Join Everyday Law and our special guest, Judge Ted Potkonjak, as we discuss his career, his time on the bench, and how he currently handles small claims cases!

Judge Ted Potkonjak of the Nineteenth Circuit Court of Lake County, grew up in Lake County. He is the son of Serbian immigrants who settled in Waukegan. Judge Potkonjak attended Waukegan public schools followed by college in central Illinois at MacMurray College where he studied eastern European history and political science. He attended law school in San Diego but returned to Lake County and obtained a job as a Lake County Assistant State’s attorney immediately upon becoming a member of the Illinois Bar.

Judge Potkonjak worked for 5 years as an assistant state’s attorney in Lake County where he gained extensive trial experience. Following this position, Potkonjak worked for 4 years in private practice for a small Waukegan law firm where he built up a clientele. This benefitted Potkonjak’s next move to that of a solo practitioner. After 11 years in private practice for himself, Potkonjak became a Lake County judge.

Judge Potkonjak has presided over a variety of courtrooms while on the Lake County bench for the last 15 years. These include branch court for traffic and ordinance violations, misdemeanor and felony court. Potkonjak has especially enjoyed presiding over jury trials as he welcomes the opportunity to talk to jurors and lawyers after a trial is over. He finds that the vast majority of jurors take their responsibility seriously and are glad that they had the opportunity to serve on a jury.

For the last 3 years, Judge Potkonjak has presided over small claims court. Small claims are for civil matters with damages of $10,000.00 and under. There are a range of small claims cases including loans, home repair, car accidents, credit card or finance company matters. Often times, litigants will represent themselves “pro se” as many lawyers cannot afford to take on small claims cases. There are some great resources for small claims litigants representing themselves without a lawyer. The law library at the Lake County Courthouse has a help desk that can assist litigants. Additionally, there is a small claims booklet that outlines the process. There is also a small claims mediation program where any small claim can be mediated with an experienced member of the Lake County Bar Association. There is no cost for this program and oftentimes, the small claims can be resolved without a trial.

Judge Potkonjak says the most successful pro se litigants in small claims court are those who are prepared. However, his advice to avoid ending up with a small claim is not to lend money or co-sign for a loan to friends or family as it can often end up in a loss of money and a friend. Additionally, the best way to avoid a small claim case for a home repair is to write everything down, especially any changes to a contract.