GOING TO TRIAL
Within this site is a detailed overview of the procedures for a civil case within Magistrate Court. No information contained in this or any other Internet Site can replace the advice of a trained attorney who is the best person to provide advice and counseling on legal matters. In fact, Georgia law prohibits the Court from providing legal advice to anyone. However, many parties to civil litigation in Magistrate Court elect to represent themselves in Court. There is no requirement that the parties have an attorney but many parties elect to retain counsel to represent them in Court because they do not know the rules of law which affect their case. This document is intended to provide a pretrial checklist for parties to consider when preparing for trial.
The rules of Magistrate Court require that all parties meet prior to trial in an attempt to settle their case. In the Magistrate Court of Columbia County, this meeting will be required just prior to the time that the case is set for trial. If the case can be settled, the Court can review the settlement agreement and, in most cases, can reduce the agreement to a written order of the Court.
If the case cannot be resolved during the pretrial conference, the case will be called for trial. You must be prepared and on time at the time the case is called for trial. When the case is called for trial, the Court will expect all parties to be present and prepared for trial. You must have in Court all witnesses, papers, photos, or other evidence you intend to introduce at trial when the case is called for trial. If you are late you may lose your case automatically without an opportunity to be heard.
The following is merely a checklist, which lists some issues to consider when preparing your case:
All parties shall keep the clerk informed of any address change. All court notices come by regular mail. The Court will not attempt to locate you beyond sending a trial notice.
The parties must bring to Court the following (when applicable):
Written contracts - leases, contracts, receipts, letters, notes, etc.;
Bills or estimates You must bring the person who prepared the estimate(s) to court with you. Generally, you cannot introduce into evidence an estimate (even if the estimate is written or even notarized) unless the person who made the estimate is present in Court to testify;
Canceled checks, credit card statements or other evidence of payment;
Photographs. The Court will not generally accept into evidence any video tape which contains a narration of the events being depicted. If you have a form of media (i.e. video, audio, digital recording) that requires a machine to display the recording, you must bring the appropriate player with you. Do not assume that the Court has the means to 'play' any recording. Obviously, it is much easier and reliable to merely provide photographs of the matter you wish to portray.
Witnesses. Written or notarized statements will usually not be accepted. Bring all witnesses in person. Witnesses must generally have first hand knowledge of the matter they are to testify about. A witness who heard or saw the thing they are testifying about has first hand information. Hearsay testimony will not generally be allowed. However, the number of witnesses who tesify is irrelevant. If several people saw or heard the same thing, the party must decide exactly how many of those witnesses need to testify. Impartial witnesses who have no stake in the outcome of the case are generally the best witnesses.
Other evidence. This Checklist is not intended to provide an exhaustive list of all types of evidence that may be introduced. Your case may be somehow unique and require a matter of evidence that is not contained in this list. However, it is illogical to come to Court to try your case and leave something related to the controversy at home.
Subpoenas. If you want a witness to come to Court, you must have a subpoena (Order to Appear) issued prior to trial for some witnesses to make sure that they appear or to excuse them from work. If you need a subpoena to be issued, you must make prior arrangements with the Court in person and you must make those arrangements in enough time to have the subpoena issued and served.
If the case involves damage to property, the Plaintiff will need evidence of the Defendant's responsibility for the damages, the amount of the damage, medical bills, repair bills, proof of lost wages or other losses. If the case involves damage to property, the Plaintiff must be able to prove the value of the property prior to the damage and the value after the damage. The party claiming damage must be able to prove the value themselves or bring someone to Court who is qualified. The Court cannot make any award based upon a 'guess' as to any losses. Damages must always be proven by live testimony.
For the plaintiff:
A primary consideration for the Plaintiff to consider is whether the party that is named as the Defendant is actually liable to the Plaintiff. Just because a person is an officer or an employee of a corporation does not make him liable. Do the research prior to filing the lawsuit to make sure you know what legal entity is liable to you.
The Plaintiff must prove the amount of the claim. If the amount you requested in the original complaint has changed, you must amend your complaint and a copy of that amendment must be sent to the opposing party.
For the defendant:
The Defendant must timely file an answer to the Plaintiff's claim. The Defendant may defend the case on several grounds and most must be included in the initial answer. Is the proper party named in the Complaint? Is there another party who is actually liable to the Plaintiff? Does the Defendant deny that any sum is owed the Plaintiff or does the Defendant admit owing some amount to the Plaintiff but disagrees with the amount claimed? All of these issues and other issues must be included in the initial Answer.
The Plaintiff owes Defendant money and Defendant has set forth its counter-claim with a dollar amount within the answer filed with the Court. Your counter-claim must be proven in the same way as the Plaintiff's claim must be proven.
If the Defendant fails to timely file an answer, the law assumes that all of the facts contained within the Complaint are true and the Court will grant a Default Judgment to the Plaintiff in the amount claimed in the Complaint.
IMPORTANT NOTE: EVERY CASE IS DIFFERENT AND THE FOREGOING IS ONLY A CHECKLIST OF MATTERS THAT FREQUENTLY ARISE IN COURT. THE PARTIES ARE REQUIRED TO PRESENT THEIR CASE AND ARE EXPECTED TO KNOW THE RULES OF EVIDENCE AND PROCEDURE. THE COURT WILL DECIDE THE CASE BASED UPON EVIDENCE PRESENTED AT TRIAL. AGAIN, THE COURT URGES ALL PARTIES TO SEEK LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE PROCEEDING WITH A LEGAL CLAIM OR DEFENSE.