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Hearings and Trials


A hearing is an opportunity for the parties and the magistrate to briefly discuss the procedural matters in the case, such as whether it is appropriate for small claims. In a trial, both parties present evidence and arguments for the magistrate to consider before a final decision is entered.

A trial may be held on the first hearing date or may be scheduled for a future date. The magistrate may also refer the parties to mediation prior to a trial. Service must be completed before the case can go to trial.

FAQ

What if I cannot appear on my court date?

If you cannot make it to court on the trial date, you may request a continuance to reschedule the hearing to a future date. Any party may request one continuance for up to thirty (30) days. A signed, written request for a continuance must be received by the Small Claims Division at least ten (10) days before the court date.

To request a continuance, include the case number, names of the parties, and the date and time of the court trial in the request. You may fax your request to (614) 645-8465 or you may mail the request to:

Franklin County Municipal Court
Small Claims Division
375 S. High St., 16th Fl.
Columbus, OH 43215

If the request is not filed ten (10) days before the trial date, if the case needs to be continued for more than thirty (30) days, or if it is a second request for a continuance by the same party, it must be approved by the magistrate. Generally, only in exceptional circumstances will magistrate grant a second request to reschedule a case.

How do I prepare my case for trial?

Organize and practice your arguments so the magistrate will be able to understand the facts and your claims. Gather evidence that will help prove the case by collecting documents related to the claims (receipts, canceled checks, estimated bills, contracts, photos, etc.). Find witnesses who will be able to testify. If witnesses are not willing to testify, they may be subpoenaed.

If exhibits are presented as evidence, an original, a copy for each party in the case, and a copy for the magistrate should be provided.

How do I request a subpoena?

A subpoena is a court document that orders a witness to come to trial. Subpoenas may be requested through the Court once a trial date is set. Requests for subpoenas can be made by any party and must be filed at least seven (7) days before trial.

The fee for a subpoena is determined by the length of time the witness is in court, the way the witness receives the subpoena (mailed or personally delivered), and the distance the witness has to travel to and from court. Subpoenas are not required for witnesses who come to court voluntarily, but a fee may still be required. If an “expert” witness (mechanic, contractor, etc.) is called, be prepared to pay them for their time.

Subpoenas for documents may not be requested without permission from the assigned magistrate. A party requesting a subpoena for documents must first file a motion with the Court explaining what is requested and why it is necessary.

What should I do on the day of trial?

Check the status of your court date online to see if any changes have been made. Visit the Clerk of Court's Case Records Search and enter your first and last name or case number to find your case.

Arrive to court before the start time. Check-in with the courtroom bailiff when you arrive. If the plaintiff does not appear, the case will be dismissed. If the defendant is absent or late, the magistrate may grant a judgment against the defendant.

What happens during trial?

Trials are conducted by a magistrate. Generally at trial, the plaintiff will first present evidence that supports the complaint. After the plaintiff has presented evidence, the defendant may ask the plaintiff or any of the plaintiff's witnesses questions. The defendant may then present evidence. After the defendant has presented evidence, the plaintiff may ask questions of the defendant and the defendant's witnesses.

The "burden of proof" rests with the complaining party. For example, the plaintiff is the complaining party in a complaint and has the burden to prove the claims in the complaint. The defendant is the complaining party in a counterclaim and has the burden to prove the claims in the counterclaim. The burden of proof in small claims court is a preponderance of the evidence. The magistrate will evaluate or "weigh" all the evidence presented by the parties. If the weight of the evidence presented by the complaining party is greater than the evidence presented by the responding party, then the burden of proof will be met and the complaining party will win. If not, the complaining party loses and the case may be dismissed or judgment may be granted to the defendant.

The magistrate can ask questions at any time to clear up testimony. It is important to not interrupt or argue with the magistrate. When all testimony is finished, the magistrate will indicate that the case is "submitted" and that parties will receive a written decision in the mail.

*Please note: a person representing a corporation or a limited liability company without a lawyer may not ask questions of any witnesses or argue the law.

What evidence is allowed?

Evidence may include the relevant testimony of witnesses, original documents, or acceptable copies of documents. Some examples of evidence include contracts, receipts, public records (e.g., a marriage license or birth certificate), authenticated business records, market data reports, photographs, and tangible items (anything that can be held or touched). The Court keeps any document admitted as evidence in the case file.

Witness testimony includes first-hand knowledge of the facts. Statements from witnesses who are not present at trial are considered “hearsay” and not admissible as evidence.

Written estimates of value or repair cost are admissible as evidence to measure monetary loss in small claims cases. Documents such as receipts, cancelled checks, bank statements, contracts, or photos may be provided as evidence.

