Taking Smaller Disputes Directly Before A Judge
Disputes involving amounts of $6,000 or less are generally settled through Small Claims court in the state district court system. These cases usually involve rent and security deposits, money paid for unsatisfactory services or products, or unpaid bills. Cases must start with an effort to reach agreement through mediation, but if no agreement is reached, the parties will go before the judge and each have a chance to present witnesses, evidence, and arguments for their side.
Most often people do not hire lawyers for full representation in Small Claims matters. However, if you need help figuring out what to do, or help with certain steps, you may be able to hire an attorney at standard fees for what is called “limited services,” or “unbundled services,” a rule of the profession which allows attorneys to offer legal services for part of the case without having to commit to – or charge for – doing the whole thing. (See Limited Services) All the forms and directions for going through Small Claims are available at the district courts, and on the State of Maine courts and corrections website.
Whichever side you are on, it is essential that you follow the process correctly, collect and submit all the required information, and do everything within the directed time frame. Failure to respond correctly, or to show up in court, may give the other side an automatic win.
Small Claims court decisions may be appealed under certain conditions, and actually collecting payment of court-ordered judgments may take additional legal steps. Some lawyers in our referral service list will provide limited services, such as reviewing your case and helping you prepare paperwork, for less than they would charge to represent you from start to finish. Research ahead of time can help you decide if your case will be likely to pay off in the end.
Related Legal Terms
Statement of Claim –the first form filed with the court by someone seeking payment or remedy for a wrong from another person. It asks for all of the specific who/what/where/when information, copies of any contracts or receipts, and what the filer wants the court to make the other party do or pay.
Service –the official delivery of written notice to the person being sued. It can be done by mail, by a court clerk, or by a sheriff. You will have to pay a fee for Service by a court clerk or sheriff, but this method is generally more effective than service by mail.
Hearing Date – the date the court sets for the first meeting in court on your matter
Request for Continuance – asking the court to postpone the date by submitting a Request for Continuance, or a letter to the court explaining why you need the date changed. A copy of such a request must be sent to the other party, and that party is allowed to agree or object. The decision will be made by the judge.
Subpoena –the official order from the court that requires someone to appear as a witness in court, even if they don’t want to. If you request that the court subpoena someone as a witness on your behalf, you will have to pay the witness a small fee, plus mileage.
Default Judgment – a judgment made against a defendant who does not appear in court when called to do so. The judge may or may not ask the person who initiated the lawsuit for some explanation before issuing a default judgment.
Under Advisement – the term the judge will use if he/she decides to think about the case for a while before making a decision. This means that you may leave court not knowing who won, or what will happen. The court will eventually send both sides a written Notice of Judgment describing the judge’s decision, and directing what each side must do.
Disclosure Hearing – when the person who is owed payment calls the debtor back to court to reveal under oath before the judge all their income and assets that can be used to pay the debt, if that person has not started making payments as ordered by the court within a 30 day deadline. Some income, like veterans and social security benefits, are not counted toward ability to pay.
For a Maine Small Claims Attorney
This is for general information only. It is not intended as legal advice.