Preparing your case before you go to court is as important as what you say during your trial. The judge hears many cases in one day and has an interest in making sure cases proceed smoothly and rapidly. The judge will look upon you and your case more favorably if you are organized and prepared and do not waste the judge´s time with insignificant details of your story or complaints about your opponent´s moral character. Don´t wait until the day before your trial to prepare. Thinking about your case a few weeks in advance of the trial date can mean the difference between winning and losing. Here are some things to do:
- Consult An Attorney.
If you are going to consult an attorney concerning your case do it in the early stages. An attorney can help you understand the law pertaining to your situation and give you some tips on what kind of proof you will need to show the court.
- Locate and Organize Your Documents.
Several weeks before your trial date, gather together all the written documents, letters, and photographs which support your position and put them in a file. If you know of state or city laws that pertain to your case, obtain photocopies and add them to your file. Make a copy of everything you intend to give the judge.
- Notify Witnesses of the Trial Date.
You must decide whether or not you need to call witnesses at the trial. Unless you are 100% sure the witness will show up, it is best to file a subpoena with the Small Claims clerk to insure his or her appearance on the trial date. You may also require the witness to bring documents in his or her possession. You should request a subpoena at least two weeks prior to the trial because the subpoena must be served on the witness. Avoid an unpleasant surprise at trial by making sure you know what a potential witness will say about your case before you arrange for a subpoena. A witness fee of $8.00 is generally awarded to a witness who contributes relevant evidence. The court decides which party will pay this witness fee. Sometimes the losing party must pay witness fees and sometimes each party pays the fees for the witnesses he or she subpoenaed. Witnesses can be questioned by the judge and the other party after they have responded to your questions.
- Prepare Affidavits.
Written statements or affidavits of persons not present in court may be received by the judge. An affidavit is a statement that has been signed before a Notary Public. Such statements or affidavits are not given as much weight as the personal testimony of a witness because the judge and opposing party have no opportunity to question the person making the out-of-court statement.
- Prepare a Fact Sheet and Questions.
Think about your case and write down the main facts in chronological order with the date beside each event. Leave out minor details. Think about each witness, including yourself, and decide the main points you want their testimony to include. Then write out questions to ask each witness to bring out these points. Try to anticipate what testimony the other party and his or her witnesses will give. Write out questions to ask them which will bring out facts supporting your side of the story.