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Jen23514

My experience today in District Court.... as an observer (long)

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I'm pressed for time, but wanted to write as quickly as I could things that stood out today.

 

I had to be near the Courthouse today for a work-related matter, so I decided to pop in and see what was going on in small-claims (my interest).

 

They don't have small claims everyday (and not today), but while looking at the div docket, the name NCO caught my eye, and I only had an hour to wait, so I decided to sit on that session. I learned A LOT today....

 

I had an hour until that session started, so I went across the street to the coffee shop. You'd be surprised what you hear lawyers talk openly about with their peers. You also learn a lot by sitting in the corner and listening.

 

The owner and I struck up a conversation and she intro me to a friend who is a retired mediator for the small claims division (sitting in another corner). I asked her experiences, do's, don't, advice, etc.... Let's say for an hour I hardly said a word and she told some great stories... In a nutshell:

 

 

1) in our district, no lawyers in small claims.

2) mediation is a requirement and if no resolution is reached, then it goes in front of a judge.

3) bring 5 copies of whatever you have.

4) be on time

5) be respectful

 

(btw, I chatted with the gentleman sitting next to me briefly who asked about my quiche and then politely chatted about the crazy weather (hail, tornados) we had last night.... I swear I saw him an hour later.... as the pro-tem judge in the div court :dntknw: glad I was pleasant while having coffee.)

 

6) while none of the clerks are supposed to give legal advice, she told me which ones are more helpful than others, and which judges are more consumer-friendly and try to get on their docket.

7) NOLO Press publishes self-help books that are downstairs in the law library, but also at the local libraries and are highly recommended for pro-se-ers (they have one esp for small claims)

8) she told me prior to going I should sit in on small claims in the same way I was planning on sitting in on div court.

9) relax! small claims is for the "every-day joe" and 90% of things are settled in mediation.

 

 

What I learned sitting in today in DIV court (approx an hour of observing):

 

remember the judge from the coffee shop? In that hour he managed to say 3 times, if you don't know the laws, get a lawyer. 2 times told someone (pro-se) that they should read the rules for the court. And twice said to the general audience : There are no separate laws, one for lawyers and one for non-lawyers, if you don't know the law and don't take time to learn it, get a lawyer, he won't cut you slack for not understanding a motion.

 

Other observations:

1) not all lawyers are smooth talkers, well prepared, speak clearly, well prepared (again), or always have all the answers for the questions the judge may ask.

 

2) at the beginning of the session, the judge called each attorney on the docket and asked them to call the opposing (defendant) side. Each attorney had at least 2 people to call, one as many as 7. Out of 6 attorneys, there were probably a total of 25-30 cases to be heard, and less than 10 defendants even bothered to show up. Lots of default judgements today.

 

3) "if it pleases the court" is a popular phrase and I think I know when to use it now.

 

4) if you want a continuance, you better have a REALLY good excuse.

 

5) the CA-type lawyers are a tight-knit group. This "debtor" court occurs every thursday and you can tell it's the same attorney's week after week.

 

6) don't go in there unless you've rehearsed and know the statutes you're arguing over and over.

 

7) make sure your complaint/motion/whatever is well written. The oral part of the case lasted less than 5 min for each case (where both parties actually showed up). There was one exception and it was a complicated case.

 

8) today was mostly a hearing on motions, you better be prepared to orally argue against ANY defense or counter-motion the other side could possibly present. Some people knew THEIR motion well, but when the opposing attorney presented a counter-argument, most were tongue-tied and couldn't oppose it.

 

9) again about copies.... if you're bringing something for your own reference, bring copies... the judge and opposing counsel might want a copy

 

10) pro-se can be done, but confidence is needed and I truly believe odds are stacked against you.

 

 

 

I wish I could share some deep-secrets to help us all, but I guess my secret is this.... go sit in for an hour. Combine that with things you've read here and I feel like I have a MUCH better idea of the big picture, what to expect, how to prepare.

 

Another advice? Be super-sugar-sweet to everyone. You don't know who anyone is, or which low-level clerk will give you a nugget of invaluable wisdom (you'd be surprised what else I learned from the records clerk today when I went there to see one of my files).

 

Not all lawyers are smooth like the ones who read scripts on tv :blink: they fumble, don't have documents at hand, don't know their case well enough to answer in-depth questions from the judge, and a handful of other things.

 

District court isn't for the faint of heart... and you better be prepared to explain to the judge what you did prior to the hearing what you did to resolve this.

 

I gotta get outta here, sorry for all the typos, I was in a rush!

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VERY interesting. I've been tempted to go down and sit in on a court session and maybe now I will. Learning something new never hurts.

 

Thanks for the info!

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VERY useful information...especially for those that haven't ever set foot in a civil court before...

 

 

I suggest EVERYONE take the time to watch a SC court at least once...it's actually entertaining at times...especially when you get a knowledgable consumer up against a lawyer that graduated at the bottom of his class (meaning a CA)

 

Thanks so much for sharing

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up against a lawyer that graduated at the bottom of his class (meaning a CA)

 

Just keep telling yourself that not only are the CA's attorneys the worst in their graduating classes, they're the ones who couldn't get any other jobs, are not likely to make great leaps of legal logic, and keep their jobs by reciting the narrow part of the law they are familiar with like a favorite record.

