Hearings and Trials

What is the difference between a hearing and a trial?

A hearing is an opportunity for the parties and the magistrate to briefly discuss the specific issues in the case, such as whether the case is appropriate for small claims. The magistrate may ask the parties questions but the magistrate will not review evidence prior to a court trial. The case may move to trial on the first hearing date; however, if there are other trials scheduled that day, or the magistrate determines the case cannot move forward on that day, the case will be rescheduled for a new trial date. The magistrate may also refer the parties to mediation prior to a trial. If there are service issues then service must be completed before the case can go to trial.

Recent Magistrate Decisions are available to learn more about the small claims trial process.


What if I cannot make it to my trial? (Continuance)

If you cannot make it to court on your trial date, you may request a continuance. A continuance reschedules the trial to a future date. Any party may request one continuance for up to 30 days. A written request for a continuance must be delivered to the Small Claims office at least 10 days before the trial date.

To request a continuance, write the case number, names of the parties, and the date and time of the court trial in the request. You may mail the request to:

Franklin County Municipal Court

Small Claims Division

375 South High Street, 16th Floor

Columbus, Ohio 43215-4520

You may fax your request to 614-645-8465. If you do not file your request 10 days before the trial date, or if you want to continue the case for more than 30 days, or if you are making your second request for a continuance, the magistrate must grant your request. Generally, only in exceptional circumstances will magistrate grant a second request to reschedule a case.


How do I prepare my case for trial?

Organize your testimony and arguments and practice what you want to say so the Court will be able to understand the facts. Gather evidence that will help you prove your case by collecting documents related to your claims (receipts, canceled checks, estimated bills, contracts, photos, etc.). Find witnesses who will be able to testify. If witnesses are not willing to testify, you can have them subpoenaed by completing the paperwork and paying the appropriate fees through the Clerk's office. If you bring a document to offer as evidence you should bring the original, a copy for each party in the case, and a copy for the magistrate.


What should I do on the day of trial?

Be on time to your hearing because if you are late, you may lose. Before your trial begins, check-in with the courtroom bailiff. If the Plaintiff is absent, the case will be dismissed. If the defendant is absent, the magistrate may grant a judgment against the Defendant.

Before your trial date you are encouraged to an attempt to resolve the dispute prior to trial. If communication is difficult you may contact the court’s Dispute Resolution Program, which may be able to facilitate negotiations before the day of trial through mediation. Please see Mediation for more information.

If an out-of-court settlement is reached, the Plaintiff must submit a written and signed notice of dismissal to the court indicating that the case has been settled before the hearing date and that the parties want to dismiss the case. The case number should appear on the written notice.

On the day of trial, if you have not already resolved your case with the other party, the magistrate may refer the case to mediation. A mediator is not a judge and does not decide if either party is “right” or “wrong.” The mediator will not force any party to accept a settlement that is not agreeable to everyone. The mediator’s role and the goal of mediation are to help parties make their own decisions and agreements without going to trial.


What happens during trial? (Evidence, Witnesses, and Subpoenas)

Trial is conducted be a magistrate. A magistrate has authority to decide your case. Generally at trial, the plaintiff will first present evidence that supports the plaintiff’s complaint. After the plaintiff has presented evidence, the defendant may ask the plaintiff questions. The defendant may also ask questions to any witnesses the plaintiff calls. The defendant may then present evidence. After the defendant has presented evidence, the plaintiff may ask questions of the defendant and the defendant’s witness(es).

The magistrate can ask questions at any time to clear up testimony. It is important during this procedure to remain polite; do not interrupt or argue. When all testimony is finished, the magistrate will tell you that the case is “submitted” and that you will receive a written decision in the mail.

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.

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.

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 you can hold or touch). The court keeps any document the magistrate accepts as evidence in the court file.

