Legal Question in Civil Litigation in California


I'm a lawyer from Colombia, I have a client who lives in Bogotá - Colombia. She have received a citation for an Small Claims Court in L.A. for an unpaid loan, she can't travel and we wanna know if we can hire a lawyer to represent her in the Court. The idea is to show that she doesn't live in the USA and the place to reclaim for the loan is Colombia. Can you give me some recomendations please?

Asked on 4/15/19, 7:38 am

1 Answer from Attorneys

Timothy McCormick Libris Solutions - Dispute Resolution Services

Under California law there is no way an attorney can appear for a defendant in Small Claims Court unless it is on behalf of themself, or a law partnership or other form of law practice they are part of. They can never represent a client in Small Claims Court.

Another person who is NOT an attorney, can appear in place of a defendant only with permission of the court.

In any case, however, your argument about jurisdiction may not succeed. In the U.S. it doesn't matter where someone lives if the subject of the lawsuit arose in the U.S. So if the loan was made in the California, U.S. law says California courts have jurisdiction even if the defendant lives in another country. It gets more complicated if the loan was made in an international transaction, such as where a person in the U.S. sends money to Columbia as a loan, but even then, U.S. law usually then considers EITHER the U.S. OR Columbia to be a proper place for a collection lawsuit. Only if the transaction occurred pretty much entirely outside California, will the California court abstain from hearing the case.

There is SOME good news, however. If you consult with a U.S. attorney and they agree that the California Small Claims Court does not have proper jurisdiction, AND you can find someone who is not a lawyer to appear at the hearing, the attorney can prepare papers to submit to the court explaining the legal reason the court does not have jurisdiction, and a petition to the court to allow the non-lawyer representative to appear. The non-lawyer would then have to go present the papers and make the argument. Even if they lose, that would preserve the right to appeal to the Superior Court for a new trial, which is automatically granted. At the trial in Superior Court, the attorney could represent your client.

But here is the bad news again. Since a small claims case cannot be worth more than US$10,000, your client could easily spend more than the amount owed on legal fees if she followed the plan I outlined.

That's all I can tell you. Best of luck.

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Answered on 4/15/19, 9:46 am

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