When one thinks of trials images of Perry Mason or Atticus Finch may come to mind. But when it comes to debt collection law suits things are a little less grand. In Arizona most debt collection (particularly Debt Buyer cases) cases are heard in one the Arizona Justice courts.
I wanted to give you a sense of what trial is like here in Arizona – particularly if you are being sued by Midland Funding, CACH, LLC, Portfolio Recovery, LVNV Funding, LLC, or any of the other debt buyers.
First, Arizona justice court trials are measured in hours, not days. Further, your case will be heard by a justice of the peace, not a jury.
When you arrive at the courthouse it is a good idea to show up at least 15 minutes early. As soon as you arrive you need to check in with the clerk of the court and they will direct you to the courtroom where your trial will be heard.
I also always try to be a little early because it helps you to gather yourself and your thoughts prior to jumping right into the trial. You never do as well if you are rushing to make it, run into the courtroom as the judge is taking the bench, and then try and present your case.
Once the judge does come in he or she will announce the name of the case and ask the parties to give brief opening statements. Your trial has officially begun!
If you watch many court room drama TV shows or movies you have certainly seen an opening statement. However in almost every TV show and movie they are doing it 100% incorrectly! Truth be known the opening statement is pretty dry. All you need to do in the opening statement is tell the judge what you believe the evidence will show (or not show) and what you would like the court to do (how you want them to rule).
The opening statement is not a time for legal or factual arguments. In fact, with debt buyer case, my opening statement is often something as simple as “Your Honor, the striking thing about this case is how little evidence will be presented by the Plaintiff in support of its claim. My clients do not owe any money to Midland Funding (or what ever debt buyer you are facing), and nothing that will be presented here today will support the entry of a judgment against my client. Today we are asking the court to enter judgment in favor of my clients, award them their attorney’s fees and costs, and dismiss this claim with prejudice.”
Who Goes First?
The Plaintiff has the burden of proof. This means that they must prove their case – you don’t have to disprove anything. The Plaintiff will go first. They will call their witnesses, ask them questions and likely review documents. After they are done asking their questions you will get an opportunity to cross-examine the witness.
While there are volumes written on how to conduct an effective cross-examination I generally try to ask simple questions that can be answered with a simply “yes” or “no”.
After you are done with your cross-examination the Plaintiff will then be able to ask any follow up questions during what is called “re-direct”.
In most debt buyer cases the plaintiff will only have one witness and then will likely “rest” their case.
Then it is your turn. You will have an opportunity to call any witnesses you may have and present any evidence you may have to the court.
Once you are done you will “rest” your case.
After both sides have rested the court will then ask each side to give a closing argument. This is where the movies get it right. This is the time for you to tie it all together for the court.
Frankly, there is a lot more to presenting (and winning) a debt buyer trial. However this will give you a framework in which to operate. In Arizona the judge is required to hold people representing themselves to the same standard as they do lawyers. This means that they judge will assume you are knowledgeable in the Arizona Rules of Civil Procedure, the Arizona Rules of Evidence, and any relevant case law.
If you can hire an attorney for your debt buyer lawsuit I would highly recommend it (even if it is not me). If you can’t, learn as much as you can about the process. It will take away some of those jitters and allow more effectively present your defense.