Who will be in the room?
The trial will be in a public courtroom. This means that you will be able to sit in the back and see the other cases being heard while you wait for your case to be called. It also means that others waiting for their cases may also be present during your case. The judge and his/her staff person will be there as well. A bailiff will be there to keep order. There will not be a court reporter. All testimony is recorded on a tape recorder. If your case is appealed to Circuit Court, a transcript (written record) must be made and sent to the Circuit Court for review. There will be a fee for this service.
What if you cannot get there on time?
You should make every effort to get there on time. Arrange in advance for childcare and reliable transportation. To plan for any problems, you should carry the telephone number for the court clerk with you as you travel on the day of the hearing.
Find the numbers for the court clerks. If you cannot arrive on time, call and ask the clerk what can be done. If you are too late, you may ask for a “continuance” (a postponement). It is up to the court as to whether you will be given the chance to have your case heard on another day.
If you know a few days in advance that you cannot attend your hearing, immediately call the clerk’s office and ask how to request a “continuance” (postponement). Keep notes on the date, time, the name of the person with whom you speak and what is said. You will need to submit the request in writing. Make sure that you include a description of the good reason you have to make the request.
Remember that the court may refuse to change the date.
- If you are the plaintiff, this means the judge may dismiss the case.
- If you are the defendant, the judge is likely to find against you if the plaintiff shows up and can prove his/her case.
If the date is rescheduled, the other side must be notified again.
What happens if the other side does not show up?
If the other side does not show up, ask the judge to enter a “default judgment” in your favor. If you have been able to prove your case, the judge will usually find in your favor.
What you will need to prove your case will vary based on what other papers have been filed. See MD Rule 3-509 for the rules on what you will have to prove. Plan in advance for the strongest case you can. Even if the other side does not show you must still prove your damages and that the other side was at fault (liable).
If you have not been able to prove your case, the judge may allow you to gather the missing evidence and come again for another hearing. Being unprepared is NOT a good reason for a postponement. If the trial is rescheduled, you will need to make sure the defendant knows about the new hearing. S/he has the right to attend that hearing as well.
What if the other side has an attorney?
The first rule is “Don’t Panic”. If you have put together a good case, there is no reason why you should not be treated fairly by the court. However, if the other side has an attorney that is a very good reason to (1) prepare well and (2) negotiate.
Before the trial - If you know the other side is represented, you are in a good position (before the trial date) to negotiate. The other side must bear the costs of paying for the attorney’s time to travel and attend the hearing. This may provide an incentive for the other side to settle before the hearing in order to avoid the extra expense.
On the day of the hearing the most important person to control is you. Be polite. Attorneys can sometimes be intimidating. If an attorney appears to be angry or treats you poorly, this might just be part of the negotiation. Continue to act politely and say that you will be happy to deal with attempting to settle the case but you will not respond to attacks. You can complain to the judge if the attorney goes too far. But remember that the attorney is likely to appear before the judge more often than you do. Try not to be too sensitive but only complain if the attorney’s behavior is consistently bad. If you choose to complain, use a concrete example and remain calm.
A special project of the Eastern Shore Regional Library under a Library Services Technology Act grant from the Division of Library Development Services/MD State Department of Education (author: Ayn H. Crawley)