Here at NewsChannel 3 we get a lot of calls from folks who have been ripped off. Many of these viewers could probably resolve their problems in small claims court, but they may not know how. Most of you have seen this on TV: people hammering out their issues in front of Judge Judy. Here in New Hanover County we have small claims court. Clerk of Superior Court Brenda Tucker said, "A lot of times people are a little bit afraid of thinking they can go to court for themselves, because they're thinking that they've got to be able to speak a little more eloquently, use the long words and the legal jargon, and that's not necessarily the case." The local magistrate understands you haven't been to law school. But you're still required to prove your case. The first step: filing for a court date. The process is pretty quick and you're guaranteed a hearing within three weeks of the day you file. "This is your court date to keep for your records, it has your court date and time, and the case number and time," Tucker said. A few things to keep in mind: the person who you're filing against must live in the county where you're filing. That's the case for landlord Pamela Bass who's filing to have a tenant evicted from her home in New Hanover County. Bass said, "They lived up to none of the agreement, and now in order to get them out of my apartment I had to come through this process." Filing costs $75, plus $15 for a deputy to serve the defendant with court papers. The court only accepts cash or money orders. Small claims court is for cases involving $5,000 or less. The fill-in-the-blank forms you'll need to fill out are available online or at the courthouse. Tucker said, "A lot of people aren't aware of how simple it is sort of to exercise their rights and so they let it go." When your court date arrives you'll go to a small courtroom with the magistrate and the defendant. Remember, "he said, she said" won't hold up in court. If you have witnesses, documents, or other evidence to support your case, you need to bring them with you to your hearing. Finally, don't be late. Tucker said, "We give them a time, and they should be here at or before the appointed time, because in small claims court, if your case is set for 9:30 and you come in at 10:00, the magistrate has probably already dismissed your action." We should point out: winning your case is no guarantee you're going to get your money back. The magistrate may give you a judgment on paper for the money you're owed, but it may be difficult to collect. If the defendant doesn't pay you there will be a judgment against them on file at the courthouse and it will hurt their credit rating.
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