Do’s and don’ts of small claims court

Is small claims court now too complicated for the average person to represent himself or herself? Many people’s only interaction with the civil courts in Ontario will be through small claims court.

Is small claims court now too complicated for the average person to represent himself or herself? Many people’s only interaction with the civil courts in Ontario will be through small claims court. Currently you can sue for money damages of up to $25,000 or the return of personal property not exceeding that amount. Ontario small claims court bears no resemblance to American television shows. The judge does not take an active role in questioning witnesses. You do.

Cases can be won or lost based on your ability to effectively question the opposing side’s witnesses. Small claims court is far less complicated than the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. But that may be of little comfort to the litigant who is trying to go through the steps of bringing an action to trial, obtain judgment and successfully collect their money. At the courthouse, many people can be seen clutching court forms, trying to navigate their way through the system. The court clerks can only give general information on procedures, not legal advice.

When cases become too complicated, people and companies often hire a licensed paralegal or a lawyer to represent them. They are the experts at navigating this mine field.

At the first hearing of a defended claim, the parties meet in front of a deputy judge or mediator to try to settle the case. At this settlement conference judges sometimes urge a person with a complicated case to hire a paralegal or lawyer. Trials are measured in hours, a day, or multiple days. The formal procedures for hearing evidence, marking documents as exhibits and questioning witnesses take far longer than what is seen on so-called reality court television shows.

Dr. Julie Macfarlane released a report on self-represented litigants in 2013.In it she found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of litigants who decide to self-represent do so because they cannot afford representation. Another reason for people self-representing was that they were attracted to the do-it-yourself approach. Many believed they could handle the case themselves because so much information was available on the Internet.

But a losing party at trial has more to worry about than paying the opposing side’s representation fee. A self-represented party can lose a case in large part due to not knowing how to properly present it to the judge. This requires calling the necessary witnesses, asking them the right questions, knowing what to ask witnesses appearing for the other side, presenting the relevant documents and summarizing the law and the facts to the judge.

Many people know they can hire a lawyer but many don’t know licensed paralegals can represent them in small claims court.

Those who choose to self-represent against a seasoned paralegal or lawyer are at a severe disadvantage. Many people think success in small claims is easier than the reality.After almost every trial there is one party who is unhappy. Settlement should be encouraged at every stage of the action.

The problem is not the court system. The rules and procedures are there to make sure the process is fair. But litigants need to understand that when a case becomes too complicated to represent themselves, they should hire a legal professional. Finally, the smartest and happiest litigants are usually those who compromise and come to a settlement before trial.

January 7, 2016  Copied from http://torontosun.com/2016/01/07/dos-and-donts-of-small-claims-court/wcm/a3946a31-7e95-44c7-aa5a-faba31f407ee

How do I collect my Small Claims Court or Landlord and Tenant Board judgment?

First, does the debtor own a house, condo or any land in Ontario? If the answer is yes, you may choose to issue a Writ of Seizure and Sale of Lands, and file it with the sheriff in the jurisdiction where the debtor owns property.

The Toronto Small Claims Court deals with thousands of cases a year. It is part of the small claims Ontario system.

There are many advantages to be represented by a paralegal Ontario, however many people represent themselves.

A question I am asked several times a week is “How do I collect my judgment?” There are several methods to do this.

First, does the debtor own a house, condo or any land in Ontario? If the answer is yes, you may choose to issue a Writ of Seizure and Sale of Lands, and file it with the sheriff in the jurisdiction where the debtor owns property.

This acts like a lien. The debtor will not be able to sell the property or obtain a mortgage from a new lender without paying off the judgment in full, including daily interest. The writ expires in six years. It can be renewed before or after expiry, if necessary.

If you don’t know whether your debtor owns lands, our firm can do a search to find hidden properties owned by the debtor in Ontario.

Often the quickest method to collect a judgment is to issue a Notice of Garnishment. In order to do this you need to know where the debtor works or where they bank. To garnish a bank account you must know the bank and branch location where account is located.

If your debtor is a business you may consider garnishing accounts receivable, or rent paid to the company.

