The Court System in Maricopa County
If you have a legal dispute one of the first question you will have to ask is where should that dispute be heard. While there are many alternative dispute resolution locations which can often be a more cost effective way to resolve a dispute, sometimes the dispute has to go to court. In Maricopa County there are multiple courts where that dispute may be heard. Each court has slightly different processes and requirements for your case to be heard in that court.
Small Claims Court
The first option for a dispute to be resolved is Small Claims Court. A dispute may only be heard in small claims court if it involves a dispute of less than $2,500. There are no attorneys or juries involved in small claims court but rather the parties simply appear and present their case to a judge. If a party wants a jury and an action has been filed in small claims court the case can be transferred to allow an attorney to appear.
One benefit of small claims court is that it is a relatively quick and easy process. A case is initiated by filing of a Complaint and the other side can file a written response called an answer. The court will then schedule a hearing for each side to present their case. It is important that you bring any witnesses to your hearing as written statements from other people will not be considered. The judge will then rule on your case. While they often are not as unusual as the cases on television the hearing is actually similar to Peoples Court or Judge Judy.
The local justices courts are the next step in the County court system. There are twenty-three justices courts spread around Maricopa County. Each justice court serves a portion of the County. The justice courts handle civil matter involving less than $10,000, misdemeanor criminal offense and traffic citation, restraining orders, and evictions or forcible detainers. Attorneys may appear in justice court and certain cases may have juries.
The justice court uses a slightly more complex process. After the complaint and answer are filed as in justice court each side has the ability to conduct discovery. Discovery is the legal process used to gather information from the other side. The court will then schedule a conference with the judge or mediator where the parties can attempt to resolve the dispute. If the dispute is not resolved the case will be set for trial.
The final County court is the Superior Court. The Superior Court has four locations throughout the County. The main location is downtown, however there are three regional complexes, one in Mesa, one inn Surprise, and the newest in the Deer Valley area near Union Hills Drive and Highway 51. The Superior Court handles civil cases over $10,000, certain misdemeanor and felony criminal charges, divorce and other family matters, probate matters, and any other types of disputes that exist.
While the process in Superior Court is very similar to justice court, in that parties file initial paper work and then conduct discovery, the process is more complex and the discovery process is often much longer than in the justice court. The Superior Court also requires that the parties conduct arbitration if the case is a civil case of less than $50,000.
Hopefully this summary helped you to better understand the courts that are available to resolve a dispute you may have. However, always remember that any time you go to court it can be costly and time consuming and resolving the matter out of court s often the best solution to a dispute.