How to win a hearing at the magistrate level
So you have decided to forego hiring an attorney and instead take your case to small claims court on your own. This is a wise choice, as long as you are well prepared to present your case to the magistrate. There are several aspects of a hearing that you need to know before you go in and present your case. Below are some helpful tips:
Structure of the hearing
At the magistrate’s level the structure of the hearing can range from very informal to formal. When I say informal, the hearing may just be the judge deciding to ask questions back and forth to both parties and then arriving at a decision from that. In a formal hearing, however, each side will be given a period of time where the floor is theirs and they can present evidence, testimony and then a formal argument. The formal hearing will resemble a small trial.
How to prepare for all possibilities
The first thing you need to do is gather all of the evidence that you may have. Let’s say that you paid a wedding planner one thousand dollars as a down payment and then they went out of business and did not refund the money. Do you have a contract showing the payment? Do you have a receipt? Do you have bank statements? You will want to gather all of the written and physical evidence that shows the transaction. This type of evidence can be crucial at a magistrate’s hearing. It is more objective and powerful than just the spoken word.
Adhering to the rules of evidence
Certain types of evidence are not admissible in magisterial hearings as the law forbids it from being admitted and used. One that you should be aware of is the rule against hearsay. Hearsay is formally defined as an out of court statement that is being used for the truth of the matter asserted. You should understand it as the statement of a third party who is not present at court that day. So if your adversary says something like “ My neighbor told me that she has never seen me leave the trash out on the sidewalk for days.” The words of the neighbor, who is not present at court that day, cannot generally be used against you. If this happens, object to it and allow the judge to make a ruling. It may or may not be allowed in, but sometimes such evidence can be particularly damaging, so maybe learn a bit about hearsay before going in to your hearing.
Present your case in an organized manner
No matter how the hearing goes, present your case in an organized manner. Tell the story of what happened in a chronological order and then sprinkle your evidence throughout the story to strengthen it and ensure that it comes across as logical. Sometimes the difference between winning and losing can hinge on who has the more organized and concise argument.
Call the judge “your honor” and refer to the opposing party with respect, no matter how much you may really dislike them. This will show the judge that you are fair and reasonable and will make it easy for him to rule in your favor. Good luck!