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I will try to answer your questions by number
1) Small claims court is still a court and you will be required to have witnesses. In most cases the Plaintiff (you) testifies as a witness, and you can call and bring other witnesses to support your case. A Plaintiff you go first. You can also call the defendant as a witness if you want.
After you testify the defendant gets to on his case which could include calling his witnesses.
If the venue is change to a higher court, the defendant will have to pay to move the case. If you win you can request all of your costs back. You must ask in your complaint for court costs to get them.
2) If your case is moved to another Court you can amend you complaint, you can do so once before the other side answers, After than you need to ask the Court's permission ( motion for leave to amend Complaint). These tend to be approved without much difficulty.
3/4) Appeals go through the appellate court. If an appeal is lost the lower court decision remains. Of the appeal is won, then the case goes back to the lower court to be heard again for the items the appellate court found incorrect.
4) You should familiarize yourself with the Illinois Rules of Evidence and the Illinois Rules of Civil Procedure. That in conjunction with the local rules and the small claims manual should be enough. The other thing you can and should do is attend a small claims hearing. In most cases hearings are open to the public. Just sit in back of the Court and observe. It will put you more at ease.
Thank you for your quick reply. That is very helpful.
A couple quick points of clarification though
1) I am suing 2 sister corporations. They will be required to have attorneys but will an official with knowledge of the case be required to be there as well (a high level employee I have dealt with multiple times for example)? Can I bring a witness (my sister) to court that day without doing the whole summons and fee thing if she will go with me?
2) I read somewhere (not my county) that if you summon a witness, there's a nominal fee + travel costs of in this example 20 cents per mile. I can make a strong case (with the aid of this site!) for my choice of venue in Illinois but any employees would be coming from Texas or Arkansas. That would be hundreds of dollars per witness. I understand I could get this back if I win but since I'm at risk of losing, I wouldn't call those people myself.
The big question though is if the corporation calls the witnesses requiring long travel and they win, would those big travel fees be turned over to me?
No the travel fees belong to the defendant as will the attorneys fees in most cases and any other fees associated with the trial.
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