has filed the claim against.

Default Judgment - A default judgment is the type of judgment that is entered by the judge when the defendant has not filed an appearance or come to court for the case.

Evidence - any form of proof presented by a party for the purpose of supporting its arguments before the court. This includes witness testimony and papers, photographs or other things related to the issues.

Hearsay - evidence based on what a witness has heard someone else say rather than what the witness has personally experienced.

Inadmissible - that which, under the established rules of evidence, cannot be admitted or received in court.

Motion - A motion is a request a party makes to the court asking the court to take some type of action. For example, a Motion for a Continuance asks the court to postpone a court hearing or a trial. A Motion for Reconsideration asks the court to review and reconsider the court’s decision.

Petitioner - One who presents (files) a petition to a court against a respondent. Similar to a plaintiff in a criminal or civil case.

Plaintiff - the person(s) or corporation who has filed a complaint against the defendant stating a claim against the defendant.

Pro Se - Latin meaning "for himself; in his own behalf; in person" or as in appearing for oneself.  To act as one's own attorney in a civil or criminal matter.

Respondent - One who answers in various legal proceedings. Similar to a defendant in a criminal or civil case.

Return Date - The Return Date is the date by which the defendant must file his appearance to formally notify the court he wishes to contest the plaintiff’s complaint. If the defendant does not file his appearance or attend the return date, a default judgment may be entered against him.

Subpoena - a document issued by the court to compel a witness to appear and give testimony or to procure documentary evidence in a proceeding.

Summons - The summons is the paper the clerk of court issues that is used to notify the defendant that the plaintiff has filed a lawsuit against him . The Summons must be served on the defendant properly. In a small claims case it must tell the defendant the date and time of the Return Date.

Testimony - the sworn evidence presented by witnesses.

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Helpful Telephone Numbers

Administrative Office of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit


Clerk of the Circuit Court - Small Claims Clerk


Lake County Bar Association


Lake County Volunteer Lawyers Program


Prairie State Legal Services


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