What Happens In Court?

If you are nervous about appearing in court it might help to observe other people in Small Claims Court the week before your own trial. Small Claims Court in Lancaster County is held on Thursday mornings at the County Courthouse, usually in Courtroom #21 on the second floor. A Small Claims Court case generally proceeds as follows:

  1. Greet your witnesses that you have called the night before to make sure they are present and ready to testify.
  2. Arrive at court on time and check the docket list outside the courtroom to make sure your case is on the list.
  3. Bring your file to court with you including your evidence and prepared questions.
  4. In Lancaster County Small Claims Court, this is the point at which the mediators stand up in court, explain the mediation process, and ask if anyone wants to try it. Those who want to try mediation go to a room with the mediator. If mediation does not work, the parties return to court.
  5. If you have decided not to try mediation, wait for the bailiff to call your case. When your case is called, walk up to where the judge instructs you to go.
  6. The judge will direct the activity in the courtroom from here on. Some judges proceed more informally than others. Try to remain calm and listen carefully to what is being said. Be polite to the judge. A Small Claims lawsuit is a very emotional experience for most people. It is to your advantage to control your temper and project the appearance of a reasonable person seeking a fair settlement of the dispute.
  7. The plaintiff presents evidence first. You will give all your written and physical evidence to the bailiff who will mark it as exhibits 1, 2, etc. You will explain this evidence to the judge and let him or her look at it.
  8. Next, the plaintiff calls witnesses to testify. The plaintiff may also testify and does in most cases. The order in which witnesses testify is not important as long as it is logical. You may expect a question from the judge at anytime. The judge may also allow the defendant to ask the witnesses questions.
  9. When the plaintiff is finished, it is the defendant´s turn. The same procedure is followed.
  10. When both parties have concluded their evidence and made their arguments to the judge, the trial is over. The judge may ask a few more questions.
  11. The judge usually will not give his or her decision immediately after the trial. Both parties will be informed of the outcome of the trial a few days later by mail.