Welcome to the first installment of “How-To Wednesdays.” My hope is to spend these days giving some practical DIY guidance. If you have a topic you’d like addressed, let me know!
Many people are opting to avoid a lawyer’s office and handle small claims cases on their own. In the world of fancy law lingo we call these “pro-se” or “self-represented” parties. They have received a LOT of attention from judges and lawyers who complain that the self-represented party often doesn’t know what they are doing, wasting courts’ time and resources. So if you are thinking about going alone into a small claims case in Wisconsin, here are some tips and helpful information:
1. There are three levels of Courts in Wisconsin. The local, county, trial courts are called Circuit Courts. The second level of courts where appeals are filed are called Appellate Courts. You only get to the appeal court if a judge made a mistake, not just because you don’t like the outcome. Appeals are not do-overs. The Wisconsin Supreme Court is the third layer and decides appeals of cases that have statewide implications. When filing a small claims case you will file in your county with the Circuit Court.
2. Check out the Wisconsin Courts website for prepared, fill-in-the-blanks forms. Some of them come with instructions on them.
3. If you are filing a small claims suit you cannot claim more than $10,000.00. If you think you want to win more than that you will need to file a civil suit which has different procedure from a small claims suit.
4. Suits get filed with the Clerk of Courts Office, which is not the same thing as the Courts. If you go to a courtroom they will send you to the Clerk of Courts. There is a filing fee for bringing a lawsuit. Be prepared to write a check for about $100.
5. Before a court can make any decision about your case the person you are suing is entitled to know about the suit. This is called “service of process.” In some counties the Clerk of Courts office may be willing to do this for you by sending the paperwork via certified mail, for an additional fee. When you file with the Clerk of Court ask them about service options.
6. At the first hearing the Judge or Court Commissioner will determine who the parties are, if service has been made, and if a trial is needed. The only way you will get a win at the first hearing is if the other party does not answer or show up. If you think that may happen, you will need to have additional paperwork ready to give the court such as an Affidavit of Non-Military Service that verifies the party you are suing is not a member of the armed forces.
7. If the other party does fight your suit you will be expected to try to settle it. If it cannot be settled you will have a trial.
8. In the end, even if you win an award, it does not mean you will automatically get paid the money you are owed. Lawyers often say that a Judgment is only worth the $.08 of paper it is printed on. Getting a judgment and getting paid are entirely different matters.
If you are considering a small claims suit and would like to know more about the process, deadlines, and requirements look at the Basic Guide To Wisconsin Small Claims Actions which was designed for self-represented parties. If you’ve browsed the Court website, and the Guide and still feel like you have unanswered questions, it may be time to call an attorney. Many can help out with answering your questions and helping you through the small claims process. Some will even do it for a reasonable price!
Johanna R Kirk
Kirk Law Office, L.L.C. 1418 Tower Avenue Suite #6; Superior, WI 54880 (715) 718-2424