What Happens on the Trial Date?

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Small Claims are heard in Courtroom C-306 which is in the 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 be prepared to tell the Judge the facts and details of the case (see Section Q for information about how to prepare for a trial). 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. Show respect to all court personnel, the opposing party and all witnesses.

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 most often 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 Claims 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.