Surprise, AZ - Some people just force you to settle things in court. But if the damages are less than $3,500 you can represent yourself in a small claim case.
The process is designed to be simple enough for the plaintiff to file their own complaint and for the defendant to be able to respond without legal representation.
Judge Miles Keegan with the Maricopa County Justice Courts says attorneys aren't allowed, so it's up to you to establish that you have a case.
"Figure out what it is that they're going to say, and have it laid out in a manner that's easily presentable to the court," he says.
Keegan presides over cases in the Hassayampa Justice Court in Surprise. He says there are a few things potential filers can do to help their cases.
It starts with sticking to the facts.
"Take the emotional element out of the case. If people get too emotional we go off sidetracks and then we lose what the focus should be on," he says.
To help with that, he recommends being organized.
"Have a check list. Here's the points I want to make. Here's the evidence I want to present."
Just as important is knowing how much money you are owed and making the proof as easy as possible to understand.
"We run into one of two things, either one where they don't present their damages. In which case we can't award anything. Or they drop a giant stack of papers and say 'here you go.' In which case we have to try to figure out what they're trying to present."
Other potential pitfalls include, illegible photocopies, no receipts of payment, using bank statements as proof of payment and having no written contract.
"Verbal agreements cannot be proven or disproved unless both parties agree as to what agreement was," which Keegan says rarely happens.
He says without anything written down it's up to the judge to decide which case is more likely to be true--and that's not a good place to be.
Representing yourself in court can be stressful and a lot of work, but if you have the proof and can present it in an understandable way you may just win yourself a case.
Judge Keegan gave even more advice on how to represent yourself and how to collect your judgment on the Let Joe Know Facebook Live.
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