Another choice is to have the sheriff seize and sell personal property of the debtor. This may be a worthwhile method if the debtor is a business, and you know exactly what assets the business debtor owns. You must be willing to put up a large cash deposit with the sheriff. You also need to do searches to prove that there are no liens against the property.

There is a lot of false information out there about the powers of the sheriff to seize items under a Writ of Seizure and Sale of Personal Property. The sheriff can only enter a business address. It has no proper to enter a residence. The Execution Act lists a number of things a sheriff has no power to seize.
The Creditors’ Relief Act, 2010 sets out how money is to be paid out by the sheriff if there are multiple creditors.

If you want the sheriff to seize and sell an automobile, you need the make, model, and VIN number. In addition to the large cash deposit you will have to provide the sheriff, you will also be required to do searches proving the vehicle is solely owned by the debtor, and there are no liens on the vehicle.
If you have no information about the judgment debtor’s assets, you will probably choose to issue a Notice of Examination. This enforcement method is usually a last resort as it has its share of drawbacks. You will need to serve the debtor with the Notice of Examination either personally, or if served at the debtor’s residence it can be left with an adult member of the household, provided you mail another copy within 24 hours.

The debtor may show up for hearing. If they do that is great. A skilled paralegal Ontario knows how to get the debtor to answer questions about their ability to pay the judgment. They will spend some time asking questions of the debtor. Afterwards, the creditor or their representative may ask the judge for an order for monthly payments. There are both advantages and disadvantages to obtaining such an order.

The paralegal Ontario may also ask the judge for an order for the debtor to produce documents.
If the debtor does not attend for the hearing, a Notice of Further Examination Hearing or Contempt Hearing may be ordered. The process varies across the province. At some point if the debtor fails to attend a Contempt Hearing, a warrant for their arrest may issue.

This has been a brief overview of the major judgment enforcement options. There are many books that have been written about the art of judgment enforcement. This is not intended to be legal advice.
If you need help collecting your judgment, contact us at 416-229-1479 or visit our website at http://civilparalegal.com/home_services/judgement-enforcement/

The Art of Cross-Examination for Small Claims Ontario and the Landlord Tenant Board Ontario

I have called cross-examination an art. Others call it a science. Either way to do it properly takes years of practice. After twenty-two years in business I am still learning new techniques.

I have called cross-examination an art. Others call it a science. Either way to do it properly takes years of practice. After twenty-two years in business I am still learning new techniques.

Your ability or that of your Ontario paralegal to ask questions of the opposing side’s witnesses can be the difference between winning or losing your case.

Cross-examination is a tool that is only as good as the person wielding it. An experienced paralegal knows how to ask questions to obtain the answers helpful to their client.

The self-represented party who has little or no experience in court often does not know about the amount of preparation necessary to be good cross-examiner. They don’t know the skills necessary to elicit the answers needed.

Before we go further you must know the purposes of cross-examination. This tool is used to poke holes in the evidence of the opposing side’s witness. It is also used to gain admissions from the opposing side’s witnesses that strengthen your case.

Cross-examination is used in small claims court Ontario and the landlord and tenant board. It is also used in other courts and tribunals.

Do you need to ask questions of every opposing witness? No. The less seasoned legal representatives may feel pressure to ask questions of every witness. There is no need to cross-examine a witness that has not said anything to harm your case, and who has nothing to offer that would help your case.

Another novice problem I see is asking one too many questions. Though a carefully planned series of questions you may get a witness to admit an important fact. All can be lost if you ask one more question then necessary which allows the witness to say something that destroys your case.

How do you get the opposing side’s witnesses to admit facts favorable to your case? How do you ask questions based on documents? How do you use cross-examination to show a witness is not credible and should not be believed by the court or tribunal? How do you deal with a difficult to control witness?
There are many goods books that you can read to find answers to these questions. I recommend “Cross-Examination: Science and Techniques, 3rd edition.” However, there is no substitute for experience.

If you lack experience in cross-examining witnesses, we can help. Contact Marshall Yarmus (phone 416-229-1479 www.Civilparalegal.com) to represent you at your small claims court trial or landlord and tenant board hearing.