LA County small claims court advice
December 14, 2004 3:36 AM   Subscribe

I have to sue someone in small claims court in Los Angeles County. Has anyone been thru this process?
posted by goofyfoot to Law & Government (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I did it in Vermont, I'm not sure if that's close enough for you, but here's what I did. I had to file some paperwork and pay a small fee. The person I was suing [for taking my deposit money for fixing the roof and then putting off fixing the roof for eight months] countersued, which is fairly typical, I'm told. I got a court date. I went to court and brought a lot of paperwork, copies for the judge, copies for the other side etc, basically outlining my case. It's really helpful if you have good records of what happened, phone logs, calendars, copies of any and all contracts, etc. You can bring witnesses, but it is in no way required. You do not need a lawyer, though you can bring one. The court proceedings were really short. We each told our sides, the judge asked a few questions, that was it. I got the judgment in my favor I think a week or two later. The roofer contested it and lost. Despite the judgment, however, the guy hasn't paid up and there are limited mechanisms for actually forcing people to pay unless you're prepared to really press it, involve the sheriff/cops or put a lien on their earnings. Nolo Press has a fairly good list of resources for people contemplating small claims court in California. I was surprised how easy the whole thing was. The trick really is -- in addition to being right -- to be very organized and prepared to make a case that takes the laws into account, not just the "this guy ripped me off!" angle. The more you can seem dispassionate and plainly state why you are the aggrieved party, the better. Good luck!
posted by jessamyn at 4:18 AM on December 14, 2004

The key in my opinion is both the "seem dispassionate and plainly state why you are the aggrieved party" and the "lot of paperwork, copies for the judge, copies for the other side etc".

I've been in the Municipal Division in Chicago (one step above small claims) and seen lots of pro se people getting worked up a la Judge Judy. Judges don't respond to that. They also would rather have a clean copy of the contract or letter or bill or whatever it is rather than your crumpled-up, coffee spilled copy. They also would rather see you in a pair of nice slacks and a button-down shirt rather than a pair of work jeans and paint-splattered t-shirt. You don't need to wear a suit, but you shouldn't look like you just finished mowing the lawn, either. Presentation goes a long way.

In Chicago, you pay a small fee to file a small claims complaint, pay another small fee to the sheriff to serve the complaint on the defendant (it looks like you can do that in LA County as well), then wait a couple of weeks for them to file their appearance. If they do, you go into Court a couple of weeks later and have a little hearing. If they don't, you go into court and ask for a default judgment.

As jessamyn says, the small claims process is built for pro se parties, so there is little formality.

Also as jessamyn says, a judgment is sometimes only worth the paper it's written on. To collect, you generally have to record it and then begin supplementary proceedings. If you have a deadbeat judgment debtor without a job (to garnish wages) or a house (to place a lien on the title) you might gain only the satisfaction of a judge saying "you are right and he/she/it is wrong."

The website above looks really good. I'd say you (1) read that, (2) draft up your complaint, and (3) call the advisor number ((213) 974-9759) with specific questions, and then (4) file your complaint and beat the bad guys.

Good luck. As always, IANYL, YMMV, SK8R BOI, etc.
posted by AgentRocket at 5:40 AM on December 14, 2004

googyfoot - Here is the web page for small claims in Los Angeles County. I mention this because you asked a rather general question, so it's not clear that you were aware of the page. It has a link to the Small Claims Advisor program page (as well as a 24-hour phone number to call for advice, as mentioned by AgentRocket, above), and the linked page links to this, which has a great deal of information.

You might want to read all that, and then, if you've got a more specific question, post here again.
posted by WestCoaster at 4:04 PM on December 14, 2004

Response by poster: I'm sure this is far off the front page by now and you'll never see it, but thank you for your replies. I didn't frame my question well but still got valuable information.
posted by goofyfoot at 11:16 PM on December 17, 2004

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