How do I get statements from people that can hold up in court?

Here’s the deal: I’m suing former roommate for back rent they never paid me. Their argument, according to the response letter I got, was that they never agreed to anything, and there’s no documentation to support that they did. Well, too bad for them we had a verbal contract, and there were witnesses. My other two roommates were there when the douchebags agreed they would pay me their share of the rent.

So how can I get the other two roommates to write statements that I can bring to court that will hold up, legally? Do I have to have them write/sign something in front of a notary? Do I need a judge/lawyer/whoever to take down a deposition? And if it’s something that costs me money, am I legally allowed to add it on to the amount I’m suing for? (I mean, from what I understand, I am usually allowed to add associated legal fees, right?)

And standard disclaimer: I am not seeking specific legal advice related to this matter, just general advice on procedure.

IANAL, but this is generally what an affidavit is for. I believe they usually need to be witnessed, probably by a notary. You might try contacting the local Legal Aid or similar organization for help.

Affidavit. If you have any non-roommate friends who know of the arrangements, you might want to get statements from them too. “I don’t live there, but Douchebag told me he was paying $N in rent” would be good as a third party affirmation of his agreement to pay rent.

Then in court, make sure to ask why Douchebag thinks that anyone should believe that you allowed him to live in your apartment rent-free with no obligations. Should be an interesting story and I’m sure the Judge will be interested in it, since it’s obviously the basis of his claims. Blowing it off with “I don’t know” or answering by saying that you have no proof that he did agree to pay should go over real well.

Of course, IANAL, and someone will be along shortly to tell you the specific details of why everything I have just written is incorrect and counter-productive. :wink:

IANAL , but I do want to point out that there is no guarantee a judge will accept any statement. Your best bet would be to plan on bringing the witnesses to court and get affidavits just in case they can’t be there.

The lawsuit itself will probably produce payment, but if it doesn’t, then a person there with you will win the case over any documents.

Alright, when I get a court date, I’ll see if I can get them to show up as well. If not, then I’ll see about getting affidavits from them. I have no doubts that I will win even without the witnessess, since it would be pretty damn implausabile for a judge to believe that I did let someone sub-let from me rent-free for two and a half months, plus, they DID pay for one and a half months, so there’s that.

Speaking of, do banks usually keep a record of money orders? That’s how they paid when they did pay, so I’m wondering if I can get a copy of it to prove they paid?

First of all, you haven’t provided enough information to know how to answer the question with any precision. For one thing, you haven’t said if you are suing in small claims court or in a regular court (municipal, superior, city, etc.). Different rules apply to small claims court proceedings. If you are in small claims court, you should have received some sort of instruction sheet when you filed advising what type of evidence can be presented at the hearing on the matter.

Assuming that you are not in small claims, the only way to guarantee that the recollection of your witnesses can be used to prove the existence of the contract is to have them present as witnesses when you try the matter.

There are various ways of trying to preserve testimony when you are worried that it won’t be available at trial. The most obvious one is to depose the witness. This involves having a court reporter take down stenographically and provide a transcript of the procedure of each side to the case asking whatever questions they wish (subject to some very loose evidentiary rules) and the deponent answering them. This is part of the “discovery” phase of the suit, usually done so that the parties can find out just what probable witnesses would say at trial. But when a witness is “unavailable” at trial (dead, hospitalized, far away, etc.), a deposition transcript can often be admitted into evidence.

There are some minor problems with doing this, usually related to the fact that the evidentiary rules about deposition questions are looser than the rules at trial. One of the examples of this might well apply in your case: you are wanting your witnesses to provide “hearsay” evidence, that is, evidence of a statement made out of court offered to prove the truth of the facts contained in the statement. You want the witnesses to say that the defendant agreed to a contract. You may or may not be able to get that evidence in at trial; the general rule is that “hearsay” evidence is not admissible, but there are a lot of exceptions, more than one of which may apply here (and I am NOT going to go into an analysis because it isn’t important). The point is that, while you certainly can ask the witnesses in the deposition about what the defendant said, their answers as recorded at the deposition may not be allowed to be admitted into evidence at the trial.

Several posters have suggested the use of an “affidavit.” This is a sworn statement by a person, declaring something to be true, under the penalty of prosecution for perjury if they are lying. The affidavit is written up, and they then proceed to sign it, usually in front of a notary public who then establishes that the person signing the affidavit is who they say they are.

Affidavits, however, are rarely admissible at trial. This is because the opposition has no chance to cross-examine your affiant (the person making the sworn statement). One of the main principles to our type of law is that every party in the process gets the chance to confront the people who are testifying against him/her. You can’t do that if all you have is a signed piece of paper and no affiant at the time of trial. Affidavits are usually used to support some assertion that has to be made for a preliminary action in the case, such as the issuance of a subpoena, or a court order of temporary nature.

Since we don’t know enough about your situation, I can’t say what you should do (and wouldn’t anyway, for the usual reasons (I’m not your attorney, you haven’t engaged me to give you specific legal advice, etc.)). I do, however, suggest that, if you are not in small claims court, you get ready to produce your witnesses at trial.

And no, as a general rule, you do not get to recover the cost of legal proceedings when you win a case. So your legal costs are not “tacked on” to the award, in most cases.

Nothing beats having your witnesses present. Any document prepared out of court runs the risk of a hearsay objection, making it potentially inadmissible.

However, IIRC, if your matter is a small claims action in California, hearsay evidence is admissible but the judge will weigh hearsay evidence according to its reliability and probative value. In other words, if a defense witness is present in court and you rely on a hearsay statement, then the judge might give the defense witness more credibility than your hearsay statement, and you’ve just been trumped.

Don’t rely on what I have written here. Check the laws of your jurisdiction regarding admissibility of evidence in superior, small claims, and other relevant courts or tibunals.

On preview, what DSYoungEsq said.

If you ran the money order through your bank, then your bank should have a copy. You can ask your bank for a copy, but it may charge you copy and perhaps research fees. Many banks, however, do not keep records over 7 years, FYI.

The bank from which the money order was drawn should also have a copy, but you may not get a copy that way without a subpoena.

It depends. In California, for example, certain categories of costs are permitted by statute, others are not. You must also pay attention to the proper procedure for claiming costs. Maybe the judge will simply tack the costs onto the judgment. Maybe the judge will give you a judgment for a certain dollar amount, “plus costs.” Then, you might need to file some sort of post-judgment claim form to add those costs into your judgment. Other costs require filing a full-blown post-judgment motion before they may be added to the judgment at the discretion of the court. Further, your local court may have “local rules” that restrict costs awards or add to the costs procedure somehow.

Check your state and local law (e.g., Rules of Court for your county). California county courts typically have their own websites with links to the local rules.

“Verbal contracts” are a flimsy purchase upon which to launch an action in real estate and tenancy disputes. You have little apparent traction in this case unless you have a paperwork trail of some kind reflecting your agreement. Your affidavits without the witnesses being present are next to worthless.

Unless you can frighten them sufficiently to render payment your chances of prevailing are slim. If they are not going to scare, and you have no other leverage than that cited so far you need to chalk this up to lessons learned and move on.