A surprising number of small claims court judges will take testimony over the phone if a witness cannot be present because the person is ill, disabled, out of state, or can't take time off from work. While procedures vary, some courts will do this by setting up a conference call so that the opposing party has the opportunity to hear what is being said and to respond.
Don't assume that a particular judge will allow telephone testimony. If you think you'll need to have a witness testify by phone, explain your problem to the court clerk well in advance. If you get a negative response, don't give up–ask the judge when you get into the courtroom. Be sure you also present a letter from the witness stating what the person would testify to if he or she was present in court (for example, your opponent's car ran a red light and broadsided you) and explaining why it is impossible to be there. This letter should look like the first sample letter in "Witness Testimony by Letter," above, except the witness should add:
"Mr. Swift has asked me to testify on his behalf, and normally I would be happy to do so. However, I will be in New York City on business during the months of October, November, and December 20xx and cannot be present.
"I have asked Mr. Swift to let me know the day and approximate time of the court hearing and have told him that I will give him a phone number where I can be reached. If you think it desirable, I will be pleased to give my testimony by phone."