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up against a lawyer that graduated at the bottom of his class (meaning a CA)

 

Just keep telling yourself that not only are the CA's attorneys the worst in their graduating classes, they're the ones who couldn't get any other jobs, are not likely to make great leaps of legal logic, and keep their jobs by reciting the narrow part of the law they are familiar with like a favorite record.

 

 

more to the point, they recite the narrow part of the law they THINK they're familiar with

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more to the point, they recite the narrow part of the law they THINK they're familiar with

 

As soon as I hit 'send' I realized I should have phrased it that way...'assume' might be an even better verb, because the whole point is that don't do legal thinking very well.

 

It's not just that debt collection law is at the bottom of the legal food chain...the ones who actually argue in court are the bottom of the collection law food chain (think of it as what the plankton eat). They are either young, inexperienced attorneys who couldn't get any other jobs or shopworn guys who aren't sharp enough at this to be able to hire the young, inexperienced attorneys to go to court for them.

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Another thing I observed was that as cases were called and lawyers and defendants were matched up, all were sent to the hall to try to come to a resolution.

 

The only ones who came back in were ones that could not or had additional motions to argue. 2/3 never came back in (which means they filed out a journal entry and both signed and filed with clerk).

 

Another observations.

0% of the plantiffs were pro-se

80% of the defendants were.

 

Timelines are important. It was repeatedly stressed that you only had 10 days to object to the ruling and file a motion in response. Miss it by one day, you're SOL.

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Thank you for the valuable information! It was much needed and appreciated. I am about to graduate as a paralegal (we are the ones that do all of the paperwork) and though I know a thing or 2 about the law and court, there is always so much more to learn and experiance. Sometimes I can not believe what an salamander I was one year ago and how much laws and politics really do matter.

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VERY useful information...especially for those that haven't ever set foot in a civil court before...

 

 

I suggest EVERYONE take the time to watch a SC court at least once...it's actually entertaining at times...especially when you get a knowledgable consumer up against a lawyer that graduated at the bottom of his class (meaning a CA)

 

Thanks so much for sharing

 

I've known my day in court is coming... either being sued or being the plantiff. God knows I'm on my 5th communication with some CAs, but the thought of going to court scares the crap outta me.

 

Todays trip took away some of the unknown.

 

I have to say though.... I am really surprised by some of the lawyers... they just didn't act very bright.... and I'm not trying to be mean, but seriously! Only 1 stood out as someone who was well prepared, articulate, and had his sh*t together. ONE attorney out of about a dozen I watched today (I wrote down his name for future reference maybe!). I was so surprised.

 

When I have time this evening, I'll post what I learned from chatting with the small claims clerk and the file clerk!

 

 

ETA: P.S. if you think you're walking into civil district court with 1 or 2 minor violations and walking out with $1,000.... i'd rethink that strategy!

Edited by jvf4812

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Someone PM'd me regarding this thread and asked (thought more than one person might have this question) :

 

I just wanted to ask a quick question. Is district court different from small claims? It seemed you were stressing knowing the laws and being prepared to talk to the judge, but earlier stated that you received advice to relax when dealing with small claims and that most cases end at mediation.

 

Yes they are different. Small claims court rules from county to county may differ, so the advice I was given today may not be relevent to you (YMMV):

 

Small claims courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They hear smaller civil cases (in my jurisdiction $4,000) between private litigants. Lawyers (in my jurisdiction) are not allowed.

 

Disctrict court is where the big dogs play! It is also civil, but today in District court, I heard cases regarding evictions, debts, leases, bad checks, repos, and other various issues. The dollar amounts are usually larger AND a lawyer (or a CA) can NOT file against you in small claims.

 

Small claims I think are inherently for those smaller matters to be settled relatively easy. My county happens to be BIG on mediation, even in family court. We were not allowed to enter a custody arrangement without going thru (free county paid) mediation. Our small claims makes mediation prior to the trial mandatory as well.

 

The problem with small claims is that if you get a judgement against someone.... the small claims court can not enforce it. If the "judgement debot" (the loser) does not pay, then you have to take it upstairs to district court and file the appropriate motions up there. Appeals to the small claims court must be filed in district court as well.

 

From the county website about the court I attended today:

"Limited action civil cases are heard in Division XXX, a high volume forum with rights of appeal and trial de novo (heard "anew" as if the first trial had not occurred). Other than matters of contract, the jurisdictional limit for limited action cases is $25,000. Most of the cases are collection or landlord/tenant matters. "

 

From the county website regarding small claims:

"Cases for the recovery of money or property up to a jurisdictional limit of $4,000 may be filed in the Small Claims Division. Attorneys are not allowed to represent parties in small claims proceedings prior to the entry of judgment."

 

 

oh, and it's cheaper to file in small claims!

 

I probably over-explained, but I hope that helped!

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I've known my day in court is coming... either being sued or being the plantiff. God knows I'm on my 5th communication with some CAs, but the thought of going to court scares the crap outta me.

