Orange County Small Claims Court Help
Most people think small claims court is easy and low-cost (and it is when compared with civil court). Nonetheless, small claims court is not as simple and economical as it could be when you’re armed with the right information.
The major benefit of small claims court is that you do not need a legal representative, as attorneys are not allowed to represent anybody in small claims court. It also costs less to start a suit, the procedure is streamlined and your time in front of a judge or commissioner is generally just a few minutes.
To begin a small claims case, you pay the court a fee, and typically pay to have the debtor served. Parking is usually free as are the easy-to-complete forms. Occasionally you can complete the forms on your computer and bring them to court with you.
There are drawbacks to making use of a small claims court, like the restriction on performing pre-trial legal actions like discovery. There are also restrictions to the circumstances you can sue for and the amount of damages you can request.
A small claims judge may just determine monetary damages and in some cases, require that certain assets be returned to you. Additionally, if your small claims case is appealed by the debtor, the defendant can have legal representation in the appeals court.
If the debtor owes less than $300, you may forgo suing them, at least not for the reason of getting your money back. It costs cash to implement a judgment – and those costs are not always recoverable.
If the debtor owes less than the cash limit of the small claims court, small claims court is probably a good idea.
If the debtor owes less than twice the money limitation of the small claims court, you’re also better off using small claims court as civil court is far more expensive and that doesn’t even include lawyer fees.
Keep in mind small claims court is typically not available for foreclosures or when the amount the debtor owes is excessive. In situations like these, you will need to go to civil court.
If you decide small claims is the right court for you, here are a couple of tips:
- Serve the defendant by a registered process server for best and fastest results.
- Figure out exactly who you are suing before you sue them. Do they have other names or addresses they are using?
- Don’t start enforcement actions until the time restriction to appeal the judgment ends. Implementing a judgment too soon could remind the debtor to appeal the judgment.
- Figure out the debtor’s bankruptcy status. If you find the debtor has filed for bankruptcy protection, wait until you know the results before trying to apply the judgment.
Obviously, winning your judgment is just the start of trying to secure your money. Contact the debtor by mail with a formal letter. Be respectful and offer to deal with them on a payment plan or settlement. Settling may make sense as it saves you the costs, irritation, and delays of enforcement. Do not make any threats or harass the debtor in any way, as this will only hinder your progress.
If you have time and the perseverance, you can attempt to apply the judgment yourself. Your court’s website, the Internet, short articles and other resources can offer ideas. Keep in mind there will be costs each step of the way. To avoid the expense and headache, find a judgment enforcer to recover your judgment.
If you want to impose it yourself, your best tools are discovery (to find the debtor’s possessions), and wage garnishment or bank levies.
To find the debtor’s possessions, you can pay the court and a process server to subpoena the debtor to appear in court and furnish the files you request. Private investigators, public records, social networks and property records are all good places to find useful information.
Before you are able to levy a debtor’s assets, you have to know exact information. For example, what specific bank and branch the debtor uses, who their employer is and where they are located.
To levy the debtor’s possessions, pay for a Writ from the court, the pay the Sheriff or a process server to serve the debtor’s bank or employer. If your efforts to enforce your judgment fail, think about hiring a judgment enforcer. No judgment enforcer can assure they can recover cash from a debtor, but they are only paid for their successful recovery of funds.
If you do collect enough cash from the debtor to pay what is owed, make sure to submit a Fulfillment Of Judgment with the court to close your claim.
If you’d like help serving your small claims paperwork, give JPL Process Service a call at (866) 754-0520. We can have your papers served in a couple of days compared to weeks or months with the Sheriff, and have proof of service in your hand within 24 hours of completion.