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Monday, March 07, 2011

Latest weekly "Ask the Judge" column run in La Prensa of SA

"Ask the Judge"
a.k.a. Judge Steve Walker

Most people never experience the inside of a Justice of the Peace courtroom in their entire lifetime. On the other hand, there are those, other than lawyers, spending too much time in a courtroom as a defendant or as a plaintiff.

When you stand before a judge or a jury charged with say a traffic offense, truancy, verbal or physical disorderly conduct, sued for money or facing eviction, what you say and how you phrase it, can determine the outcome.

The short term negative consequence could lead to temporary incarceration for contempt of court or stiff fines.

As a Judge I am constantly reminding people in my court, especially on the Small Claims docket, that they are not allowed to yell, cuss, or accuse the other side of being a liar, thief, cheat, or worse. In Small Claims a plaintiff can sue the defendant from one dollar up to, but not to exceed a 10-thousand dollar cap.

If the suit exceeds 10-thousand dollars it is heard in a higher court.
When a plaintiff is making his/her case as to why the defendant owes them money, they must stick to the facts and produce some sort of documentation to back up their claim. The defendant doesn’t even have to speak if they choose unless examined by the plaintiff’s attorney if there is one.

He said, she said is not sufficient. Also when the plaintiff quotes a figure, he/she must itemize and justify the amount in the suit.

Unfortunately in the Small Claims Court emotions and tempers are short and is the one docket that heated words tend to be readily exchanged.

Many of the cases on many of the dockets, plaintiffs and defendants do not hire lawyers. Justice of the Peace Court is the People’s Court. Here is a word to the wise. Even though it is not required to have an attorney represent you, if you want to increase your chances of winning your case, you might consider hiring an attorney to represent you. That goes for both parties.

When one side has a lawyer and the other side chooses to do their own case, the person without legal representation is at a severe disadvantage. It can be done, and on occasion is successful, but it is a much more difficult task since the attorneys know the law and do it for a living. It is like fighting someone with one hand behind your back. If you find yourself in a Justice of the Peace Court, don’t panic, be prepared.

Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2 Steve Walker is a Vietnam Veteran and a former Journalist.

Editor's Note: This latest column ran in the Sunday Issue, March 6th of La Prensa. Previously in the March 2nd Issue, "Ask the Judge" addressed traffic citations.

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