Prepare for Court

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If you want the judge to understand your case, you must understand it yourself. Sounds simple, doesn't it? It did to me too, until I got involved with a case involving a botched car repair. All I knew was that after I paid to have the engine fixed, the car shouldn't belch black smoke and make a disgusting noise. I really wasn't interested in the details.

Fortunately, I realized that arguing a case in small claims court with this level of ignorance would likely end in a bad loss. To be able to convince a judge that the mechanic had ripped me off, I needed to do some homework. After all, I could expect the people from the garage to show up in court with a terrific-sounding story about the wonderful job they did with pistons, bearings, and camshaft. I had seen other people unsuccessfully argue car repair cases knowing no more than "the car was supposed to be fixed, Your Honor, and it's worse than ever."

It turned out that a 15-minute conversation with a knowledgeable mechanic was all I really needed to understand what the first mechanic did wrong. (Also, my local library had several car manuals, complete with diagrams, which were a big help.) In court, armed with this knowledge, I had no trouble explaining to the judge that the mechanic had done a substandard job. I got a judgment for the full amount I had paid.

Remember, the judge is probably not a mechanic. In Chapter 13, I mentioned that it's important to pay attention to the human being to whom you are presenting your case. It's no secret that many, if not most, small claims judges don't understand the insides of cars any better than you do. So be prepared to make a convincing presentation to a person who nods his or her head but doesn't really understand the difference between the drive shaft and the axle.

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