The Answer date is simply a time when you go before the Judge and respond to the landlord’s Complaint. The Judge uses the Answer Date to determine whether or not this case needs to go to trial. You can call the Legal Aid Society of Hawaii for an Answer and Counterclaim Packet you can fill out. There are 5 important things to remember.
1. Show up on time or lose
If you do not show up for your Answer Date, or any other hearing, you could lose. The landlord will get everything he or she asked for, and you could be evicted that day. This is called a Default Judgment.
In Honolulu, the first court date is extremely fast. Even if you are only two minutes late to your hearing, you could have already lost. Make sure you are early and leave plenty of time to find parking (feed the meter for at least 1 1/2 hours)
2. Find your case
Go to the courtroom at least a half hour before the time of the hearing and bring the Complaint and Summons. Find the case list and make sure your case is listed. The case list is typically posted on a clipboard right outside the courtroom door or is inside the courtroom. You need to look at this list to make sure your case is scheduled and you are in the right courtroom. Make a note of the number next to your case (1, 2, 3, etc.) because the cases may not always be called in order, but they will call your case by that number.
If your name is on the list, let the clerk know you are there and take a seat inside. If it is not, then check with the clerk to see who you need to call or where you need to go. Let the clerk know your case is not on the list and they will double check to make sure they have the most updated version of that day’s case list. If your case is not on the list and you think it should be - do NOT leave the courtroom until you have spoken with the clerk and received instructions on what to do next. In Honolulu, after speaking to the clerk in the courtroom and confirming you are not on the calendar for today, you should go to the service center on the third floor and find out when your hearing is scheduled.
3. Wait for your case to be called
After you check in with the clerk, wait inside the courtroom until your case is called. Turn your cell phone off, take off your hat and remove your sunglasses. The cases are not necessarily heard in any order. The Judge may skip around to different cases on the list. You should not leave the room at any point because your case could be called at any time. If you are not present when the judge calls your case, you may lose by default. When your case is called by the court clerk, answer “Here” loudly and go up to the Judge.
4. Give the Court your "Answer" - Admit or Deny/Agree or Disagree
On the Answer Date, all the Court wants to hear is your answer to the Complaint.
If you “Admit” or “Agree” to the Complaint, you are telling the Court you agree with everything in the Complaint and you don’t want to tell your “side of the story” to the Judge. If you admit (agree) to anything mentioned in the Complaint in court, the Judge may decide on the spot that the landlord is the winner and may order you to leave your unit immediately. For example, if the case is about nonpayment of rent and you admit that you owe any money to the landlord, you may be evicted as soon as the Order is entered.
If you “Deny” or “Disagree” with theComplaint, you are telling the Court you
disagree with something in the Complaint, and you want to tell your “side of the story” to the Judge. For example, if your landlord claims you owe three month’s rent in the Complaint but you have receipts proving you only owe one month’s rent then you disagree with something in the Complaint.
5. Note Your Next Hearing (Pre-Trial in Honolulu, Trial in other Courts)
If you “Deny,” the Judge will set a specific date and time for the next hearing. Make sure you write down the day and time! If you are in the Honolulu District Court, your next hearing will be a Pre-Trial Hearing, typically scheduled for the following Monday. If you are at any other courthouse, you will be given a specific date for the Trial, usually within a week.