Magisterial District Court Q&A
Magisterial District Court Q&A
What is a Magisterial District Judge?
A Magisterial District Judge is a locally elected official who can decide small civil lawsuits such as landlord-tenant matters. The Magisterial District Judge used to be called a Magistrate or Justice of the Peace.
Do I need an attorney?
No. Attorneys are not required during the hearing. However, if you would prefer to have an attorney present, you may retain one and bring them.
Should I go to the Magisterial District Court hearing?
Yes! If you are late or fail to appear at the hearing, a judgment may be entered against you by default. In addition, the hearing gives you the chance to present your defense or cross-complaint against the other party. If you cannot go on the scheduled date of the hearing or an emergency arises, call the Magisterial District Court’s office and ask if the hearing can be rescheduled. If you have a good reason for being late or missing the hearing, you must file a petition promptly after learning of the default judgment.
What is a Plaintiff?
A plaintiff is the person bringing the lawsuit, the person who is suing the defendant. The defendant is the person being sued.
What is a “Counterclaim”?
A counterclaim is a claim that the other party owes you money. For example, if a tenant paid for repairs (after notifying the landlord) in order to make the dwelling habitable and the landlord does not reimburse the tenant for the costs, the tenant may file a counterclaim. It must be filed with a Civil Complaint Form at the Magisterial District Court’s office. There is no fee for filing the counterclaim, however the person filing the counterclaim will have to pay for the cost of serving the counterclaim on the other party. Both the landlord’s complaint and the tenant’s counterclaim will be decided at the hearing.
How should I prepare for my hearing?
If you have a lawyer, you should go over the information that will be presented at the hearing with your lawyer. If you do not have an attorney, you should make a checklist of important points and a sequential outline of the things that happened. Be brief and to the point. Be ready to explain each item of evidence. Practice telling your side of the case. If you have taken photos, you will need to bring them to the hearing. You should be able to say who took the photos and when the photos were taken. Dress your best and arrive on time for the hearing.
What will happen at the hearing?
At the hearing, all testimony is under oath. The Plaintiff (the person who filed the complaint) is allowed to testify first. Witnesses may also testify on their behalf. After the Plaintiff is done testifying, the Defendant will have a chance to ask questions of the people who testified. The Defendant will also be given an opportunity to present their case and their witnesses. The Defendant and their witnesses can be questioned by the Magisterial District Judge or by the Plaintiff.
Remember to maintain your composure and be polite. Be brief and to the point. Try not to ramble or the judge may cut you off. Address all of your questions and comments to the judge using “Your Honor” as a formal form of address. If you wish to ask a question of another party, first ask permission from the judge to ask a question. Say “Your Honor I would like to present evidence” or “Your Honor, I would like to ask Mr. or Ms. X a question.” Do not interrupt the judge or the other party. You will have an opportunity to speak and explain your case.
May I Bring Documents?
Yes, you can bring any documents that help prove your case. Any document important for the case must be presented at the hearing. The Magisterial District Judge will not give you a chance to go home and get any documents you forget to bring to the hearing. The Magisterial District Judge cannot consider written statements from people who do not come to the hearing to testify if the other party objects to the written statements. If someone has something important to say about your case, he or she will need to attend the hearing.
The Magisterial District Judge can consider bills, estimates, receipts, canceled checks or bank statements if it helps prove your case or the counterclaim. Be sure to bring your lease and any relevant correspondence between you and the tenants. Bring photos and witnesses.
Can I subpoena someone to appear at the hearing?
Yes. You have the right to subpoena witnesses. You may wish to subpoena a code enforcement officer or housing inspector or a repair person to testify about the condition of your apartment. A subpoena is a document that requires an individual to come to the court and testify even if they do not want to come. The witness can also be subpoenaed to bring certain documents needed to prove your defense or your counterclaim. You should obtain and serve subpoenas as soon as possible to be sure the witnesses get them in time for the court hearing.
What happens after the hearing?
The Magisterial District Judge will make a decision either at the hearing or by mail within three (3) days. If the judgment is in the tenant’s favor, the landlord is required to do what the Magisterial District Judge orders. If the judgment is in favor of the landlord, the tenant is required to do what the Magisterial District Judge orders. See Eviction: Judgment.
What if I do not agree with the Magisterial District Court’s Decision?
You have the right to appeal a judgment entered against you. Appeals are filed with the Prothonotary at the County Courthouse. See Eviction: Appeal Process.