Alabama Debt Collection Lawsuit Questions — Part Twelve — Small Claims Trial
This is our continuing series of articles where we answer your debt collection lawsuit questions. Before we jump into this article (which is about what happens in a trial in Small Claims court), here is what we have previously covered:
- Overview of the complaint or lawsuit filed against you
- What does it mean to be served?
- Overview of 5 options you have when sued
- Bankruptcy option
- Fighting the lawsuit on your own option
- Settling the lawsuit on your own option
- Hiring a lawyer to fight the lawsuit
- Hiring a lawyer to settle the lawsuit
- Filing an answer in the lawsuit
- What happens before trial?
- General questions about trials
OK let’s jump into our topic in this article which is a series of questions specifically about ta rial in small claims court. I hope you find this helpful!
What happens during the trial in Small Claims court?
“Do I need to show up for my Small Claims trial?”
Yes, if you don’t show up, you lose. Remember our discussion of a default judgment? If you don’t show up – the collector gets a default judgment and you now owe the debt. Case over.
The solution is to make sure you show up for your trial!
“How should I dress for trial?”
I used to tell people to dress for a trial like you would dress for church. There are some very casual church services now apparently. So here’s the best way I can describe it. Dress in a way that shows respect for the court. So don’t dress above the way that you would dress in a respectful way. But don’t dress below that.
Let me give you an example. I do not wear tuxedos. For me to wear a tuxedo, that would be dressing above what is normal for me. But if I’m going to a funeral, if I’m going to church, then typically, I’m going to wear a suit and tie. At least a suit. If I walked into a funeral in blue jeans, that’s not appropriate, in my opinion.
So for me, and forget that I’m a lawyer, just saying if I was a party in a case, I would at least wear a suit, and almost certainly a suit and tie. But for somebody that is, maybe they do labor type work outside, for them, dressing up would be maybe a pair of khaki pants, and a dress shirt.
It would be unusual for them to wear a suit. Just like it’d be unusual for me to wear a tuxedo, okay? So you have to look at your own situation, and say, “I need to walk in this courtroom feeling comfortable.” I would not feel comfortable in a tuxedo. Some people would not feel comfortable in a suit.
I want to feel comfortable, and show respect for the court. So how would you dress if you’re meeting the mayor, or the governor, or the President? You want to show respect for that judge and that court. So that’s how I would figure out what I should wear to court.
“Should I get to trial early?”
Absolutely. You do not want to be walking in there at the last minute. Certainly not late. But if your trial is at 9:00, you don’t want to come in completely out of breath at 9:00, have the judge call your case, and you can’t even catch your breath.
Get there early.
Make sure you’re in the right courtroom.
Allow for traffic.
Get comfortable in the courtroom, so that you are removing as much nervousness as you can.
And so definitely get there early to take some pressure off of yourself.
“Will my case be the only case going to trial that day?”
Almost every time I’ve been in a small claims court, they have many cases set for trial.
I was at one particular court where they had 100 cases set. That was really unusual. But very likely, there’s going to be multiple cases, and the judge will call those different cases for trial.
“What happens when the judge comes into the courtroom?”
I would stand up. That’s the sign of respect for the judge.
Some judges like it and expect it.
Some judges will say, “Oh, no, no, keep your seat.”
But I’d still do it, even if you think the judge is going to tell you to keep your seat.
It is simply a sign of respect to the court and the judge.
“What are the rules of evidence?”
The rules of evidence are the rules that apply when someone is trying to get something into evidence. This can be paperwork or testimony – both are considered evidence. So the rules of evidence control what gets into the actual trial.
The rules of evidence of small claims court are somewhat relaxed. It’s different than other courts such as “district” or “circuit” court.
It’s really up to the judge. The judge can make it very formal or can make it more informal. So that’s one reason why I’m saying go watch your judge so you know – but the general rule is the rules of evidence are going to be much more casual and relaxed than if you were in district court or circuit court.
“Can affidavits be used?”
A judge has the right to allow affidavits.
And the judge also has a right to not allow them.
In my experience, most small claims court judges do not allow them in debt collector or debt buyer cases. This is particularly true if you start looking through there and you can point out all the errors in the affidavit, the judge is going to say most likely, “Yeah, we’re not considering this.”
Some of the errors will be there is not a full chain of title which means the debt cannot be traced from the original creditor all the way to the debt buyer suing you. Or the affidavit will reference documents that are not attached to the affidavit. The actual contract – the “credit card purchase agreement” or the “forward flow agreement” will not be attached to the affidavit. All sorts of errors we see and this normally causes the judge to reject the affidavit as being so untrustworthy that it has no place in a courtroom.
What is coming up next in our series?
Thank you for reading this and I hope these questions — and answers — are helpful to you.
Feel free to call us if you have a question about a collection lawsuit in Alabama — you can call us at 205-879-2447 or fill out our contact form and we’ll email or call you right back.
Look forward to talking to you soon!