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small claims court

n. a division of most municipal, city or other lowest local courts which hear cases involving relatively small amounts of money and without a request for court orders like eviction. The highest (jurisdictional) amount that can be considered in small claims court varies by state, but goes as high as $5,000 in California. In small claims court, attorneys may not represent clients, the filing fee is low, there is no jury, the procedure is fairly informal, each side has a short time to present his/her case and the right to appeal only permits a trial de novo (a new trial) at the next court level. Often the judge is an experienced lawyer sitting as a pro tem judge. Small claims court is a quick, inexpensive way to settle lesser legal disputes, although the controversies are often important to the participants. The well-known television program People's Court is intended to be a good example of a small claims court.


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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications