Affiant

Someone who signs an affidavit.

A fortiori

Latin for “with even stronger reason,” which applies to a situation in which if one thing is true then it can be inferred that a second thing is even more certainly true.

A priori assumption

Latin, an assumption that is true without further proof or need to prove it. It is assumed the sun will come up tomorrow. However, it has a negative side: an a priori assumption made without question on the basis that no analysis or study is necessary, can be mental laziness when the reality is not so certain.

A.k.a.

Abbreviation for “also known as” when someone uses different initials, a nickname, a maiden or married name.

Ab initio

Latin for “from the beginning”, “from the start,” as “it was legal ab initio.”This term is used by lawyers intent upon getting their money’s worth from a liberal arts education by uttering such statements as “The judge was against me ab initio.”

AB trust

A trust that allows couples to reduce or avoid estate taxes. Each spouse puts his or her property in an AB trust. When the first spouse dies, his or her half of the property goes to the beneficiaries named in the trust — commonly, the grown children of the couple — with the crucial condition that the surviving spouse has the right to use the property for life and is entitled to any income it generates. The surviving spouse may even be allowed to spend principal in certain circumstances. When the surviving spouse dies, the property passes to the trust beneficiaries. It is not considered part of the second spouse’s estate for estate tax purposes. Using this kind of trust keeps the second spouse’s taxable estate half the size it would be if the property were left directly to the spouse. This type of trust is also known as a bypass or credit shelter trust.

Abandon

v. to intentionally and permanently give up, surrender, leave, desert or relinquish all interest or ownership in property, a home or other premises, a right of way, and even a spouse, family, or children. The word is often used in situations to determine whether a tenant has left his/her apartment and the property inside and does not intend to come back. Thus, a landlord can take over an apparently abandoned residence, but must store anything a tenant leaves behind and give notice to the tenant before selling the possessions which are left. To abandon children can mean to have no contact and give no support for a year or more.

Abandoned property

n. property left behind (often by a tenant) intentionally and permanently when it appears that the former owner (or tenant) does not intend to come back, pick it up, or use it. Examples may include possessions left in a house after the tenant has moved out or autos left beside a road for a long period of time, or patent rights of an inventor who does not apply for a patent and lets others use his invention without protest. One may have abandoned the property of contract rights by not doing what is required by the contract. However, an easement and other land rights are not abandoned property just because of non-use.

Abandonment

n. the act of intentionally and permanently giving up, surrendering, deserting or relinquishing property, premises, a right of way, a ship, contract rights, a spouse and/or children. of a child: A parent’s failure to provide any financial assistance to or communicate with his or her child over a period of time. When this happens, a court may deem the child abandoned by that parent and order that person’s parental rights terminated. Abandonment also describes situations in which a child is physically abandoned — for example, left on a doorstep, delivered to a hospital or put in a trash can. Physically abandoned children are usually placed in orphanages and made available for adoption. of a spouse: means intent at permanent separation, and with children a lengthy period of neither contact nor any support. of trademark: A situation in which the owner of a trademark or service mark does not use the mark for an extended period of time, fails to protest the unauthorized use of the mark by others or lets others use the mark without adequate supervision. If a trademark is abandoned, the owner loses her exclusive rights to the mark. In maritime law abandonment has a special meaning: when an owner surrenders a ship and its contents to a trustee for the benefit of claimants, particularly after a wreck. If one invents something and does not get a patent but allows others to use the invention or dedicates it to public use, the right to patent is probably abandoned. Confusion arises over abandonment of water rights, mining rights, or rights of way, since mere non-use is not sufficient to show abandonment.

Abatement

A reduction. 1) After a death, abatement occurs if the deceased person didn’t leave enough property to fulfill all the bequests made in the will and meet other expenses. Gifts left in the will are cut back in order to pay taxes, satisfy debts or take care of other gifts that are given priority under law or by the will itself; 2) the removal of a problem which is against public or private policy, or endangers others, including nuisances such as weeds that might catch fire on an otherwise empty lot; 3) an equal reduction of benefits to beneficiaries (heirs) when an estate is not large enough to pay each beneficiary in full. A reduction in some amount that is owed, usually granted by the person to whom the debt is owed,

Abduction

n. the criminal taking away of a person by persuasion (convincing someone-particularly a minor or a woman-he/she is better off leaving with the persuader), by fraud (telling the person he/she is needed, or that the mother or father wants him/her to come with the abductor), or by open force or violence. Originally abduction applied only to protect women and children as victims. Currently in most states it can also apply to an adult male. In fact, in some states like New York abduction meant the unlawful taking or detention of any female for purposes of “marriage, concubinage or prostitution.” Kidnapping is more limited, requiring force, threat of force upon an adult or the taking of children.

Abet

v. to help someone commit a crime, including helping them escape from police or plan the crime.

Abeyance

1) n. when the owner- ship of property has not been determined. Examples include title to real property in the estate of a person who has died and there is no obvious party to receive title or there appears to be no legal owner of the property, a shipwreck while it is being determined who has the right to salvage the ship and its cargo, or a bankrupt person’s property before the bankruptcy court has decided what property is available to creditors or alleged heirs. 2) legal jargon for “undetermined.”

Abrogate

v. to annul or repeal a law or pass legislation that contradicts the prior law. Abrogate also applies to revoking or withdrawing conditions of a contract.

Abscond

v. 1) traditionally to leave a jurisdiction (where the court, a process server or law enforcement can find one) to avoid being served with legal papers or being arrested. 2) a surprise leaving with funds or goods that have been stolen, as in “he absconded with the loot.”

Abstention doctrine

n. when the Supreme Court refuses to exercise its federal constitutional jurisdiction or declines to consider a question of state law arising from a case being appealed from a state court.

Abstract

n. in general, a summary of a record or document, such as an abstract of judgment or abstract of title to real property.

Abstract of judgment

n. a written summary of a judgment which states how much money the losing party owes to the person who won the lawsuit (judgment creditor), the rate of interest to be paid on the judgment amount, court costs, and any specific orders that the losing party (judgment debtor) must obey, which abstract is acknowledged and stamped so that it can be recorded at the county recorder. The purpose of an abstract of judgment is to create a public record and create a lien or claim if necessary on any real estate owned or later acquired by the loser located in the county in which the abstract of judgment is recorded. If the loser does not pay the judgment voluntarily then the winner can force a sheriff’s sale of any property to collect. There are several problems: a) to find the county where the loser owns real estate; b) the probability that there are secured loans, tax liens and/or other judgments that come ahead of the judgment lien; c) the possibility that the loser/debtor may go bankrupt and avoid paying the debt.

Abstract of title

A short history of a piece of land that lists any transfers in ownership, as well as any liabilities attached to it, such as mortgages.The written report on a title search which shows the history of every change of ownership on a piece of real estate, and any claims against the property, such as easements on the property, loans against it, deeds of trust, mortgages, liens, judgments, and real property taxes. Some abstracts only go back in history to the last change in title. In some places the abstract of title is prepared by a title company, and in other places by an individual who is called an abstractor. Most buyers and all lenders require the title report with an abstract. The information in the abstract is up to the moment, comes from the local county recorder’s office, and usually requires an expert search.

Abstract of trust

A condensed version of a living trust document, which leaves out details of what is in the trust and the identity of the beneficiaries. You can show an abstract of trust to a financial organization or other institution to prove that you have established a valid living trust, without revealing specifics that you want to keep private. In some states, this document is called a “certification of trust.”

Abuse

Misuse of the bankruptcy remedy. This term is typically applied to bankruptcy filings, because the debtor appears to have enough disposable income to fund a repayment plan. of discretion: A polite way of saying a trial judge has made such a bad mistake (“clearly against reason and evidence” or against established law) during a trial or on ruling on a motion that a person did not get a fair trial. A court of appeals will use a finding of this abuse as a reason to reverse the trial court judgment. Examples of “abuse of discretion” or judges’ mistakes include not allowing an important witness to testify, making improper comments that might influence a jury, showing bias, or making rulings on evidence that deny a person a chance to tell his or her side of the matter. This does not mean a trial or the judge has to be perfect, but it does mean that the judge’s actions were so far out of bounds that someone truly did not get a fair trial. Sometimes the appeals courts admit the judge was wrong, but not wrong enough to have influenced the outcome of the trial, often to the annoyance of the losing party. In criminal cases abuse of discretion can include sentences that are grossly too harsh. In a divorce action, it includes awarding alimony way beyond the established formula or the spouse’s or life partner’s realistic ability to pay. of process: the use of legal process by illegal, malicious, or perverted means. Examples include serving (officially giving) a complaint to someone when it has not actually been filed, just to intimidate an enemy; filing a false declaration of service (filing a paper untruthfully stating a lie that someone has officially given a notice to another person, filing a lawsuit which has no basis at law, but is intended to get information, force payment through fear of legal entanglement or gain an unfair or illegal advantage. Some people think they are clever by abusing the process this way. A few unscrupulous lawyers do so intentionally and can be subject to discipline and punishment. Sometimes a lawyer will abuse the process accidentally; an honest one will promptly correct the error and apologize.

Abut

v. when two parcels of real property touch each other.

Acceleration

n. 1) speeding up the time when there is vesting (absolute ownership) of an interest in an estate, when the interest in front of it is terminated earlier than expected; 2) in a contract or promissory note, when the payment of debt is moved up to the present time due to some event like non-payment of an installment or sale of the property which secures the debt.

Acceleration clause

n. a provision in a contract or promissory note that if some specified event (like not making payments on time) occurs then the entire amount is due or other requirements are due now, pronto. This clause is most often found in promissory notes with installment payments for purchase of real property and requires that if the property is sold then the entire amount of the note is due immediately (the so-called “due on sale clause”). Some states prohibit “due on sale” and always allow the new property owner to assume the debt.

Accept

v. to receive something with approval and intention to keep it. This use often arises on the question of accepting a payment which is late or not complete or accepting the “service” (delivery) of legal papers.

Acceptance

n. 1) receiving something from another with the intent to keep it, and showing that this was based on a previous agreement. 2) agreeing verbally or in writing to the terms of a contract, which is one of the requirements to show there was a contract (an offer and an acceptance of that offer). A written offer can be accepted only in writing. 3) receiving goods with the intention of paying for them if a sale has been agreed to. 4) agreement to pay a bill of exchange, which can be an “absolute acceptance” (to pay as the bill is written) or “conditional acceptance” (to pay only when some condition actually occurs such as the shipment or delivery of certain goods). “Acceptance” is most often used in the factual determination of whether a contract was entered into. of service: n. agreement by a defendant (or his/her attorney) in a legal action to accept a complaint or other petition (like divorce papers) without having the sheriff or process server show up at the door. The agreement of “acceptance of service” must be in writing or there is no proof that it happened. In most jurisdictions there is a form entitled “receipt and acknowledgment of acceptance of service” or similar language which must be signed, dated and sent back to the attorney who sent the complaint or petition. Attorneys must be careful that they have legal authority from a client to act on his/her behalf, because a client may deny later that he/she gave authority to accept service.

Access

n. 1) in real estate the right and ability to get to the property. 2) when a husband has the opportunity to make love to his wife, it is said he has access. This rather vulgar use of “access” has been important because if a husband “had access” to his wife during the time when she became pregnant, it is presumed he is the father. Modern use of blood tests and DNA studies may show the father to be someone other than the husband whether the husband “had access” or not.

Accessory

Someone who intentionally helps another person commit a felony by giving advice before the crime or helping to conceal the evidence or the perpetrator. An accessory is usually not physically present during the crime. For example, hiding a robber who is being sought by the police might make you an “accessory after the fact” to a robbery. Compare accomplice.

Accommodation

n. 1) a favor done without compensation (pay or consideration), such as a signature guaranteeing payment of a debt, sometimes called an accommodation endorsement. Such accommodation is not the smartest business practice, since the holder of the note can go after the accommodator rather than the debtor and will do so if the accommodator has lots of money or is easier to locate than the debtor. 2) giving in to an adversary on a point to make a deal work.

Accompanying relative

An immediate family member of someone who immigrates to the United States. In most cases, a person who is eligible to receive some type of visa or green card can also obtain green cards or similar visas for accompanying relatives. Accompanying relatives include spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21.

Accomplice

Someone who helps another person (known as the principal) commit a crime. Unlike an accessory, an accomplice is usually present when the crime is committed. An accomplice is guilty of the same offense and usually receives the same sentence as the principal. For instance, the driver of the getaway car for a burglary is an accomplice and will be guilty of the burglary even though he may not have entered the building.

Accord and satisfaction

An agreement to settle a contract dispute by accepting less than what’s due. This procedure is often used by creditors who want to cut their losses by collecting as much money as they can from debtors who cannot pay the full amount.

Account stated

n. a statement between a creditor or the person to whom money is owed and a debtor (the person who owes) that a particular amount is owed to the seller as of a certain date. Often the account stated is a bill, invoice or a summary of invoices, signed by the customer or sent to the customer who pays part or all of it without protest. This is important when a frustrated businessman sues for “account stated” which sets both the debtor’s liability and the exact amount the debtor must pay, which is less complicated than claiming a debt is due and payable. An account stated may carry a longer statute of limitations (time to file suit) than some other forms of debt depending on the state.

Accretion

n. 1) in real estate, the increase of the actual land on a stream, lake or sea by the action of water which deposits soil upon the shoreline. Accretion is Mother Nature’s little gift to a landowner. 2) in estates, when a beneficiary of the person who died gets more of the estate than he/she was meant to because another beneficiary or heir dies or rejects the gift. Example: if a brother and sister were supposed to divide a share of Dad’s estate, but brother doesn’t want it, then sister’s share grows by accretion. 3) in trusts, accretion occurs when a beneficiary gets a surprising increase in benefits due to an unexpected event.

Accrue

v. 1) growing or adding to, such as interest on a debt or investment which continues to accumulate. 2) the coming into being of the right to bring a lawsuit. For example, the right to sue on a contract only accrues when the contract is breached (not on mere suspicion that it might be breached) or when the other party repudiates the contract (anticipatory breach).

Accumulation trust

A trust in which the income is retained and not paid out to beneficiaries until certain conditions are met. For example, if Uncle Pierre creates a trust for Nick’s benefit but stipulates that Nick will not get a penny until he gets a Ph.D. in French; Nick is the beneficiary of an accumulation trust.

Acknowledge

v. 1) generally to admit something, whether bad, good or indifferent. 2) to verify to a notary public or other officer (such as a County Clerk) that the signer executed (wrote, signed) the document like a deed, lease, or power of attorney, to make it certified as legal and suitable for recording.

Acknowledged father

The biological father of a child born to an unmarried couple who has been established as the father either by his admission or by an agreement between him and the child’s mother. An acknowledged father must pay child support.

Acknowledgment

A statement you make in front of a notary public or other person who is authorized to administer oaths stating that a document bearing your signature was actually signed by you.

Acquittal

A decision by a judge or jury that a defendant in a criminal case is not guilty of a crime. An acquittal is not a finding of innocence; it is simply a conclusion that the prosecution has not proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.

Act

1) n. in general, any action by a person. 2) n. a statutory plan passed by Congress or any legislature which is a “bill” until enacted and becomes law. 3) v. for a court to make a decision and rule on a motion or petition, as in “the court will act on your motion for a new trial.” A bill which has passed through the various legislative steps required for it and which has become law.

Act of God

An extraordinary and unexpected natural event, such as a hurricane, tornado, earthquake or even the sudden death of a person. An act of God may be a defense against liability for injuries or damages. Under the law of contracts, an act of God often serves as a valid excuse if one of the parties to the contract is unable to fulfill his or her duties — for instance, completing a construction project on time.

Action

Another term for a lawsuit. For example, a plaintiff might say, “I began this negligence action last fall after the defendant, Ms. Adams, struck me while I was crossing the street at Elm and Main.”

Actionable

adj. when enough facts or circumstances exist to meet the legal requirements to file a legitimate lawsuit. If the facts required to prove a case cannot be alleged in the complaint, the case is not “actionable” and the client and his/her attorney should not file a suit. Of course, whether many cases are actionable is a matter of judgment and interpretation of the facts and/or law, resulting in many lawsuits that clog the courts. Incidentally, if a case is filed which is clearly not actionable, it may result in a lawsuit against the filer of the original suit for malicious prosecution by the defendant after he/she has won the original suit.

Actual controversy

n. a true legal dispute which leads to a genuine lawsuit rather than merely a “cooked up” legal action filed to get a court to give the equivalent of an advisory opinion. Federal courts, including the U.S. Supreme Court, will only consider an “actual controversy”, on appeal, since they will not give advisory (informal) opinions or make judgments on “friendly suits” filed to test the potential outcome.

Actual notice

n. having been informed directly of something or having seen it occur, as distinguished from constructive notice (e.g. a notice was mailed but not received, published in a newspaper, or placed in official records).

Actus reus

Latin for a “guilty act.” The actus reus is the act which, in combination with a certain mental state, such as intent or recklessness, constitutes a crime. For example, the crime of theft requires physically taking something (the actus reus) coupled with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the object (the mental state, or mens rea).

Ad hoc

Latin shorthand meaning “for this purpose only.” Thus, an ad hoc committee is formed for a specific purpose, usually appointed to solve a particular problem. An ad hoc attorney is one hired to handle one problem only and often is a specialist in a particular area or considered especially able to argue a key point.

Ad litem

Latin meaning “for the purposes of the legal action only.” Most often the term applies to a parent who files a lawsuit for his or her minor child as “guardian at litem” (guardian just for the purposes of the lawsuit) or for a person who is incompetent. Either at the time the lawsuit is filed or shortly thereafter, the parent petitions the court to allow him/her to be guardian ad litem, which is brought ex parte (without a noticed hearing) and is almost always granted. A person acting ad litem has the responsibility to pursue the lawsuit and to account for the money recovered for damages. If a child in such a lawsuit reaches majority (18 in most states) while the suit is pending, the ad litem guardianship terminates and the “new” adult can run his/her own lawsuit. Some courts require an order terminating the guardianship ad litem upon proof of coming of age.

Ad seriatim

Latin for “one after another”.

Ad valorem

Latin for “based on value,” which applies to property taxes based on a percentage of the county’s assessment of the property’s value. The assessed value is the standard basis for local real property taxes, although some place “caps” (maximums) on the percentage of value (as under Proposition 13 in California) or “parcel taxes” which establish a flat rate per parcel.

Addendum

n. an addition to a completed written document. Most commonly this is a proposed change or explanation (such as a list of goods to be included) in a contract, or some point that has been the subject of negotiation after the contract was originally proposed by one party. Real property sales agreements often have addenda (plural of addendum) as the buyer and seller negotiate fine points (how payments will be made, what appliances will be included, date of transfer of title, the terms of financing by the seller and the like). Although often they are not, addenda should be signed separately and attached to the original agreement so that there will be no confusion as to what is included or intended. Unsigned addenda could be confused with rough drafts or unaccepted proposals or included fraudulently.

Adeem

v. to revoke a gift made in a will by destroying, selling or giving away the gift item during the lifetime of the testator (writer of the will).

Ademption

The failure of a bequest of property in a will. The gift fails (is “adeemed”) because the person who made the will no longer owns the property when he or she dies. Often this happens because the property has been sold, destroyed or given away to someone other than the beneficiary named in the will. A bequest may also be adeemed when the will maker, while still living, gives the property to the intended beneficiary (called “ademption by satisfaction”). When a bequest is adeemed, the beneficiary named in the will is out of luck; he or she doesn’t get cash or a different item of property to replace the one that was described in the will. For example, Mark writes in his will, “I leave to Rob the family vehicle,” but then trades in his car in for a jet ski. When Mark dies, Rob will receive nothing. Frustrated beneficiaries may challenge an ademption in court, especially if the property was not clearly identified in the first place.

Adequate remedy

n. a remedy (money or performance) awarded by a court or through private action (including compromise) which affords “complete” satisfaction, and is “practical, efficient and appropriate” in the circumstances. In part this depends on what relief (like an order granting one an easement over a neighbor’s property or an order keeping the drunken husband away from the complaining wife) a party is seeking. A court is a bit self-congratulatory and subjectively judgmental when it announces that the remedy granted is “adequate” when it has done the best it can in the circumstances.

Adhesion contract

n.(contract of adhesion) a contract (often a signed form) so imbalanced in favor of one party over the other that there is a strong implication it was not freely bargained.

Adjourn

v. the final closing of a meeting, such as a convention, a meeting of the board of directors, or any official gathering. It should not be confused with a recess, meaning the meeting will break and then continue at a later time.

Adjudication

n. the act of giving a judicial ruling such as a judgment or decree. The term is used particularly in bankruptcy proceedings, in which the order declaring a debtor bankrupt is called an adjudication.

Adjustable rate mortgage (ARM)

A mortgage loan with an interest rate that fluctuates in accordance with a designated market indicator — such as the weekly average of one-year U.S. Treasury Bills — over the life of the loan. To avoid constant and drastic fluctuations, ARMs typically limit how often and by how much the interest rate can vary.

Adjusted basis

n. in accounting, the original cost of an asset adjusted for costs of improvements, depreciation, damage and other events which may have affected its value during the period of ownership. This is important in calculating capital gains for income tax purposes since the adjusted basis is generally higher than the original price and will lower capital gains taxes.

Adjuster

n. an employee (usually a non-lawyer) of an insurance company or an adjustment firm employed by an insurance company to negotiate an early settlement of a claim for damages against a person, a business or public body (like a city). Some insurance companies try to make the attorney deal with the adjuster, which is cheaper than sending the case to defense attorneys. Adjusters also represent the company in approving settlements.

Adjustment of status

The procedure for applying for a green card while living in the United States, by submitting an application and later attending an interview at a local USCIS office. Adjustment of status is available only to certain people. Not only do you have to be eligible for a green card in the first place, you must also, in most cases, be staying in the U.S. legally, with a visa or other status.

Administration (of an estate)

The court-supervised distribution of the probate estate of a deceased person. If there is a will that names an executor, that person manages the distribution. If not, the court appoints someone, who is generally known as the administrator. In some states, the person is called the “personal representative” in either instance.

Administrative expenses

The trustee’s fee, the debtor’s attorney fees, and other costs of bringing a bankruptcy case that a debtor must pay in full in a Chapter 13 repayment plan. Administrative costs are typically 10% of the debtor’s total payments under the plan.

Administrator

A person appointed by a probate court to handle the distribution of property of someone who has died without a will, or with a will that fails to name someone to carry out this task. Administrator ad litem: A person appointed by a probate court to represent an estate during a lawsuit. (Ad litem is Latin for “during the litigation.”) An administrator ad litem is appointed only if there is no existing executor or administrator of the estate, or if the executor or administrator has conflicting interests. For example, Jerry’s will leaves most of his property to his brother, Jeff, and also names Jeff as executor of the will. But Jerry’s sister, Janine, feels that Jerry made the will under improper pressure from Jeff, and brings a lawsuit to challenge it. The court appoints an administrator ad litem to represent Jerry’s estate while the lawsuit is in progress. Also known as administrator ad prosequendum, meaning administrator “during the prosecution.” Administrator ad prosequendum: See administrator ad litem. Administrator cum testamento annexo: See administrator with will annexed.Administrator de bonis non (DBN):Latin for “administrator of goods not administered.” This term refers to the person appointed by a probate court to finish probate proceedings when the executor or previous administrator can’t finish the job.Administrator de bonis non cum testamento annexo (DBNCTA):A baffling title for an administrator appointed by a probate court to take over probate proceedings when the named executor dies, leaving the job unfinished. Administrator pendente lite:Latin for “administrator pending litigation.” This term refers to the person appointed by a court to begin probate proceedings during a lawsuit that challenges the will. The administrator pendente lite takes an inventory of the deceased person’s property and handles the business affairs of the estate until the dispute is settled. Also called a special administrator. Administrator with will annexed:An administrator who takes the place of an executor under a will. The administrator steps in either when a will fails to nominate an executor or the named executor is unable to serve. Also called administrator cum testamento annexo or CTA, the Latin version of “with the will annexed.”

Administratrix

An outdated term for a female administrator — the person appointed by a court to handle probate on behalf of someone who died without a will. Now, whether male or female, this person is called the administrator.

Admiralty

n. concerning activities which occur at sea, including on small boats and ships in navigable bays. Admiralty law (maritime law) includes accidents and injuries at sea, maritime contracts and commerce, alleged violations of rules of the sea over shipping lanes and rights-of-way, and mutiny and other crimes on shipboard. Jurisdiction over all these matters rests in the federal courts, which do not use juries in admiralty cases. There are other special rules in processing maritime cases, which are often handled by admiralty law specialists. Lawyers appearing in admiralty cases are called “proctors.”

Admissible evidence

The evidence that a trial judge or jury may consider, because the rules of evidence deem it reliable. See evidence, inadmissible evidence.

Admission

1) An out-of-court statement by your adversary that you offer into evidence as an exception to hearsay rule. 2) One side’s statement that certain facts are true in response to a request from the other side during discovery. against interest: n. an admission of the truth of a fact by any person, but especially by the parties to a lawsuit, when a statement obviously would do that person harm, be embarrassing, or be against his/her personal or business interests. Another party can quote in court an admission against interest even though it is only hearsay. of evidence: a judge’s acceptance of evidence in a trial. of guilt: a statement by someone accused of a crime that he/she committed the offense. If the admission is made outside court to a police officer it may be introduced as evidence if the defendant was given the proper warnings as to his/her rights (“Miranda warning”) before talking.

Adoption

A court procedure by which an adult becomes the legal parent of someone who is not his or her biological child. Adoption creates a parent-child relationship recognized for all legal purposes — including child support obligations, inheritance rights and custody.

Adult

In most situations, any person 18 years of age or older.

Adultery

Consensual sexual relations by a married person with someone other than his or her spouse. In many states, adultery is technically a crime, though people are rarely prosecuted for it. In states that have retained fault grounds for divorce, adultery is always sufficient grounds for a divorce. In addition, some states alter the distribution of property between divorcing spouses in cases of adultery, giving less to the “cheating” spouse.

Advance

n. a payment which is made before it is legally due, such as before shipment is made, a sale is completed, a book is completed by the author, or a note is due to be paid.

Advance parole

In the immigration context, advance parole may be granted to a person who is already in the United States but needs to leave temporarily, without a visa. With advance parole, the applicant’s pending immigration application will not be cancelled while he or she is gone.

Advancement

n. a gift made by a person to one of his or her children or heirs (a presumptive heir since an heir is only determined on the date of death) in anticipation of a gift from the still-living parent’s potential estate as an advance on one’s inheritance. A person making an advancement should leave a written statement about the advancement or get a signed receipt. Such gifts made shortly before death are more readily treated as an advancement than one made several years earlier.

Adverse

adj. clearly contrary, such as an adverse party being the one suing you. An adverse interest in real property is a claim against the property, such as an easement.

Adverse interest

n. a right or concern that is contrary to the interest or claim of another.

Adverse party

n. the opposite side in a lawsuit. Sometimes when there are numerous parties and cross-complaints, parties may be adverse to each other on some issues and in agreement on other matters. Two beneficiaries of a person who has died may join together to claim a will was valid, but fight each other over the assets of the dead person’s estate if the court rules the will was legal.

Adverse possession

A means by which one can legally take another’s property without paying for it. The requirements for adversely possessing property vary between states, but usually include continuous and open use for a period of five or more years and paying taxes on the property in question.

Adverse witness

n. a witness in a trial who is found by the judge to be adverse to the position of the party whose attorney is questioning the witness, even though the attorney called the witness to testify on behalf of his/her client. When the attorney calling the witness finds that answers are contrary to the legal position of his/her client or the witness becomes openly antagonistic, the attorney may request the judge to declare the witness to be “adverse” or “hostile.” If the judge declares the witness to be adverse (i.e. hostile) then the attorney may ask “leading” questions which suggest answers or are challenging to the testimony just as on cross examination of a witness who has testified for the opposition.

Advisory opinion

n. an opinion stated by a judge or a court upon the request of a legislative body or government agency. An advisory opinion has no force of law but is given as a matter of courtesy. A private citizen cannot get an advisory ruling from a court and can only get rulings in an actual lawsuit. State attorneys general also give advisory opinions at the request of government officials. These opinions are often cited as the probable correct law on the subject but are not binding.

Affidavit

n. 1) any written document in which the signer swears under oath before a notary public or someone authorized to take oaths (like a County Clerk), that the statements in the document are true. 2) in many states a declaration under penalty of perjury, which does not require the oath-taking before a notary, is the equivalent of an affidavit.

Affirm

v. what an appeals court does if it agrees with and confirms a lower court’s decision.

Affirmative action

Positive or constructive action rather than inaction. Affirmative action programs and regulations attempt to compensate for discriminatory practices that have in the past denied fair consideration to members of minority groups. For example, an all-white government office may take steps to hire people of color. Or, a mostly-male college program may seek to balance its admissions by giving preference to female applicants. Affirmative action programs are controversial in the present political climate — many have recently been eradicated or have come under attack — and the subject is likely to be hotly debated for many years to come.

Affirmative defense

An explanation for a defendant’s actions that excuses or justifies his behavior. For example, acting in self-defense is a common affirmative defense to a charge of battery or homicide. Other affirmative defenses include insanity, duress and intoxication.

Affix

v. 1) to attach something to real estate in a permanent way, including planting trees and shrubs, constructing a building, or adding to existing improvements. The key is that affixed items are permanent and cannot be picked up and moved away like a washing machine. 2) to sign or seal, as affix a signature or a seal.

After-acquired property

n. 1) personal or real property acquired by a debtor after he/she has agreed that all his/her property secures a debt. Thus, the new property also becomes security for the debt. This includes improvements to real property which is security on a deed of trust or mortgage and personal property pledged in a security agreement. 2) in bankruptcy, property acquired by the bankrupt person after he/she has filed papers to be declared bankrupt. This after-acquired property is not included in the assets which may be used to pay any debts which existed at the time of bankruptcy filing.

After-acquired title

n. title to property acquired after the owner attempts to sell or transfer the title to another person before he/she actually got legal title. When the title is acquired by the seller in this paper shuffle, title automatically goes to the person to whom it was sold, passing through the person who acquired title “like a dose of salts” on its way to the new purchaser.

After-discovered evidence

n. evidence found by a losing party after a trial has been completed and judgment (or criminal conviction) given, also called newly-discovered evidence. If the evidence absolutely could not have been discovered at the time of trial, it may be considered on a motion for a new trial.

Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA)

A federal law that prohibits arbitrary discrimination against workers over the age of 40 in any employment decision, especially firing. The ADEA also provides that no worker can be forced to retire.

Age of majority

Adulthood in the eyes of the law. After reaching the age of majority, a person is permitted to vote, make a valid will, enter into binding contracts, enlist in the armed forces and purchase alcohol. Also, parents may stop making child support payments when a child reaches the age of majority. In most states the age of majority is 18, but this varies depending on the activity. For example, in some states people are allowed to vote when they reach the age of eighteen, but can’t purchase alcohol until they’re 21.

Agent

A person authorized to act for and under the direction of another person when dealing with third parties. The person who appoints an agent is called the principal. An agent can enter into binding agreements on the principal’s behalf and may even create liability for the principal if the agent causes harm while carrying out his or her duties. See also attorney-in-fact.

Aggravate

To make more serious or severe.

Aggravating circumstances

Circumstances that increase the seriousness or outrageousness of a given crime, and that in turn increase the wrongdoer’s penalty or punishment. For example, the crime of aggravated assault is a physical attack made worse because it is committed with a dangerous weapon, results in severe bodily injury or is made in conjunction with another serious crime. Aggravated assault is usually considered a felony, punishable by a prison sentence.

Agreement

A meeting of the minds. An agreement is made when two people reach an understanding about a particular issue, including their obligations, duties and rights. While agreement is sometimes used to mean contract — a legally binding oral or written agreement — it is actually a broader term, including understandings that might not rise to the level of a legally binding contract.

Alien registration receipt card (ARC)

The official name used in immigration law for a green card.

Alimony

The money paid by one ex-spouse to the other for support under the terms of a court order or settlement agreement following a divorce. Except in marriages of long duration (ten years or more) or in the case of an ailing spouse, alimony usually lasts for a set period, with the expectation that the recipient spouse will become self-supporting. Alimony is also called “spousal support” or “maintenance.”

Aliquot

adj. a definite fractional share, usually applied when dividing and distributing a dead person’s estate or trust assets.

Allegation

A statement by a party in a pleading describing what that party’s position is and what that party intends to prove.

Alluvion

n. an increase in one’s land from soil deposited on the shoreline by natural action of a stream, river, bay or ocean.

Alter ego

n. a corporation, organization or other entity set up to provide a legal shield for the person actually controlling the operation.

Alternate beneficiary

A person, organization or institution that receives property through a will, trust or insurance policy when the first named beneficiary is unable or refuses to take the property. For example, in his will Jake leaves his collection of sheet music to his daughter, Mia, and names the local symphony as alternate beneficiary. When Jake dies, Mia decides that the symphony can make better use of the sheet music than she can, so she refuses (disclaims) the gift, and the manuscripts pass directly to the symphony. In insurance law, the alternate beneficiary, usually the person who receives the insurance proceeds because the initial or primary beneficiary has died, is called the secondary or contingent beneficiary.

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR)

A catchall term that describes a number of methods used to resolve disputes out of court, including negotiation, conciliation, mediation and the many types of arbitration. The common denominator of all ADR methods is that they are faster, less formalistic, cheaper and often less adversarial than a court trial. In recent years the term Alternative Dispute Resolution has begun to lose favor in some circles and ADR has come to mean Appropriate Dispute Resolution. The point of this semantic change is to emphasize that ADR methods stand on their own as effective ways to resolve disputes and should not be seen simply as alternatives to a court action.

Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

A federal law that prohibits discrimination against people with physical or mental disabilities in employment, public services and places of public accommodation, such as restaurants, hotels and theaters.

Amicus curiae

Latin for “friend of the court.” This term describes a person or organization that is not a party to a lawsuit as plaintiff or defendant but that has a strong interest in the case and wants to get its two cents in. For example, the ACLU often submits materials to support a person who claims a violation of civil rights even though that person is represented by a lawyer.

Ancillary probate

A probate proceeding conducted in a different state from the one the deceased person resided in at the time of death. Usually, ancillary probate proceedings are necessary if the deceased person owned real estate in another state.

Annual meeting

A term commonly used to refer to annual meetings of shareholders or directors of a corporation. Shareholders normally meet to elect directors or to consider major structural changes to the corporation, such as amending the articles of incorporation or merging or dissolving the corporation. Directors meet to consider or ratify important business decisions, such as borrowing money, buying real property or hiring key employees.

Annuity

A purchased policy that pays a fixed amount of benefits every year — although most annuities actually pay monthly — for the life of the person who is entitled to those benefits. In a simple life annuity, when the person receiving the annuity dies, the benefits stop; there is no final lump sum payment and no provision to pay benefits to a spouse or other survivor. A continuous annuity pays monthly installments for the life of the retired worker, and also provides a smaller continuing annuity for the worker’s spouse or other survivor after the worker’s death. A joint and survivor annuity pays monthly benefits as long as the retired worker is alive, and then continues to pay the worker’s spouse for life.

Annulment

A court procedure that dissolves a marriage and treats it as if it never happened. Annulments are rare since the advent of no-fault divorce but may be obtained in most states for one of the following reasons: misrepresentation, concealment (for example, of an addiction or criminal record), misunderstanding and refusal to consummate the marriage.

Answer

A defendant’s written response to a plaintiff’s initial court filing (called a complaint or petition). An answer normally denies some or all facts asserted by the complaint, and sometimes seeks to turn the tables on the plaintiff by making allegations or charges against the plaintiff (called counterclaims). Normally a defendant has 30 days in which to file an answer after being served with the plaintiff’s complaint. In some courts, an answer is simply called a “response.”

Antenuptial (prenuptial) agreement

n. a written contract between two people who are about to marry, setting out the terms of possession of assets, treatment of future earnings, control of the property of each, and potential division if the marriage is later dissolved.

Anticipation

In patent law, a situation in which an invention is “anticipated” by being too similar to an earlier invention to be considered novel. Because novelty is a requirement for a patent, anticipated inventions are not patentable. Anticipation can occur when a prior invention or printed publication matches all of the primary characteristics of the invention, or it can happen when the invention is displayed or offered for sale more than a year prior to filing a patent application. For example, a bird owner invents a device to keep her bird from picking at its tail feathers. She applies for a patent, but her application is rejected on the ground that the same device was in use 3500 years ago in Egypt. In patent-speak, the inventor’s creation has been anticipated by previous developments (the prior art.)

Anticipatory breach

n. when a party to a contract repudiates (reneges on) his/her obligations under that contract before fully performing those obligations. This can be by word (“I won’t deliver the rest of the goods” or “I can’t make any more payments”) or by action (not showing up with goods or stopping payments). The result is that the other party does not have to perform his/her obligations and cannot be liable for not doing so. This is often a defense to a lawsuit for payment or performance on a contract. One cannot repudiate his obligations and demand that the other person perform.

Antitrust laws

n. acts adopted by Congress to outlaw or restrict business practices considered to be monopolistic or which restrain interstate commerce. The Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890 declared illegal “every contract, combination…or conspiracy in restraint of trade or commerce” between states or foreign countries. The Clayton Antitrust Act of 1914, amended by the Robinson-Patman Act of 1936, prohibits discrimination among customers through pricing and disallows mergers, acquisitions or takeovers of one firm by another if the effect will “substantially lessen competition.” Interstate commerce includes commerce within a state which affects the flow of that commerce, thus making it pretty broad. There are also some state laws against restraint of trade. The Antitrust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice enforces for the federal government, but private lawsuits to halt antitrust activities have become increasingly popular, particularly since attorney’s fees are awarded to the winning party. This is a legal specialty which has kept some industries relatively honest and made some lawyers wealthy.

Appeal

A written request to a higher court to modify or reverse the judgment of a trial court or intermediate level appellate court. Normally, an appellate court accepts as true all the facts that the trial judge or jury found to be true, and decides only whether the judge made mistakes in understanding and applying the law. If the appellate court decides that a mistake was made that changed the outcome, it will direct the lower court to conduct a new trial, but often the mistakes are deemed “harmless” and the judgment is left alone. Some mistakes are corrected by the appellate court — such as a miscalculation of money damages — without sending the case back to the trial court. An appeal begins when the loser at trial — or in an intermediate level appellate court — files a notice of appeal, which must be done within strict time limits (often 30 days from the date of judgment). The loser (called the appellant) and the winner (called the appellee) submit written arguments (called briefs) and often make oral arguments explaining why the lower court’s decision should be upheld or overturned.

Appellant

A party to a lawsuit who appeals a losing decision to a higher court in an effort to have it modified or reversed.

Appellate court

A higher court that reviews the decision of a lower court when a losing party files for an appeal.

Appellee

A party to a lawsuit who wins in the trial court — or sometimes on a first appeal — only to have the other party (called the appellant) file for an appeal. An appellee files a written brief and often makes an oral argument before the appellate court, asking that the lower court’s judgment be upheld. In some courts, an appellee is called a respondent.

