No more small claims court means changes for Texans

Say goodbye to small claims court. The age old institution is no more in Texas, thanks to an act of the legislature back in 2011.
September 3, 2013 8:33:40 PM PDT
Say goodbye to small claims court. The age old institution is no more in Texas, thanks to an act of the legislature back in 2011.

So what happens now? Thousands of small claims are made in court in Harris County every year. Now those cases get filed in a different place -- justice court, where the rules for judges have changed.

It is the time honored place for consumers to get money back, damages paid and problems fixed -- small claims court, but as of this week it is no more. In its place now is justice court.

Justice of the Peace Judge Hilary Green said, "We are still ready willing and able to accept those cases and administer speedy justice, just like we did before."

Judge Green hears thousands of cases every year in her court, many of them small claims. Now those filing small claims will be doing so in justice court where judges get to play a larger role in the process.

"As you may know, we have a fair amount of folks who represent themselves, and that's a good thing," Judge Green said. "We want them to feel welcome to do that, now we as Justices of the Peace have the ability to develop that case from beginning to end."

That means judges can ask questions, look at more evidence and even call witnesses.

University of Houston law professor Richard Alderman explained, "They can be more involved, they can award damages they could not have done before, they can limit discovery."

Alderman wrote an entire chapter in his book about small claims court. He says as long as justices of the peace are actively involved in the cases, the process should be a smooth one for consumers.

"I am very optimistic that what was the real People's Court in Texas will still be the real People's Court," Alderman said. "It just has a different name."

There are a couple of other changes as well. The fee for having a jury decide your case went from $5 to $22. And if you want a jury, you now have to give two weeks' notice. Before, only a single day's notice was required.

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