Going to Court
Proceedings in the courtroom are called "hearings," and that can include trials and conferences. We offer these suggestions to prepare for your day in court and to present your claim or defense. These suggestions apply in the district court, juvenile court, and justice court. Appellate court hearings are quite different. For more information on appellate procedures, see our webpage on Appeals. These suggestions apply regardless of the type of hearing, be it a trial, a hearing on a motion, or some other matter. These suggestions are not intended to describe any particular hearing. For example, a trial is quite different from a hearing on a motion. This page does not describe those differences.
Preparing for Your Hearing
Observe another hearing
Try to observe another court hearing before your hearing. You will become more familiar with procedures and you will be better prepared to present your case. It is especially helpful to observe the judge who will be hearing your case. Try to observe a hearing that is similar to your type of hearing.
Know when your case will be heard
To see the schedule for your case before you go to court, see our webpage for the court calendar. Select the court in which your case will be heard. The list you see is organized first by date and then by judge. You can use the scroll bar to look for your case. Enter your last name or the case number to reach your information more quickly.
If you have a disability, contact the court clerk at least 3 days in advance to let them know what accommodation you need. Reasonable accommodation of a disability is free. For more information, see our webpage on Accessibility Information.
If you or a witness does not speak English, the court will provide and pay a professional interpreter in all juvenile hearings, criminal hearings, and some civil matters. For a complete list of cases in which the court will provide a professional interpreter, see CJA 3-306(4)(A). If your type of case is on the list and you think the court may not be aware of the need, contact the interpreter coordinator at least 3 days in advance to let them know what language you need to have interpreted. If your type of case is not on the list, the court will not provide an interpreter, and you must arrange for one. For a list of professional interpreters, see our webpage on Interpreters. If you are providing an interpreter, they do not need to be a professional, but a professional can do a better job.
Do not be distracted
Plan to be at court for several hours. Do not schedule anything else. Do not bring children to court unless they are part of the hearing. Turn off your phone and pager.
Know where you are going
Find out how to get to the courthouse and where to park to make sure that you are on time. For maps to the courthouses in Utah, see our webpage on Court Directory. (Click on the Judicial District or County in which the court is located, and then click on "View Map" under each court listed.)
Collect all documents, photographs and other evidence necessary to prove your claim or defense or the case may be decided against you for lack of proof. Have at least 4 copies of documents and photos: one for the witness; one for the judge; one for the other party; and one to keep.
- The Rules of Evidence govern how and when evidence may be presented in court.
- In small claims cases, the Rules of Evidence are not strictly enforced. The judge may receive the type of evidence commonly relied upon by reasonably prudent persons in the conduct of their business affairs. The judge may allow hearsay that is probative, trustworthy and credible. Rule of Small Claims Procedure 7.
- Evidence may be offered through the statements of witnesses, who may be any person with knowledge of the relevant facts. If the witness might not appear voluntarily, you can serve that person with a subpoena. A subpoena orders the witness to appear. For more information, see our webpage on Subpoenas.
- Evidence may be offered through documents, such as business records, pay stubs, appraisals, invoices, cancelled checks and bank statements. Evidence may be offered through photographs, such as photographs of the damage to a vehicle or of unsanitary conditions in an apartment.
Your Day in Court
Dress appropriately in clothes that you would wear for an important occasion, such as a job interview.
Bring to the hearing all witnesses, documents, photographs and other evidence to prove your claim or defense. Have at least 4 copies of documents and photos: one for the witness; one for the judge; one for the other party; and one to keep.
Who can represent you?
You may bring someone to give you support, but in most cases no one except you or your lawyer may speak for you. In small claims cases, you may represent yourself or you may be represented a lawyer, by an employee, or, with the approval of the judge, by any person who is not being paid for the representation. Rule of Small Claims Procedure 13.
30 minutes or more. This will allow you time to go through security, find your courtroom, and talk with your attorney or witnesses. There is nowhere to check personal belongings so don't bring any items that may be confiscated by security.
Most courthouse entrances have airport-type security, so do not bring weapons. Do not bring contraband. To pass through security more quickly, do not carry metal items on your person.
