Small Claims Court Does Work!
I have to say, that as a business litigator and a collections lawyer, most of the time, I tell my clients that it is probably not worth for them to sue someone in small claims court (under $5000.00) unless the other person or company really does have assets. Well, last year I made an exception. I had a contractor in my own house, who managed to do such a poor job on a tile work in our bathroom, that we peeled off the tile with our bare hands. Needless to say, I was more than irritated, when he disappeared with the money I paid him, and would not return my calls. This is such a typical scenario for my clients, that it was hard for me to believe that I found myself in the same shoes. So, I sued the guy and the company, and his wife, since they were not incorporated.
The Way it Works
The way small claims court works, once the complaint is filed, the Clerk will issue a summons with a Pre-Trial Conference date, requiring the Defendant to appear in court. The summons has to be served on the Defendant. Once in court (this is at the Beach Boulevard courthouse, not downtown), each case is called and the Defendant has an opportunity to “Admit” or “Deny” the claim. In my case, both admitted, and since we were able to work out a quick payment plan, we only saw the mediator for about 10 minutes to write out the stipulation. Normally, the parties will immediately go into mediation and see if they can resolve the case, without having to come back to court. I find that this works really well most of the time, and with a good mediator any case can be settled.
After the stipulation was signed, and I gave them a considerable discount, everyone went their separate ways. Unfortunately, the defendants did not even make the first payment and I immediately got a Final Judgment. As anyone, who has been in this spot knows, collecting a judgment requires further investment of funds, and I did not want to throw good money after bad, so I took a little bit different approach.
I waited to see if the defendant’s address has changed, and it did, I saw that he got a traffic ticket and I found out his new address. After that I filed a Motion for an Order to Show Cause for Failure to Complete a Fact Information Sheet. FIS is a statutory form which is usually attached to the Judgement (if you include it as part of the judgment), which says that within 45 days the Defendant must provide it back to Plaintiff with information such as his bank accounts, cars etc. Of course, that did not happen so the Judge issued the Order to Show Cause. I had it served on the defendant and he did not show up to the hearing. Make a long story short, the Judge issued a Writ of Attachment, which is basically a warrant for his arrest. Needless to say 2 days later, I got a phone call from a lawyer offering money to settle a case. It goes to show you, small claims court does work!