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

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

Subpoenas are used to compel the attendance of witnesses. A subpoena is a court document that orders a witness to come to your trial. Any party may ask the court to issue subpoenas. Requests for subpoenas should be made at least a week before trial at the Clerk of Courts office on the 3rd floor of the municipal court. Subpoenas are not free. The fee for a subpoena is determined by the length of time the witness is in court, the way the witness receives the subpoena (for example, if it is mailed or if you ask the court to deliver it in person), and the distance the witness has to travel to and from court. If your witness or witnesses will come to court voluntarily, subpoenas are not required, but you may still have to pay a fee. If you call an “expert” witness (mechanic, contractor, etc.), be prepared to pay them for their time. For more information about witness fees, see the Clerk of Court’s Civil Cost Sheet.

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? (Magistrate’s Decision and Judgment)

After the magistrate hears the case he or she will prepare and file a written decision; you or your attorney will receive a copy of the decision and the Court’s entry of judgment by mail. The Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law will provide a detailed explanation of the reasons supporting the magistrate’s decision. If you do not receive Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, you may request that the Magistrate provide them in an amended decision. You must make a written request within seven (7) calendar days of notice of the original decision that you receive from the Clerk of Court. Forms for requesting Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law are available at the Small Claims Office and at the Court Forms section of this site.

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? (Objections)

Any party who disagrees with the magistrate’s decision may ask the court to modify or set aside the decision by filing written objections. You have 7 days from the date the magistrate's decision is entered to make a written request for detailed findings of fact and conclusions of law. After the detailed written decision is filed, you have 14 days to file written objections to the magistrate's decision detailing the errors you believe the magistrate has made. You must file your objections within 14 days from the filing of the magistrate’s decision. If a party files objections within this fourteen-day period, then any other party may also file objections up to 10 days after the first objections are filed. The objections must state the specific reasons for challenging the magistrate’s decision. 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 the findings of fact and conclusions of law. A fee of $20.00 is required to file an objection to the magistrate’s decision. If you object to the magistrate's Findings of Fact you must purchase the trial transcript and file it with your objection. Contact the Court Reporter's office at 614-645-8257 to purchase the transcript. If the transcript will not be ready before the objection deadline then you must notify the court in your Objection that you will supplement your Objection with the transcript once it is ready. For more information, please visit Objecting to the Magistrate's Decision.

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.”

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; the judge 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 thirty (30) days from the date of the final judgment to file an appeal with the Tenth District Court of Appeals. At this point, however, the matter gets more complex and costly, requiring a transcript of the original hearing (there is a fee), 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?

If you win a judgment for money then you become a judgment creditor. The losing party becomes a judgment debtor. If the judgment debtor does not voluntarily pay you after the judgment is awarded, you may try a collection procedure. Collection proceedings may take time and require additional filing fees. It is always a good idea to speak with an attorney about your options. For more information about collecting a judgment, please see Collecting a Small Claims Judgment.


Who should I contact if I need legal advice or more information?

The Court, including Small Claims Division staff, judges, magistrates, bailiffs, and other court staff, cannot give legal advice. If you have a specific question regarding your legal rights or responsibilities, you should contact an attorney. If you need or want an attorney to represent you, you may call The Columbus Bar Association’s Lawyer Referral Service at 614-221-0754 or toll-free at 877-560-1014, or visit http://www.columbuslawyerfinder.com/ for more information about obtaining an attorney.

If you have questions about procedures in Small Claims Court you may contact the Small Claims Division at 614-645-7381 or email at smallclaims@fcmcclerk.com. If you are writing regarding a filed case, please include the case number and case name in any communication with the court. The Small Claims Division is open from 8:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M., Monday through Friday.

You may contact the Clerk of Court Civil Division at 614-645-7220 if you have a question about any of the court records for your case. The Clerk of Court is open from 8:00 A.M. to 4:30 P.M., Monday through Friday.

In addition, the court maintains a website where you may view case information http://www.fcmcclerk.com/case/. You can use the case information website to check the status of your case.

If you need language or interpreter assistance, please visit: http://www.fcmcclerk.com/court/interpreting-services#request-interpreter-services.