*The following article was written for the Southland Voice: To know more visit
It can be over a law suit about money, divorce, a probate proceeding, or any number of things, but many of people have received the dreaded summons from court. Either the sheriff or a private investigator showed up to your home, place of work, or a place you’re known to frequent with that magic piece of paper that looks official and says “YOU ARE HEREBY SUMMONED AND REQUIRED TO APPEAR before this Court ….IF YOU FAIL TO APPEAR A DEFAULT JUDGMENT MAY BE ENTERED AGAINST YOU.” Needless to say, it can be incredibly stressful, so I’ve taken the liberty of writing out a few do’s and don’ts regarding receiving a court summons.
DO NOT: Just ignore it.
Far too many people seem to take the stance that if they just ignore something that means it’s not happening. This is always the wrong step to take. The court summons serves two purposes, one actual and one legal. The actual reason behind the summons is to apprise you that there is a lawsuit pending against you and you have the right to contest it should you want. The second reason is to establish the court’s jurisdiction over you. A judge cannot make a ruling on your case until you have been served properly, once that happens you are deemed to know what is going on and your failure to contest the matters is taken by the court to mean you don’t have a defense. In those instances a default judgment may be entered against you and that judgment can be enforced like a normal one after enough time has passed, so be careful.
DO: Look at how you were summoned, and respond accordingly.
Somewhat counterintuitive given the last paragraph, but sometimes it makes sense not to show up to court. As I said, the summons is key to establishing a court’s ability to rule on your case, so a faulty service (one that doesn’t conform to the law) is void and any judgment rendered by that court is also voidable. I’ve had judgments voided for: the plaintiff themselves or a process servicer handing someone a summons on a defendant living in Cook County (In Cook County it must be through the county sheriff unless a court says otherwise; someone writing their own summons or using an old summons form (the summons language is codified in law and if it doesn’t conform word for word it’s not a proper summons; and leaving the summons at someone’s house with a person not authorized to receive it (under 13 years of age). In all of those cases it made far more sense for the individual to not show up to court and to attack the court’s jurisdiction instead. If you show up to court, even if the summons is faulty, you may inadvertently submit to the court’s jurisdiction and not be able to contest the summons afterwards.
DO: Consult with an attorney.
Even if you don’t hire an attorney to represent you in your court case (although I highly advise you do) you should at least talk to an attorney if you feel a summons may be faulty, the law is very particular on how to contest jurisdiction in court without submitting to the court’s jurisdiction inadvertently and, honestly, even some lawyers need a refresher on it now and then. I’ve presented on this very topic to local bar associations in the past and I’m happy to answer questions should you have them. Feel free to give me a call at 815-239-0200 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.