In claims for motor vehicle damage, the complaining party must present proof that he or she is the owner or lessee of the damaged vehicle. Proof that the party is the current owner or lessee includes: (1) a valid certificate of a title or the original lease agreement (if the damaged vehicle is leased), or (2) a stipulation of all parties in open court that ownership is not in dispute.

Proof of monetary loss from motor vehicle damage may be shown by producing (1) at least two estimates of repair, (2) a receipted repair bill, or (3) testimony from an expert in collision repair. Eyewitnesses who saw the damage occur or expert witnesses, such as a police officer who investigated the accident or a collision repair expert, may be subpoenaed, if necessary, and called upon to testify in open court.
What happens after trial?

The magistrate will prepare and file a written decision and entry of judgment that will be mailed to the parties.The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law will provide a detailed explanation of the reasons supporting the magistrate's decision. If the Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are not included in the decision, a request can be made that the magistrate provide them in an amended decision. The written request must be made within seven (7) calendar days of notice of the original decision that was received from the Clerk of Court.

A judge always reviews the magistrate's decision and signs any judgment. The judgment in a small claims case may be appealed or enforced in the same way as any other judgment of the Court.

What happens if I lose?

Any party who disagrees with the magistrate's decision may ask the Court to modify or set aside the decision by filing written objections. Written requests for detailed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law must be made within seven (7) days from the date the magistrate's decision is entered. After the detailed written decision is filed, you have fourteen (14) days to file written objections to the magistrate's decision detailing the errors you believe the magistrate has made.

Objections stating the specific reasons for challenging the magistrate's decision must be filed within fourteen (14) days from the filing of the magistrate's decision. If a party files objections within the fourteen-day period, other parties have up to ten (10) days after the first objections are filed to file their own objections. If a party makes a request for Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, the time for filing objections begins to run when the magistrate files the decision that includes these findings. A fee of $20.00 is required to file an objection to the magistrate's decision. If a party is objecting to the magistrate's Findings of Fact they must purchase the trial transcript and file it with the objection. If the transcript will not be ready before the objection deadline, the Court must be notified in the Objection that you will supplement your Objection with the transcript once it is ready. Request a transcript  

A party may request an oral hearing by prominently writing on the first page of the objections, "An oral hearing of approximately [insert number of minutes] minutes is requested."

Any party may file a Memorandum Contra to the Objection. The filing of an objection will operate as a "stay", or suspension, to collection of the judgment until the judge has ruled on the objection.

When a party files objections, the case will be assigned to a municipal court judge. The judge will consider the objections and any supporting memorandum and may approve (sustain), reject (overrule), or modify the magistrate’s decision and enter a final judgment. The Court may adopt all or part of the magistrate's decision, conduct a hearing, take additional evidence, or refer the case back to the magistrate for a new trial. The Clerk will mail a copy of the final judgment to all parties.

If objections are upheld, a new hearing may be granted. If a party's objections are overruled, the party may appeal the Judge's ruling to the Tenth District Court of Appeals. By law, a party has 30 days from the date of the final judgment to file an appeal with the Tenth District Court of Appeals. Appealing a matter gets more complex and costly, requiring purchase of the transcript of the original hearing, and possibly the services of an attorney. Before taking this step, you should consult with an attorney as to the merits of your arguments.

What happens if I win?
The party that receives a money judgment becomes a judgment creditor and the losing party becomes a judgment debtor. If the judgment debtor does not voluntarily pay after the judgment is awarded, collection procedures are available through the Court. Collection proceedings may take time and require additional filing fees.
What if a judgment is entered and I cannot object?

After a judgment is entered, a party may ask the Court for relief from judgment under Civil Rule 60(B) for the following reasons:

  • Mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect
  • Newly discovered evidence which by due diligence could not have been discovered in time to move for a new trial
  • Fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party
  • The judgment has been satisfied, released, or discharged, or a prior judgment upon which it is based has been reversed or otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable the judgment should have prospective application
  • Any other reason justifying relief from judgment

The motion must be filed within a reasonable time, and not more than one (1) year after the date of judgment. One copy of the motion must be mailed to each of the other parties named in the case, or to their attorneys if they are represented. The “Certificate of Service” declaration at the bottom of the form must be completed and the cost of filing is $20.00.

An oral hearing may be requested. It is up to the judge to grant a hearing. To request an oral hearing, include the following on your form: “AN ORAL HEARING OF APPROXIMATELY 15 MINUTES IS REQUESTED”

A judge will be assigned to review your motion. If you disagree with the judge’s decision you have the option to appeal to the 10th District Court of Appeals.