Ask the County Law Librarian: Next steps in lawsuit
Q. I just answered a summons for a lawsuit, and hope to be notified of a trial date soon. Can you tell me when the court will let me know when the trial will be? I can’t wait to butcher this sucker in court!
Oh dear, Louise, I hope your energy level can be sustained through the long winter when nothing will be going on with your case. There will be many more documents for you to file and serve before you go to court, which most likely will not be for several months.
As a self-represented litigant, you are responsible for knowing what is happening in your case. In Sacramento County, you can access your court file online at any time from http://www.saccourt.ca.gov. Be sure to check often, to make sure you’re not missing anything. For detailed instructions on how to view your case files online, see the Step-by-Step guide on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/case-lookup.aspx.
The next step in a civil case is usually discovery. Discovery procedures allow the parties to exchange documents, evidence, and other information before going to court. Discovery is a very important part of a lawsuit, and failure to comply with discovery rules and timelines can result in monetary sanctions. Luckily, our Civil Self Help Center offers assistance with discovery on Thursday afternoons; an “Introduction to Written Discovery Class,” which explains what discovery is, how to answer questions you may have received by mail, and how you can use discovery yourself, is held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Bring a USB flash drive to download sample forms; if you don’t have a flash drive we sell a 1 GB drive for only $10 at the Circulation Desk. A “Discovery Lab,” where you can work on your discovery requests or responses with experts nearby to answer questions, is held from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the second and fourth Thursdays of each month. You can drop in on this computer lab any time between 1:30 and 3:15 p.m. The Lab closes promptly at 3:30 pm.
California law places strict limits on the numbers, types, and timing of discovery requests. Because of this, developing a discovery plan is crucial to most litigants, to ensure that they are able to obtain the information they need for trial. So where do you start? Depositions are so very expensive . . . . Should you propound Requests for Admissions? Or Form or Special Interrogatories? What about Requests for Production or Inspection? Subpoenas? In cases where a party’s physical or mental condition is in controversy, it may be possible to require that party to submit to a Physical or Mental Examination. Are you going to be using an expert witness? If so, you will have to disclose that to the other party.
Discovery procedures take place outside of court. Parties are expected to work with each other to obtain discovery and resolve disputes. Court intervention is only allowed after the parties have attempted to resolve disputes on their own. But what if the opposing side fails to respond to your formal discovery requests? If the opposing side fails to respond to a request for admissions, you may ask the court for an order to have the facts you sought to have the other side admit deemed true. If the opposing side fails to respond to your form or special interrogatories, or a request for production, you may file a motion seeking an order that the opposing party be compelled to respond.
Without knowing anything about your case, like whether it is for a breach of contract or personal injury, or limited (the plaintiff asked for less than $25,000) or unlimited (the plaintiff asked for $25,000 or more), there is not much I can tell you. Fortunately, the Law Library has created step-by-step guides, with sample forms and instructions, on the most common of these types of discovery, so you can decide what to do and do it all by yourself!. You can read all of these Guides on our website at http://www.saclaw.org/pages/discovery-topic.aspx#research. Take a look!
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