Spring 2010-#7. Reforming Vermont Small Claims Court.

Authorby Charlotte Cleveland

Vermont Bar Journal


Spring 2010-#7.

Reforming Vermont Small Claims Court

THE VERMONT BAR JOURNALVolume 36, No.1Spring 2010Reforming Vermont Small Claims Courtby Charlotte ClevelandRule 1, Scope of Rules of Small Claims Court, states "These rules shall be construed to secure the simple, informal, and inexpensive disposition of every action subject to them." Unfortunately, this goal is no longer attainable by either a defendant or plaintiff in a small claims action.

It's No Longer Simple

First, Vermont has failed to make the process simple. Vermont's forms are online, but they are very hard to find on the Judiciary's website. On most other state websites, the forms are easy for a layperson to find and download. A claim can be filled out at one's convenience without having to make a trip to the courthouse or call to get more information. In Iowa and Minnesota, the claim can be completed and filed electronically.

Many states have special directions, information and videos online to help the defendant and plaintiff with the specific problems and issues of filing a suit or being sued. These instructions are in simple, plain language clearly written to be understood by a layman with a limited education. The websites in Kentucky and Wisconsin are outstanding. In contrast, Vermont has only an inadequate booklet, much of it written in vague language, that can raise more questions than it answers.

Vermont's guide to small claims court should be divided into sections for defendants and plaintiffs and written in plainer language. While it is important to list the rules for easy reference, each rule should be followed by more explanation and give both the plaintiff and defendant a clearer idea of what will happen when, for example, filing for financial disclosure. Even the guide states that these "steps can be complicated."

For example, by the time a plaintiff has to file a motion to find a defendant in contempt of court, the process can become Byzantine. Up to this point, the court provides forms to be filled out and filed for each step. However, to file a motion for contempt of court requires a call to the court to ask for the form only to find out there is none. The clerk will try to help you with the motion's wording but cannot tell you what the consequences are of being found in contempt of court or what it means. If the judge finds the defendant in contempt of court and rules the defendant can be arrested, the guide is completely silent on the details and ramifications of this step. At this stage, the court employees start advising the plaintiff to "talk to a lawyer" even though the guide states twice on page one "you do not need a lawyer." The guide needs to be rewritten so that each step is described in greater detail and there should be a simple form provided by the...

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