The people's court for those not appearing on a TV show is small claims court and is the closest thing we have to courts by and for the people. I don't pretend to know about small claims courts across the country but their intent is to offer a forum where people can present their cases without attorneys and have them resolved quickly and inexpensively. The amount you can sue for in these courts is limited. In Indiana, for example, the current limit is $6,000.00. You can have an attorney represent you but in most cases it is not worth the expense. You don't want to pay an attorney $2,000.00 to collect $1,000.00.
What happens in small claims court is similar to what you see on TV. The judge attempts to conduct the hearing informally, asking each party what happened and then asking follow up questions to reach a decision. If you face a judge in this situation be respectful but otherwise be yourself and speak with the judge the same way you would speak with a friend or family member.
Small Claims court is also different from regular court in that it is easier to present your evidence. There are rules of evidence in regular courts that are relaxed in small claims cases. Everyone has heard the term hearsay, which means hearing something outside of court and then testifying about what you heard in court. For example, assume you had your car repaired but then experienced the same problem you thought you had fixed. You take your car to another mechanic and he or she tells you the first mechanic screwed up. In regular court you would have to call that mechanic as a witness. In small claims court you could give the judge a copy of a letter from the mechanic or just testify as to what the mechanic said. Having said that, you still might want to call the mechanic as a witness since live testimony is usually more persuasive.
If you decide you want to sue in small claims court you can contact your county court clerk's office for the information and forms needed. You can write out why you are suing and what you are asking for in a paragraph or two. You also pay a filing fee of less than $100.00 which you may get back from the other party if you win the case. If you do sue make sure you have a good address for the person you are suing to make sure the suit papers reach that person.
Another thing you need to consider before you sue is whether the person being sued has any money or assets to pay off a judgment. If you win in court and get a judgment it doesn't mean the judgment will be paid. If the defendant doesn't voluntarily pay you will have to return to court to ask the judge to enforce the judgment by ordering the defendant to make scheduled payments or by garnishing the defendant's wages, for example.
There is no reason to fear small claims court. Normal people, as well as some abnormal ones, use small claims courts all the time. Small claims hearings are open to the public so you can go watch some beforehand if you would like. You might find a judge who is even more entertaining than your TV favorite. Good luck and may the court be with you.