- The “Plaintiff” is the one who is suing someone.
- The “Defendant” is the one who is being sued.
If You are the Plaintiff, you must prove in court:
- Why the defendant owes you money and the amount owed;
- Why the defendant should return certain property to you, which property should be returned, and in some cases, the value of the property (an issue when the defendant claims that the disputed property is worth more than the $10,000, the highest amount allowed to be settled in this court); and
- If you are the landlord seeking a summary ejectment action, why you are entitled to an order requiring the defendant to move out.
If You are the Defendant:
- You try to show that you do not owe the money or should not have to return the property, or that you owe less than the plaintiff says you owe; or
- In a summary ejectment case, you need to show why you should not be required to move out, or that the landlord owes you money because of the landlord’s failure to maintain your home in livable conditions.
Steps To Prepare for the Trial:
- Gather your evidence. Get together any materials you have that will help you prove your side of the story, including receipts, letters, photos, leases, cancelled checks, contracts, or ledgers. Bring them with you when you come to court.
- Witnesses. Anyone who has first-hand knowledge about the case can be a witness – friends, family members, stranger, even a child. If they can help you prove your side of the story, they can help in your trial. But they have to come to court to tell the judge themselves, about what they saw or know. Be sure and tell your witnesses when and where the case will be heard, If a witness won’t come to court, or can’t get off work for the trial, you might want to force the witness to come to court by having the sheriff deliver a subpoena to that witness (see Appendix for more on subpoenas)
- Practice what you are going to say. Before you go to court, practice. Think about what questions the other side and the judge may ask you in court. Think about how you should answer them. The magistrate may not give you much time to tell your story, so you have to be able to list the most important points briefly and clearly. But be sure you say everything important to your case.
- Visit the Court. If you have time, go to Small Claims Court, as specified on the summons, to see how long it will take you to get there. This can be especially helpful if you’ve never been to the place of your hearing before. Small Claims Court is much more informal and moves along much quicker, so it is strongly recommended that you arrive early on the day of your hearing.
Settling Out of Court:
- You may decide to settle out of court, whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant. If you do reach such an agreement, get it in writing. You may need a written agreement later if the other party does not follow through.
- If you are the defendant, don’t settle just to keep from going to court. If you think you don’t owe what the plaintiff says you owe, then you should present your case to the magistrate.
- If you reach an agreement with the other side before the court hearing, you do not need to go to the trial. However, the plaintiff should file a Voluntary Dismissal with the Clerk of Court at least 48 hours prior to the assigned court date and time.
- If you are the defendant, check with the clerk of court before your trial date to be sure that the plaintiff has really dismissed the case.
- If the case is settled out of court, the plaintiff will not get back the court costs that were paid, unless the defendant agrees to pay them as part of the settlement.