Appraisal

A determination of the value of something, such as a house, jewelry or stock. A professional appraiser — a qualified, disinterested expert — makes an estimate by examining the property, and looking at the initial purchase price and comparing it with recent sales of similar property. Courts commonly order appraisals in probate, condemnation, bankruptcy or foreclosure proceedings in order to determine the fair market value of property. Banks and real estate companies use appraisals to ascertain the worth of real estate for lending purposes. And insurance companies require appraisals to determine the amount of damage done to covered property before settling insurance claims.

Appraiser

A person who is hired to determine the current value of real estate or other property.

Appreciation

An increase in value. Appreciated property is property that has gone up in value since it was acquired.

Arbitration

A non-court procedure for resolving disputes using one or more neutral third parties — called the arbitrator or arbitration panel. Arbitration uses rules of evidence and procedure that are less formal than those followed in trial courts, which usually leads to a faster, less-expensive resolution. There are many types of arbitration in common use: Binding arbitration is similar to a court proceeding in that the arbitrator has the power to impose a decision, although this is sometimes limited by agreement — for example, in “hi-lo arbitration” the parties may agree in advance to a maximum and minimum award. In non-binding arbitration, the arbitrator can recommend but not impose a decision. Many contracts — including those imposed on customers by many financial and healthcare organizations — require mandatory arbitration in the event of a dispute. This may be reasonable when the arbitrator really is neutral, but is justifiably criticized when the large company that writes the contract is able to influence the choice of the arbitrator.

Arguendo

Latin meaning “for the sake of argument,” used by lawyers in the context of “assuming arguendo” that the facts were as the other party contends, but the law prevents the other side from prevailing.

Argument

A persuasive presentation of the law and facts of a case or particular issue within a case to the judge or jury.

Arraignment

A court appearance in which the defendant is formally charged with a crime and asked to respond by pleading guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. Other matters often handled at the arraignment are arranging for the appointment of a lawyer to represent the defendant and the setting of bail.

Arrearages

Overdue alimony or child support payments. In recent years, state laws have made it difficult to impossible to get rid of arrearages; they can’t be discharged in bankruptcy, and courts usually will not retroactively cancel them. A spouse or parent who falls on tough times and is unable to make payments should request a temporary modification of the payments before the arrearages build up.

Arrest

A situation in which the police detain a person in a manner that, to any reasonable person, makes it clear she is not free to leave. A person can be “under arrest” even though the police have not announced it; nor are handcuffs or physical restraint necessary. Questioning an arrested person about her involvement in or knowledge of a crime must be preceded by the Miranda warnings if the police intend to use the answers against the person in a criminal case. If the arrested person chooses to remain silent, the questioning must stop.

Arrest warrant

A document issued by a judge or magistrate that authorizes the police to arrest someone. Warrants are issued when law enforcement personnel present evidence to the judge or magistrate that convinces her that it is reasonably likely that a crime has taken place and that the person to be named in the warrant is criminally responsible for that crime.

Articles of incorporation

A document filed with state authorities (usually the Secretary of State or Corporations Commissioner, depending on the state) to form a corporation. As required by the general incorporation law of the state, the Articles normally include the purpose of the corporation, its principal place of business, the names of its initial directors who will control it, and the amounts and types of stock it is authorized to issue.

Assault

A crime that occurs when one person tries to physically harm another in a way that makes the person under attack feel immediately threatened. Actual physical contact is not necessary; threatening gestures that would alarm any reasonable person can constitute an assault.

Asset

n. generally any item of property that has monetary value, including articles with only sentimental value (particularly in the estates of the dead). Assets are shown in balance sheets of businesses and inventories of probate estates. There are current assets (which includes accounts receivable), fixed assets (basic equipment and structures), and such intangibles as business good will and rights to market a product.

Assignee

A person to whom a property right is transferred. For example, an assignee may take over a lease from a tenant who wants to permanently move out before the lease expires. The assignee takes control of the property and assumes all the legal rights and responsibilities of the tenant, including payment of rent. However, the original tenant remains legally responsible if the assignee fails to pay the rent.

Assignment

A transfer of property rights from one person to another, called the assignee. Of copyright: The unconditional transfer of all rights contained in a copyright from the owner to another person or entity.

Association

A group of people who have joined together for a common purpose. Unlike a corporation, an association is not a legal entity. The law may treat an association like a corporation, however, if it has been operating in a corporate manner — for example, if it has a charter and shareholders.

Assured

n. the person or entity that is insured, often found in insurance contracts.

Asylum

Also called “political asylum.” This is a legal status granted to someone who has fled to the United States and submitted an application proving that he or she fears persecution if forced to return to his or her home country. Asylees can apply for a green card one year after their asylum approval.

At issue memorandum

A document that states that all parties to a case have been served, that the parties disagree (or are “at issue”) over one or more points to be resolved at trial, and how much time the parties estimate will be required for trial.

At will employment

The right of employers to fire employees for any reason, or for no reason at all. It also gives employees the legal right to quit their jobs at any time for any reason. Despite this legal doctine, employers may not fire employees in a way that discriminates, violates public policy or conflicts with written or implied promises they make concerning the length of employment or grounds for termination.

Attestation

The act of watching someone sign a legal document, such as a will or power of attorney, and then signing your own name as a witness. When you witness a document in this way, you are attesting — that is, stating and confirming — that the person whom you watched sign the document in fact did so. Attesting to a document does not mean that you are vouching for its accuracy or truthfulness. You are only acknowledging that you watched it being signed by the person whose name is on the signature line.

Attorney

n. 1) an agent or someone authorized to act for another. 2) a person who has been qualified by a state or federal court to provide legal services, including appearing in court. Each state has a bar examination which is a qualifying test to practice law. The examinations vary in difficulty, but cannot be taken until the applicant is a graduate of an accredited law school (with a three-year minimum course of study) or in seven states has fulfilled extensive other training. Passage of the bar examination qualifies the attorney for that state only and for the federal courts located in that state (and other federal courts upon request). Some states will accept attorneys from other states, but many will not grant this “reciprocity” and require at least a basic test for out-of-state attorneys. Attorneys from other states may practice in a limited way, but cannot appear (except on a single case with court permission) in state courts (but in federal courts). Graduation from law school does not make one an attorney. There are also patent attorneys who can practice in federal patent courts only and have both legal and engineering training. Most patent attorneys today are regular attorneys who specialize. An alternate word for lawyers or barrister and solicitor, used mostly in the USA.

Attorney at law (or attorney-at-law)

n. a way of saying attorney or lawyer.

Attorney fees

The payment made to a lawyer for legal services. These fees may take several forms: 1) hourly; 2) per job or service — for example, $350 to draft a will; 3) contingency (the lawyer collects a percentage of any money she wins for her client and nothing if there is no recovery), or 4) retainer (usually a down payment as part of an hourly or per job fee agreement). Attorney fees must usually be paid by the client who hires a lawyer, though occasionally a law or contract will require the losing party of a lawsuit to pay the winner’s court costs and attorney fees. For example, a contract might contain a provision that says the loser of any lawsuit between the parties to the contract will pay the winner’s attorney fees. Many laws designed to protect consumers also provide for attorney fees — for example, most state laws that require landlords to provide habitable housing also specify that a tenant who sues and wins using that law may collect attorney fees. And in family law cases — divorce, custody and child support — judges often have the power to order the more affluent spouse to pay the other spouse’s attorney fees, even where there is no clear victor.

Attorney General

Head of the United States Department of Justice and chief law officer of the Federal government. The Attorney General represents the United States in legal matters, oversees federal prosecutors, and provides legal advice to the President and to heads of executive governmental departments. Each state also has an attorney general, responsible for advising the governor and state agencies and departments about legal issues, and overseeing state prosecuting attorneys.

Attorney work product privilege

A rule that protects materials prepared by a lawyer in preparation for trial from being seen and used by the adversary during discovery or trial.

Attorney-client privilege

A rule that keeps communications between an attorney and her client confidential and bars them from being used as evidence in a trial, or even being seen by the opposing party during discovery.

Attorney-in-fact

A person named in a written power of attorney document to act on behalf of the person who signs the document, called the principal. The attorney-in-fact’s power and responsibilities depend on the specific powers granted in the power of attorney document. An attorney-in-fact is an agent of the principal.

Attractive nuisance

Something on a piece of property that attracts children but also endangers their safety. For example, unfenced swimming pools, open pits, farm equipment and abandoned refrigerators have all qualified as attractive nuisances.

Audit

An examination of the financial records of a person, business, or organization, typically done to correct careless or improper bookkeeping or to verify that proper records are being kept. Businesses and nonprofits often undergo an annual audit by an independent accounting firm. The IRS also conducts audits, mainly to assess taxes owed.

Augmented estate

In general terms, an augmented estate consists of property owned by both a deceased person and his or her spouse. The concept of the augmented estate is used only in some states. Its value is calculated only if a surviving spouse declines whatever he or she was left by will and instead claims a share of the deceased spouse’s estate. (This is called taking against the will.) The amount of this “statutory share” or “elective share” depends on state law.

Authenticate

To offer testimony that tells the judge what an item of evidence is and its connection to the case.

Author

In terms of copyright protection, either the person who creates the work, the person or business that pays another to create the work in an employment context or the person or business that commissions the work under a valid work for hire contract. For example, a songwriter may write a song, but if he is employed by a company to do so, the company is the author of that song for copyright purposes.

Authorities

n. 1) previous decisions by courts of appeal which provide legal guidance to a court on questions in a current lawsuit, which are called “precedents.” Legal briefs (written arguments) are often called “points and authorities.” Thus, a lawyer “cites” the previously decided cases as “authorities” for his/her legal positions. 2) a common term for law enforcement, as in “I’m going to call the authorities” (i.e. police).

Authorize

v. to officially empower someone to act.

Automatic stay

An injunction automatically issued by the bankruptcy court when a debtor files for bankruptcy. The automatic stay prohibits most creditor collection activities, such as filing or continuing lawsuits, making written requests for payment, or notifying credit reporting bureaus of an unpaid debt.

Avails

Any amount available to the owner of an insurance policy other than the actual proceeds of the policy. Avails include dividend payments, interest, cash or surrender value (the money you’d get if you sold your policy back to the insurance company) and loan value (the amount of cash you can borrow against the policy).

Avowal

A direct statement or declaration. Also, a statement made by a witness after the judge has ruled that his or her testimony is not admissible at trial. This statement “preserves” the testimony so that it may be considered by the court if the trial’s outcome is an appeal.

Award

1) n. the decision of an arbitrator or commissioner (or any non-judicial arbiter) of a controversy. 2) v. to give a judgment of money to a party to a lawsuit, arbitration, or administrative claim.

Bachelor of Laws

n. the degree in law from a law school, abbreviated to LLB, which means that the recipient has successfully completed three years of law studies in addition to at least three undergraduate years on any subject. Since the early 1960s most accredited law schools grant a Juris Doctor (JD) degree instead of the LLB. Law schools which made the switch allowed the prior holders of the LLB to claim the JD retroactively.

Bad debt

n. an uncollectible debt. The problem is to determine when a debt is realistically dead, which means there must be some evidence of uncollectibility or a lengthy passage of time. Discharge in bankruptcy, the running of the statute of limitations to bring a lawsuit, disappearance of the debtor, a pattern of avoiding debts or the destruction of the collateral security can all make a debt “bad.” For income tax deduction purposes such a debt in business is deductible against ordinary income and such a personal debt is deductible against short-term capital gains. A debt due for services rendered is not a bad debt for tax purposes, since there is just no income on which to be taxed.

Bad faith

1) n. intentional dishonest act by not fulfilling legal or contractual obligations, misleading another, entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or violating basic standards of honesty in dealing with others. Most states recognize what is called “implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing” which is breached by acts of bad faith, for which a lawsuit may be brought (filed) for the breach (just as one might sue for breach of contract). The question of bad faith may be raised as a defense to a suit on a contract. 2) adj. when there is bad faith then a transaction is called a “bad faith” contract or “bad faith” offer.

Bail

The money paid to the court, usually at arraignment or shortly thereafter, to ensure that an arrested person who is released from jail will show up at all required court appearances. The amount of bail is determined by the local bail schedule, which is based on the seriousness of the offense. The judge can increase the bail if the prosecutor convinces him that the defendant is likely to flee (for example, if he has failed to show up in court in the past), or he can decrease it if the defense attorney shows that the defendant is unlikely to run (for example, he has strong ties to the community by way of a steady job and a family).

Bail bond

The money posted by a “bondsman” for a defendant who cannot afford his bail. The defendant pays a certain portion, usually 10%. If the defendant fails to appear for a court hearing, the judge can issue a warrant for his arrest and threaten to “forfeit,” or keep, the money if the defendant doesn’t appear soon. Usually, the bondsman will look for the defendant and bring him back, forcefully if necessary, in order to avoid losing the bail money.

Bailiff

n. 1) a court official, usually a deputy sheriff, who keeps order in the courtroom and handles various errands for the judge and clerk. 2) in some jurisdictions, a person appointed by the court to handle the affairs of an incompetent person or to be a “keeper” of goods or money pending further order of the court. “Bailiff” has its origin in Old French and Middle English for custodian, and in the Middle Ages was a significant position in the English court system. The word “bailiwick” originally meant the jurisdictional territory of a bailiff.

Bailor

Someone who delivers an item of personal property to another person for a specific purpose. For example, a person who leaves a broken VCR with a repairman in order to get it fixed would be a bailor.

Bait and switch

n. a dishonest sales practice in which a business advertises a bargain price for an item in order to draw customers into the store and then tells the prospective buyer that the advertised item is of poor quality or no longer available and attempts to switch the customer to a more expensive product. Electronic items such as stereos, televisions, or telephones are favorites, but there are also loan interest rates which turn out to be only for short term or low maximums, and then the switch is to a more expensive loan. In most states this practice is a crime and can also be the basis for a personal lawsuit if damages can be proved. The business using “bait and switch” is an apt target for a class action since there are many customers but each transaction scarcely warrants the costs of a separate suit.

Balance due

n. the amount of a debt still owed on an account or the principal owed on a promissory note. In the case of a promissory note, the balance due is not the sum of installments due, since these include amortized interest, but may be the principal due without further interest.

Balance sheet

n. the statement of the assets and the liabilities (amounts owed) of a business at a particular time usually prepared each month, quarter of a year, annually, or upon sale of the business. It is intended to show the overall condition of the business. A balance sheet should not be confused with a profit and loss statement, which is an indicator of the current activity and health of the business.

Balloon payment

A large final payment due at the end of a loan, typically a home or car loan, to pay off the amount your monthly payments didn’t cover. Many states prohibit balloon payments in loans for goods or services that are primarily for personal, family or household use, or require the lender to let you refinance the balloon payment before forcing collection.

Bank

n. 1) an officially chartered institution empowered to receive deposits, make loans, and provide checking and savings account services, all at a profit. In the United States banks must be organized under strict requirements by either the federal or a state government. Banks receive funds for loans from the Federal Reserve System provided they meet safe standards of operation and have sufficient financial reserves. Bank accounts are insured up to $100,000 per account by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Most banks are so-called “commercial” banks with broad powers. In the east and midwest there are some “savings” banks which are basically mutual banks owned by the depositors, concentrate on savings accounts, and place their funds in such safe investments as government bonds. Savings and loan associations have been allowed to perform some banking services under so-called deregulation in 1981, but are not full-service commercial banks and lack strict regulation. Mortgage loan brokers and thrift institutions (often industrial loan companies) are not banks and do not have insurance and governmental control. Severe losses to customers of these institutions have occurred in times of economic contraction or due to insider profiteering or outright fraud. Credit unions are not banks, but are fairly safe since they are operated by the members of the industry, union or profession of the depositors and borrowers. 2) a group of judges sitting together as an appeals court, referred to as “in bank” or “en banc.”