Most courthouses have several courtrooms. Check the court calendar to identify your courtroom. There is usually a calendar posted outside your courtroom or on a table inside the door. Or ask a court clerk. If your case is not on the calendar, ask the judge's clerk to check on it for you.
Taking your turn 1
Take a seat in the back of the courtroom before the hearing time and wait for your case to be called. You may need to wait for some time. Turn off your phone and pager. Do not distract others while you are waiting.
Presenting Your Claim or Defense
Taking your turn 2
When your case is called, stand and identify yourself. The judge might hear your case at that time or might finish calling the other cases on the calendar. When the judge says that it is time to hear your case, walk to one of the tables in the front of the courtroom. If you have questions about where to stand, ask the judge or bailiff for instructions.
Judges and judicial officers
Many divorces and other family law hearings are conducted by court commissioners. A commissioner is a court officer appointed by the judges of that court. Commissioners have almost all of the authority of a judge. Many small claims hearings are conducted by judges pro tempore. A judge pro tempore is a volunteer lawyer who has been appointed by the Utah Supreme Court to hear and determine small claims cases. A judge pro tempore also has almost all of the authority of a judge. The suggestions offered here apply equally to hearings conducted by judges, court commissioners and judges pro tempore. And all of these officers of the court have all of the authority needed to decide your case.
Taking your turn 3
The party who is asking the court to do something goes first. Then the judge will allow the other side to respond. Sometimes the judge will then give each party a second chance.
Some judges will ask questions of witnesses to find out the important facts. Other judges will rely on the parties to know what is important and to ask their own questions. A party has the right to examine and cross-examine witnesses, but some judges in some hearings will allow a party to "proffer" evidence. In a proffer of evidence, the party can tell the judge - in a narrative statement - what the witness would say if called to testify. To proffer evidence the witness must be immediately available to testify.
If you want the judge to see a written document or some other piece of evidence, first ask the judge if you can present it to the judge and the opposing party. The bailiff may help you distribute the evidence if necessary.
Be professional 2
Stand when you are speaking, and speak only when the judge tells you to. Unless you are questioning a witness, speak only to the judge. Address the judge as "Your Honor." Do not speak to the opposing party or others in the courtroom. You may feel nervous about talking. That is normal and to be expected. Just tell the judge what happened and explain what you want the judge to do.
Be professional 3
When other people are talking, wait for them to finish. Do not interrupt. When you are asked questions, tell the truth. Speak clearly. Give complete answers. If you don't understand a question, say "I don't understand." Instruct your witnesses to do the same.
Be professional 4
This may be your only opportunity to speak to the judge. Be clear and direct when you have something to say, but also be courteous and respectful. Do not roll your eyes. Do not "harrumph." Do not throw your pencil on the table. Do not argue with the other party, the witnesses or the judge. Do not insult them or call them names. Instruct your witnesses to do the same. These simple courtesies cost you nothing and will gain the judge's respect.
The judge might announce a decision at the end of the hearing or issue a written decision later. Call the judge's clerk if you have not received a written decision within 60 days. Listen to or read the decision carefully. It will include the result and the reasons for the result. Pay attention. The judge may direct you to prepare an order conforming to the decision for the judge to sign.
Know what happens next
Before you leave the courtroom make sure that you know what to do next. Do you need to come back for another hearing? Do you need to prepare a written legal argument or court order? Ask questions if you do not understand what will happen next or whether you are supposed to do something.
Record of the Hearing
You cannot record the hearing. If you want to listen to the hearing afterward, you may buy a CD at the court where the hearing was held. To find the contact information for your court, see our webpage on Court Directory. You may also buy a written transcript of the hearing by ordering it on our webpage Request for Transcript.
A short video of pointers for presenting your case. The video focuses on the juvenile court and contains some information that is relevant only for lawyers. However, most of the points are universal.
- Courtroom Etiquette Video - Video
Photos and Text. Law school students at the S. J. Quinney College of Law at the University of Utah have prepared documents that dramatize some of the points made here.
- Introduction (app.box.com) - PDF
- Preparation (app.box.com) - PDF
- The Courthouse (app.box.com) - PDF
- The Courtroom (app.box.com) - PDF
- Your Case is Called (app.box.com) - PDF