Sometimes matters in small claims court are set for a trial conference. Trial conferences take place in small claims court before a trial. This article explains what trial conferences are, when you might have one, how you should prepare, and what might happen there.
What is a trial conference?
A trial conference is a meeting between parties (the people named in a lawsuit: the claimant, defendant, and any third parties) and the judge. It is held before the trial to make sure that everyone is ready for the trial.
When might you have a trial conference?
Usually, people who are suing or being sued in small claims court must meet with a judge in a settlement conference to discuss whether it’s possible to settle their dispute before their case is set for a trial. If you are not able to reach an agreement at a settlement conference and the time estimate for your trial is longer than a day (or a half day, depending on the court location) you may have to return to court for a trial conference before your trial.
How do you know if you have to attend a trial conference?
Either the settlement conference judge or the court registry will notify you if you must attend a trial conference.
If the court registry sets a trial conference, you will be sent a Notice of Trial Conference at least 30 days before the date of the trial conference. Once you’ve been notified of the date of the trial conference, you must attend. If you don’t attend the trial conference the judge may dismiss your claim if you are a claimant, or make a payment order against you if you are a defendant.
Changing a trial conference date
If you cannot attend a scheduled trial conference, you will need to do one of two things:
The trial conference will take place remotely. That means that you don’t go to the courthouse. Everyone attends on a computer or smart phone using Microsoft (MS) Teams for an audio-conference or video-conference or by telephone.
Before your trial conference, be sure to read the rules you must follow when attending remotely:
This guide will help you connect and manage your remote conference:
Attending in person
If you would like to ask to attend the trial conference in person you must complete an application and file it at the court registry before the trial conference.
Trial Statement Form
At least 14 days before the trial conference all parties must file a Trial Statement Form at the court registry. Then you must deliver a copy of the filed Trial Statement Form to the other party at least 7 days before the trial conference.
What you can expect
When you attend a trial conference, you will do so remotely (by MS Teams audio-conference or video-conference or by telephone). It’s an informal meeting, so the judge may be wearing business clothes instead of traditional court robes. If you have a lawyer, they should attend the trial conference remotely as well. If a representative attends the trial conference on behalf of a party that representative must have the authority to settle the claim.
A trial conference is not intended to discuss settlement of your case, although the judge may agree to discuss a possible settlement in an effort to resolve your dispute. The trial conference judge is likely to ask what your evidence will be and how you will prove your claim or defend any claim against you. The judge will ask you how many witnesses you will be calling. They need to know this in order to estimate how long the trial will take.
At a trial conference the judge may make orders:
A judge at a trial conference may dismiss a claim, counterclaim, reply, or third party notice in certain situations. A judge may also give an opinion on the probable outcome of a trial based on the information available. However, the trial judge might reach a different decision after hearing all the evidence.
If the judge decides that you and the other party are not well enough prepared for a trial, they may have you return for another trial conference.
At the end of the trial conference, if the matter is to be set for a trial or for another trial conference, you will either be sent to the office of the Judicial Case Manager to set the next date or the Judicial Case Manager will contact you at a later time about the next court date.
If your trial will take a lot of court time, you could be required to have another trial conference before the trial date to deal with any pre-trial issues and ensure that both parties have done everything needed to prepare for trial.
Even when you have filed a Trial Statement Form, you still need to bring to the trial itself three extra copies of any documents or photographs you wish the trial judge to consider as evidence. The copies should be page numbered for easier reference.
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Updated August 2023