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Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Ask the Judge" Column continues in Sunday's La Prensa, 8-14

Ask the Judge: Come to Court prepared
By Judge Steve Walker

If you can afford an attorney, it is in your best interest to hire one to allow you a fighting chance of prevailing. Although it is not mandatory to hire one, lawyers know the intricacies and technicalities of the law and will use them against you especially during cross examination.

When you defend yourself in a small claims case you leave yourself open to a barrage of questions by the opposing attorney that might unnerve you, causing you to either contradict your testimony or self incriminate yourself. Be careful what you say in open court when the judge is hearing your case, it can be held against you.

If you are the pro se plaintiff in the small claims court, unless you know courtroom procedures and have some knowledge of the law you are unlikely to ask the right questions which will weaken your case. It is the plaintiff’s obligation to prove his/her case to include providing documentation, lease agreements, contracts or any paper work to verify your claims.

When in the courtroom watch what you say and how you say it. You could be held in contempt for up to three days for inappropriate behavior or language. Always address the Judge as “Your Honor” or Judge.” Be respectful & dress appropriately. Be sure to turn off all cell phones and other devices while in court. If they go off, they will be confiscated.

When in traffic court, if you plead “no contest” or “guilty’ to a moving violation such as speeding, failure to signal, driving on the shoulder, running a red light or stop sign, driving without a seat belt, you can request defensive driving or deferred adjudication.

If you have taken a defensive driving class within the previous 12 months, the Judge can still approve your taking it again. If your ticket is deferred it will cost you more for the fine but will not go on your driving record, when the deferred time lapses without another moving violation.

Be prepared to pay at least a portion of your fines. Normally the Judge will give you 30 days to pay the fine and if the fines are unusually steep, payment plans are an option through collections.

When you have a court date, show up. Failure to show could cost you a warrant and jail time. If you are show caused for not completing court mandates, you most likely will spend some time in the Bexar County Detention Center.

Any decision a Justice of the Peace makes that you don’t agree with, can be appealed to County Court within the designated time.

Lastly as always, if you are due in court, be sure to show up to court on time. It is in everyone’s best interest.

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

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