In Virginia, individuals frequently represent themselves in small claims court lawsuits. Virginia's small claims courts have jurisdiction over any civil dispute in which the plaintiff is seeking a money judgment of up to five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) or the recovery of property up to five thousand dollars ($5,000.00) in value. Although a party may retain counsel for representation in such matters, Virginia small claims courts are operated in a more informal manner than Circuit Court litigation. This enables lay individuals to represent themselves effectively. The following steps will increase the chances of a successful outcome.
Obtain from the Clerk's Office of the Courthouse where the defendant resides a form to initiate the lawsuit. If money damages are being sought, the appropriate form is called a Warrant in Debt. If the return of physical property is the goal, a Warrant in Detinue is the proper form. File the appropriate form in the Clerk's Office and pay the required filing fee.
Arrange to have a copy of the suit paper personally served on the defendant by either the County's Sheriff Department or by a private process server and pay the required service fee.
Request from the Clerk's Office subpoenas for any witnesses you expect to call to testify. Arrange for the Sheriff to serve each subpoena at least two to three weeks before the scheduled hearing date. Retain the Sheriff's proof of service for each subpoena and bring it with you to the hearing, as you will need this if the witness fails to appear.
Arrive at the courthouse at least one hour before the time set for your case so as to ensure adequate time for parking, security clearance, and locating the designated courtroom.
Present a brief overview of your claim by telling the judge in a clear and concise manner why you are entitled to monetary damages.
While presenting evidence during your portion of the case, elaborate on the opening statement by explaining to the judge the facts of the dispute. Introduce copies of all supporting documents and label each with a numbered exhibit sticker.
Call to the witness stand any additional witnesses who hold knowledge or information necessary to prove your case. Elicit testimony from witnesses you call by asking simple, open questions that do not suggest the answer to the witness. A party generally may not ask leading questions of its own called witnesses.
Cross-examine the defendant and witnesses by politely but firmly asking simple questions designed to elicit additional information needed for your side of the case.