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Pair Of Arizona County Courts Try New Small Claims Program

Justice courts in two Arizona counties are conducting pilot programs aimed at making the legal process quicker and simpler in civil disputes involving claims no larger than $3,500.

The one-year pilot programs being conducted in Maricopa and Pinal counties have streamlined processes with accelerated time frames, the Maricopa Monitor reported.

"This is supposed to be a quick and easy way for two people who have a dispute to come to court and get their issue resolved," said Maricopa Justice of the Peace Lyle Riggs.

A small claims case usually begins when a plaintiff files a complaint with the court. The plaintiff then has 120 days to serve summons papers to the defendant. The defendant then files an answer or asks for the case to be transferred to Superior Court or another venue. Then a hearing is scheduled.

Due to the lengthy service time and the possibility of a defendant not filing an answer or not showing up to a hearing, it can extend the amount of time it takes for the case to come to completion.

"What we've found over the years is a lot of these cases that should be resolved quickly often languish on the court's calendar for an extended period of time," Riggs said.

As an answer to these issues, the justice courts in Maricopa and Casa Grande are currently participating in pilot programs that streamline this process.

In the new program, when a person files a small claims complaint, the court automatically schedules a hearing date 45 to 60 days from filing. The plaintiff then has 20 days to serve the defendant.

The defendant then has to file a response at least 15 days before the hearing or file a counterclaim at least 10 days before the hearing.

"If all goes well — and we expect the majority of cases to follow that track — the dispute will be solved within 60 days," Riggs said. "That, to me, is speedy resolution."

Riggs said the courts began using this new procedure on Jan. 4 and will continue to use it for one year. At the end of the year, participating courts will provide feedback and then potentially implement the rules permanently.