a consumer is preparing for the their day in court

Preparing for Your Day in Court: Defendants

How to prepare and present your case in court.

Preparing for Your Day in Court: Defendants


How to prepare for court

Most small claims cases last less than 15 minutes. For this reason, you want to organize your evidence ahead of time and make brief notes of what you want to say in court.

If you have documents, bring the original and two photocopies. You will keep the original and give one copy to the Judge and the other to the Plaintiff.

Evidence you can use

Here are examples of evidence that you can bring to court:

  • Witnesses to testify on your behalf.;
  • Receipts or cancelled checks that prove you made payments;
  • Bills or repair estimates;
  • Photographs of property damage;
  • Written contracts, agreements or other documents that prove your case.

What if I don’t speak English?

If you do not speak English, bring someone who speaks your language and English fluently. The court may not have an interpreter.

Your day in court

On your court date, bring any witnesses and evidence you have to prove your case. You must prove that you do not owe some or all of the money you are being sued for. Having your evidence organized and ready to present will help you to prove your case.

Before your case is heard, the Judge will ask you to speak with the Plaintiff and try to resolve the case. If you cannot come to an agreement, the Judge will hear the case.

Temporary Judges

A Temporary Judge, called a Judge Pro Tem, is a lawyer who hears cases and makes decisions, just like a regular Judge.

If you do not want a Temporary Judge to hear your case, you can ask the court for a Permanent Judge before your case is heard. If a Permanent Judge is unavailable, you may have to come back to court another day.

How should I behave in court?

Be respectful to the Judge, the Plaintiff and everyone in the courtroom. Only one person speaks at a time. Do not interrupt others who are speaking.

Check our flyer for proper courtroom etiquette.

Remember that you are not in court to convince the Judge that the Plaintiff is a bad person; you are there to prove that you do not owe money or did not damage the Plaintiff’s property.

How to present your case

When the Judge allows you to speak, stick to the facts and get right to the point. Give the Judge copies of your evidence. You can refer to your notes, but do not read a prepared statement to the Judge. If the Judge asks you a question, answer it directly. Do not answer a question with long statements that does not directly answer the Judge’s question.

At the end of the hearing, the Judge can make a decision right away, or make a decision later and notify you by mail.

What happens if I win?

If you win the Plaintiff’s Claim, you do not owe the Plaintiff money and the Plaintiff cannot sue you for this money again.

If you countersued and win on your Defendant’s Claim, the Plaintiff owes you the amount the judge awards you.

What if I don’t win?

You have 30 days to pay the money or appeal the decision.

If you cannot pay the Plaintiff all at once, you can ask the court clerk to setup a payment plan If you do not pay the judgment within 30 days, the Plaintiff can take action to collect the money from you.

What if I miss my court date?

If you miss your court date, ask for a new court date by filing a Motion to Vacate Judgment with the court clerk.

Court forms are available at California Courts – Forms. Select “Small Claims” from the pull down menu. Forms are also available at the Court Clerk’s office.

County of Los Angeles Department of Consumer and Business Affairs. last change: Nov. 25, 2015.

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