 

It is much, much better to be the plaintiff. And while it's very simplistic to say don't let yourself be a defendant, don't let yourself be a defendant.

 

 

-R

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(continued) Regarding my trip to the small claims window....

 

What I was given:

1) A Guide to Filing Small Claims in X District

In the small claims pamplet I received it lays out:

what is small claims docket?

what is required of you?

how is the claim filed?

Where can the claim be filed?

What to do after fiing

Who can be sued in small claims?

What to expect in your day in court

Collecting your money or property

legal terms to know

how you can file an appeal of a SC judgment

Satisfaction of a judgment

What if you are being sued in SC?

 

 

2) I was also given a memo on SC continuance policy and procedure

 

3) Fill in the blank forms (peition and others) with 4 carbon cpies attached that MUST BE TYPED (my grandmother doesn't even own a typwriter anymore...??)

 

4)I was also given a small claims info sheet (a checklist so to speak)

 

5) A memo on how to serve the other party - what your options are

 

Also, I was told where the law library is, hours to file, days SC is held and a variety of other information pertaining to local procedure.

 

When asked if the SC Clerk had any advice..... she giggled and said the more professional you are the better you lay out the case (think a "for dummies" book)... the better off people usually are! Then she gave me a really good nugget of information that is relevent to my county only (THANK YOU coffee shop lady for directing me to this girls' window!)

 

 

Why did I post this about SC? If you're wondering, "Should I file SC?"... my answer would be to go to the courthouse... get the information you need to file, ask as many questions as they'll let you get away with (they can't give legal advice obviously), sit in on an afternoon of SC Court, and then by the end of the day, you should have an idea if you're able to navigate this successfully! (IMHO).

 

Granted, I haven't been to SC YET, but after today, I have little doubt I'm competant enough to do it!

 

I hope this helps someone with their SC decision of to file or not....

Edited by jvf4812

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attorneys aren't allowed in your SC court? Then shouldn't the defendant be not quite as worried since they're not going up against a lawyer? How does that work?

Edited by pryan67

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attorneys aren't allowed in your SC court? Then shouldn't the defendant be not quite as worried since they're not going up against a lawyer? How does that work?

 

CAs are not allowed to sue either, it's actually specifically mention in the Small Claims Brochure.

 

Small claims does not scare me with no attorneys :clapping:

 

ETA: actually after sitting in DIV court, I'm not scared of some of those guys either, I'm better prepared!

Edited by jvf4812

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...I suggest EVERYONE take the time to watch a SC court at least once...it's actually entertaining at times...especially when you get a knowledgeable consumer up against a lawyer that graduated at the bottom of his class (meaning a CA)...

:angel::rofl::rofl:

 

Seriously though, this is a great thread (that I ran into from Jen's sig) and thought I'd give it a bump because it's just that good... :D

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This needs to be moved to the "help I've been served forum", and possibly made a "sticky".

Edited by dixiedrifter

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I gotta get outta here, sorry for all the typos, I was in a rush!

 

Wow, Jen, thanks for the insight into the court system!

 

I've sat in on divorce court before, and I've been to traffic court. When my friends ask me why I'm not married, I tell them to go to divorce court sometime :grin:

 

Last time I was in traffic court, I was lucky to get a judge who was also a very good professor. He spent the first 45 minutes giving everyone an informative lecture about court basics. He also very much resembled, in face and manner, the judge in My Cousin Vinny (Fred Gwynne). It was most entertaining as well as informative. (Mine got dismissed, BTW :grin: )

 

Just a few months ago, I was summoned for jury duty, and was called into a panel, along with exactly 99 others in the day's pool, for a murder trial. The judge gave the 100 of us an outstanding lecture on civic duty, right to jury trial, and an overview of the case. I went from dreading the day as most of us do to actually wishing I could have served.

 

No worries on the typos :D thanks for providing the insight!

 

Best,

 

-J

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This needs to be moved to the "help I've been served forum", and possibly made a "sticky".

 

thanks dixie... I didn't see your comment before today... I went back to look up to see if I posted the judges initials... so I could remember who he was.

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I had to deal with a horsefart lawyer acting on behalf of a plaintiff in a civil case, whereas i was the defendant... with an attorney of 35 years experience in the oldest lawfirm in town. My attorney looked like Tom Selleck, and kicked just as much flowers.

 

If phrase that paid was "IF YOUR HONOR PLEASE" whenever addressing the judge or the courtroom in general. Also, "MAY I PLEASE SUBMIT" whenever objecting with credible documents.

 

Needless to say, I won with a jury vote of 12:0 in 7 minutes. The horsefart lawyer made the case drag on for 3 days.

 

When addressing the court, courtesy and positive demeanor do NOT sway a jury. COURTROOM VERBIAGE, exuberant confidence, and B&W PROOF of issues at hand mean everything. My attorney even shocked me on the day of trial and showed up with a 25x35" poster printed from CopyMAX of a bit of testimony made by the plaintiff's own doctor, ONLY submitted as a part of his closing arguments.

 

Theres NOTHING better you can do for yourself when preparing for court than to witness it over and over - first hand.

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