Going to court on your own can be scary, but there are many resources to help you get ready. This article is written for two of the most common kinds of court cases in Maine:
- Small claims
The information may be helpful for other kinds of civil (not criminal) court cases, too - but not everything will apply.
If you have a criminal case, this is not the guide for you - try our article: What happens if I am charged with a crime in Maine? Can I get a lawyer?
If you are going to court without a lawyer read this guide. You can also play RePresent, our new game that will help you practice some of the skills you will need to go to court on your own. If you have an eviction hearing coming up, you can also play RePresent: Renter! - this game will help you get ready for your day in court.
Going to Court Basics
If you have never been to a courthouse before, it can be a confusing place. Here are some of the basics you should know before you get to the courthouse on the day of your hearing.
What to bring
- Any papers you got from the court or the person who sued you.
- At least three copies of any documents you need to show the court - one copy for the court, one for the other side and one for you to keep.
DO NOT Bring:
- Any kind of weapon – even a pocket knife, keychain tool with a knife, or pepper spray.
- If possible, any young kids. It’s important for everyone in the courtroom to hear what’s being said. If kids are distracting anyone the court officer might ask you to take them into the hallway, and you could miss something important.
What to wear
- Don't worry if you don't have a suit, you can wear normal clothes to court.
- If you have them, wear clean clothes without holes in them.
- If you do have more formal clothes, you can wear them - but if you don't have formal clothes, don't let that stop you from going to court!
What to expect at court
- When you get to court you will go through a security check. You will empty your pockets and walk through a metal detector. If you have a purse or bag, you will have to put it through the machine, or have it searched.
- The list of what kinds of cases will be in which courtroom should be posted on a wall.
- Sometimes you have to wait for a court officer to let you into the court room. If you aren't sure if you need to wait, ask a court officer. When they're ready, they will call everyone into the courtroom.
- Inside the court room, the judge will call out the names of people involved in the cases. When your name is called, if you can, stand up and let the judge know you're there.
Mediation and Agreements
- The judge may ask you to 'mediate' with the person or company that sued you. This means talking with a mediator and the other side.
- The mediator works for the court, and won't take sides or force you to make an agreement. Mediation can be a good way to come to an agreement without having a court hearing.
- You don't have to agree to something if you think it isn't fair, don't understand it, or don't think you could follow the agreement.
- Whether or not you make an agreement, you should go back into the courtroom to let the judge know what you decided.
- If you don't make an agreement, the court will usually try to hold a hearing that day. It’s important to be prepared with all the information you want the court to know about the case.
Published January, 2018