The jurisdictional limit of small claims is $10,000, exclusive of costs and interest. (S. Crt. R. 281 amended effective 1/1/06) However for most people, this is not a small claim. Small claims court is very important to the litigants, whom are often pro se. And those pro se litigants often feel that have seemingly been dropped into a foreign, scary country where the judge and attorneys speak English in a dialect never before heard by them. Please show them and the judicial system the respect and patience that we are all due. The Golden Rule truly applies in small claims court.
1. Location- Courtrooms 1003 and 2002, 505 County Farm Rd., Wheaton, Il.
8:45 a.m.- Returns on service of summons- limit 90 cases
9:45 a.m.- Diligence, status, and prove-ups
10:00 a.m.- Motions and Post-Judgment collection proceedings
10:30 a.m.- Bench trials
1:30 p.m.- Jury trials (6 person) on cases filed prior to January 23, 2006
9:30 a.m.- Returns on service of summons
10:00 a.m.- Diligence, status, and all motions
Trials as set by the court
a) accepted by the clerk prior to 8:45 a.m.:
DILIGENCE DATES ON FIRST RETURN DATE
AGREED STATUS DATE (after the Defendant has appeared in the case)
AGREED JUDGMENT ORDER
PLAINTIFF’S ORDER OF VOLUNTARY DISMISSAL
REQUEST TO TAKE THE CASE OFF CALL WHEN A FUTURE DATE IS PREVIOUSLY SET
b) Form orders:
the court is provided form orders for all cases on the call. The court fills in and signs the prepared form orders for 8:45 and 9:45 cases. The purpose is to move the call along, eliminate the missing order, and eliminate the need to redraft orders that are incorrect. Also, most pro se litigants do not know how to prepare an order. As attorneys, you can offer your own prepared order. It saves time and you then get a copy of the order that is written. Judgment orders would be particularly appreciated. The court will sign Memorandums of Judgment handed in with the order. If you send it later, attach the judgment to the order.
3. Court room etiquette
a) Say your name clearly, who you represent, and why the case is on the call today.
b) Unless you sent courtesy copies, the judge has not seen any of the pleadings. No files, except for trials, are in the courtroom. The judge does have access to information through the computer.
c) If the case involves a particular statute or case law, bring a copy with you and hand it to the judge saying, "Of course, your honor, you are familiar with this law, but I brought a copy for your easy reference." The court may be familiar, but it never hurts to actually read the law each time.
d) Don’t repeat evidence. The court heard it the first time. If the judge is confused or wants clarification, he or she will ask questions to clarify.
e) You can hold your case or cases to the next time slot. Give the clerk in writing the docket number of the case(s), who you are, which party you represent, and where you will be and that you would like the case passed if you are not here. If your case is up at 8:45 or 9:00 the court will pass the case only until 10:00 and if your case is up at 10:00 then the court will pass the case only until 10:30. Please don’t blame the judge if you miss your case: keep track of your cases on the call so that you are not out in the hallway conducting a citation proceeding and miss 6 cases. If you are not present and the defendant is, the ruling will most likely be adverse to your client. If you step up later and the defendant has left, the court will not rehear the case.
4. Read the Small Claims Rules
a) In a bench trial, the court can relax the rules of evidence to allow all relevant evidence. (S.Crt. R. 286(b)) Do not be surprised when estimates are allowed or hearsay documents allowed which have an air of authenticity. It is a matter of discretion of the judge. The purpose of this rule is to reduce the cost of litigation while still attempting to do substantial justice.
b) If there is a pro se litigant, the court will not allow an opening statement.
c) The court can ask questions and call witnesses. Do not be surprised if the court asks your witnesses questions or conducts the questioning of a pro se litigant. The judge will keep in mind that he or she is not the advocate and will try to obtain basic facts by asking the questions.
d) The court is required to explain its ruling so try to control your impatience while the court attempts to do so in simple terms so the parties can understand the court’s thinking.
e) Know the elements of your cause of action so that you can present evidence on each element. The court will not award your client damages just because he/she has an attorney and the pro se litigant is unaware of the elements of the cause of action. This court still requires you to prove your case. Evidence may be allowed in without objection that is based on hearsay or which the witness did not establish with personal knowledge. The court is free to disregard that evidence. Be prepared to establish an exception to the hearsay rule or the foundation for personal knowledge even though there may be no objection.
f. Think about filing a motion for summary judgment with affidavits so that you may not need to bring in witnesses. You must have leave of court to do so.
5. Jury trials
a) For cases filed prior to January 23, 2006 in courtroom 1003, the court schedules only two jury trials at 1:30 each day except Fridays. Be prepared to proceed the day it is scheduled. All cases filed after January 23, 2006 and assigned to courtroom 1003 in which a jury demand is filed will be transferred to courtroom 2002. By local rule 16.04, all small claims cases filed on and after January 23, 2006 in which a jury demand is filed will participate in the arbitration program. (Local Rule 13.01) The judge in courtroom 2002 will assigned an arbitration date. The status date will also be set for post-arbitration in 2002 and if the award is rejected, the jury trial will be conducted by the judge in 2002.
b) You are entitled to a 12 person jury. The court will encourage you to go with a 6 person jury.
c) It is anticipated that the case will be completed in an afternoon in 1003 and a day in 2002. If you have any reason to believe that it will take longer, please tell the court at the time it is scheduled so that accommodations can be made.
d) Even though the case is scheduled at 1:30 p.m., the court request that you to be present by 1:15 p.m. so that we can get started on Motions in limine and instructions. The party who requested the jury is responsible to present a complete clean copy and two marked copies of the instructions. Make sure that you have reviewed the most recent IPI to obtain those instructions. Bring a disk with you so that if the instructions need to be corrected they can be. We expect that all preliminary matters be completed by 2:00 p.m. so that we can call for the jury.
e) Remember that the jury has no idea about the case. If it is a car accident, it is most helpful to have a large diagram of the scene of the accident so that your client can describe the accident using the diagram. If photos are admitted, ask that the witness step off the stand when testifying about the photograph. The jury needs to see what you and your witness are discussing.
f) 1003 is a large courtroom. Remember to speak up in front of the jury. We have a podium and an easel for your use.
g) Move for a directed verdict. You never know when you might get it. If your motion will be directed against the claim of contributory negligence, make sure that you have a set of instructions that can be used should the court grant your motion.
h) Think about filing a Motion for Sanctions pursuant to 137 if you believe the evidence merits it for either filing a case without reasonable investigation, not well-grounded in fact and warranted by existing law or an extension of the law or defending the case without making a reasonable inquiry as to whether there is a defense. See Hernandez v. Williams, 258 Ill. App. 3d 318, 632 N.E. 2d 49 ( 1994), Koch v. Carmona, 268 Ill. App. 3d 48, 643 N.E. 2d 1376 (1994).
Judge Dorothy F. French, Eighteenth Judicial Circuit