Do I need to appear in court if I have not been served a summons to appear?

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Do I need to appear in court if I have not been served a summons to appear?

I found out I was being sued from a letter from attorney in the mail offering representation. It was filed about a month ago and I still have not been served. I called the clerk’s office and told the woman that I need the paperwork to hire an attorney and she told me I have to show up because I know or the judge will put me in default. I asked what happens when I get there with no attorney and she said they will send me immediately into mediation or set a trial date. I explained that I wanted an attorney present but she said its how it works. The process server said they wrote if off after not reaching me.

Asked on October 5, 2011 under Bankruptcy Law, Florida

Answers:

S.L,. Member, California Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 9 years ago | Contributor

Since the court clerk is claiming you know about the lawsuit from the letter you received, a judgment for default will be entered if you don't appear.  If that happens, you will need to file a motion to set aside the default.  If your motion is granted by the judge, the case will be back on track and litigation will continue.

The purpose of being served with the summons and complaint (complaint is the lawsuit attached to the summons) is to provide you with notice of the lawsuit.  Since the court clerk is claiming you know about the lawsuit because of the letter, you still have notice of the lawsuit even though you were not served.

You can still hire an attorney even though you don't have the paperwork (summons and complaint).  The attorney can go to the court and obtain a copy of the case file.  The attorney can then file an answer to the complaint.  The answer denies the allegations in the complaint.  You can also go to the court and obtain a copy of the case file.  You will need the case number to give to the court clerk.  The court clerk will then give you the file.  You can't remove the file from the court, but can ask the court clerk to photocopy the file.

The letter you received from the attorney may have stated the case number and name of the case.  If the case number is not stated in that letter, you can obtain the case number by going to the court and looking for your name under defendants in the court's computer.  Once you have the case number, give it to the court clerk and ask to see the file.

Of course, if you obtain a copy of the case file, you won't be able to claim you didn't know about the lawsuit.


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