Bankruptcy

A legal proceeding that relieves you of the responsibility of paying your debts or provides you with protection while attempting to repay your debts. There are two types of bankruptcies — liquidation, in which your debts are wiped out (discharged) and reorganization, in which you provide the court with a plan for how you intend to repay your debts. The formal condition of an insolvent person being declared bankrupt under law.

Bar

Collectively all attorneys, as “the bar,” which comes from the bar or railing which separates the general spectator area of the courtroom from the area reserved for judges, attorneys, parties and court officials.

Bar association

n. an organization of lawyers. There are two types, one of which is official and usually called an “integrated bar,” which is qualified by the particular state’s highest court to establish rules for admission and conduct. There are also local bar associations by city or county which are unofficial and voluntary, but do conduct the business of attorneys, such as settling fee disputes and working with the local courts on rules.

Bar examination

An examination for law school graduates who want a license to practice law. Once licensed in a particular state, an attorney can practice law in that state and in federal courts in that state. If the attorney moves to another state, he or she will need to take that state’s bar exam, unless the new state allows the attorney to practice without further examination after he or she has established legal residence. Lawyers from one state may occasionally practice in another with the consent of the court alone. Typically, bar exams are multi-day tests of endurance and knowledge, covering a wide range of legal topics.

Bargain

n. 1) a mutual agreement or contract between two parties which is voluntary and involves the exchange of consideration (money, goods, services, or a promise for a promise). 2) a supposed good deal.

Barrister

n. name for a lawyer or attorney. In Great Britain, there is a two-tier bar made up of solicitors, who perform all legal tasks except appearance in court, and barristers, who try cases.

Basis

For income and capital gains tax purposes, the value that is used to determine profit or loss when property is sold. Often the basis is what you paid for the property, “adjusted” to reflect improvements made or damage incurred while you own the property.

Battery

A crime consisting of physical contact that is intended to harm someone. Unintentional harmful contact is not battery, no mater how careless the behavior or how severe the injury. A fist fight is a common battery; being hit by a wild pitch in a baseball game is not.

Bearer

n. anyone holding something, such as a check, promissory note, bank draft, or bond. This becomes important when the document (generally called a “negotiable instrument”) states it is “payable to bearer,” which means whoever holds this paper can receive the funds due on it.

Bearer paper

n. negotiable instrument (e.g. a bond) which is payable to whoever has possession (the bearer).

Bench

The seat (usually a comfy chair rather than a bench) where a judge sits in the courtroom during a trial or hearing. Sometimes the word “bench” is used in place of the word “judge” — for example, someone might say she wants a bench trial, meaning a trial by a judge without a jury.

Beneficial interest

n. the right of a party to some profit, distribution, or benefit from a contract or trust. A beneficial interest is distinguished from the rights of someone like a trustee or official who has responsibility to perform and/or title to the assets but does not share in the benefits.

Beneficial use

n. the right to enjoy the use of something (particularly such pleasant qualities as light, air, view, access, water in a stream) even though the title to the property in which the use exists is held by another.

Beneficiary

A person or organization legally entitled to receive benefits through a legal device, such as a will, trust or life insurance policy. In a legal context, a ‘beneficiary’ usually refers to the person for whom a trust has been created.

Benefit

1) n. any profit or acquired right or privilege, primarily through a contract. 2) in worker’s compensation the term “benefit” is the insurance payment resulting from a fatal accident on the job, while “compensation” is for injury without death. 3) in income taxation, anything that brings economic gain. 4) “fringe benefits” may be part of the compensation for employment other than salary or wages, and may include health or disability insurance. 5) v. to gain something, as “This sale will benefit Ken Murray.”

Benefit of counsel

n. having the opportunity to have an attorney and legal advice in any legal matter, but particularly while appearing in court. If someone makes an appearance or agrees to a contract without benefit of counsel, when a lawyer would be either essential or at least quite valuable, he/she may challenge the court rulings or the contract terms, usually without success since failure to have an attorney is the person’s own fault.

Bequeath

A legal term sometimes used in wills that means “leave” — for example, “I bequeath my garden tools to my brother-in-law, Buster Jenkins.”

Bequest

n. the gift of personal property under the terms of a will. Bequests are not always outright, but may be “conditional” upon the happening or non-happening of an event (such as marriage), or “executory” in which the gift is contingent upon a future event. Bequest can be of specific assets or of the “residue” (what is left after specific gifts have been made).

Best evidence rule

A rule of evidence that demands that the original of any document, photograph or recording be used as evidence at trial, rather than a copy. A copy will be allowed into evidence only if the original is unavailable.

Beyond a reasonable doubt

The burden of proof that the prosecution must carry in a criminal trial to obtain a guilty verdict. Reasonable doubt is sometimes explained as being convinced “to a moral certainty.” The jury must be convinced that the defendant committed each element of the crime before returning a guilty verdict.

Bias

n. the predisposition of a judge, arbitrator, prospective juror, or anyone making a judicial decision, against or in favor of one of the parties or a class of persons. This can be shown by remarks, decisions contrary to fact, reason or law, or other unfair conduct. Bias can be toward an ethnic group, homosexuals, women or men, defendants or plaintiffs, large corporations, or local parties. Getting a “hometown” decision is a form of bias which is the bane of the out-of-town lawyer. There is also the subtle bias of some male judges in favor of pretty women. Obvious bias is a ground for reversal on appeal, but it is hard to prove, since judges are usually careful to display apparent fairness in their comments.

Bid

n. an offer to purchase with a specific price stated. It includes offers during an auction in which people compete by raising the bid until there is no more bidding, or contractors offer to contract to build a project or sell goods or services at a given price, with usually the lowest bidder getting the job.

Bifurcate

To separate the issues in a case so that one issue or set of issues can be tried and resolved before the others. For example, death penalty cases are always bifurcated. The court or juryfirst hears the evidence of guilt and reaches a verdict, and then hears evidence about and decides upon which punishment to impose (death or life in prison without parole). Bifurcated trials are also common in product liability class action lawsuits in which many people claim that they were injured by the same defective product — the issue of liability is tried first, followed by the question of damages

Bill

n. 1) what is commonly called a “check” by which the signer requires the bank to pay a third party a sum of money. This is a holdover from the days when a person would draw up a “bill of exchange.” 2) a statement of what is owed. 3) any paper money. 4) a legislative proposal for enactment of a law. It is called a bill until it is passed and signed, at which time it is a law (statute) and is no longer referred to as a bill. 5) an old-fashioned term for various filed documents in lawsuits or criminal prosecutions, which is falling into disuse.

Bill of exchange

n. a writing by a party (maker or drawer) ordering another (payor) to pay a certain amount to a third party (payee). It is the same as a draft. A bill of exchange drawn on a bank account is a “check.”

Bill of lading

n. a receipt obtained by the shipper of goods from the carrier (trucking company, railroad, ship or air freighter) for shipment to a particular buyer. It is a contract protecting the shipper by guaranteeing payment and satisfies the carrier that the recipient has proof of the right to the goods. The bill of lading is then sent to the buyer by the shipper upon payment for the goods, and is thus proof that the recipient is entitled to the goods when received. Thus, if there is no bill of lading, there is no delivery.

Bill of particulars

n. a written itemization of claims which a defendant in a lawsuit can demand of the plaintiff to find out what are the details of the claims. Thus, a general claim that defendant owes plaintiff $50,000 for goods delivered or damaged must be broken down so the defendant can understand and defend.

Bill of sale

n. a written statement attesting to the transfer (sale) of goods, possessions, or a business to a buyer. It is useful to show that the buyer now has ownership and to detail what was actually purchased. A bill of sale may accompany an agreement which states the agreed-upon terms of sale, including the date of transfer, the price, timing of payment and other provisions.

Binder

n. a written statement of the key terms of an agreement, in particular insurance policies, so that the insured as well as lenders can be assured there is valid and adequate insurance coverage.

Binding precedent

The decisions of higher courts that set the legal standards for similar cases in lower courts within the same jurisdiction.

Blank endorsement

n. endorsement of a check or other negotiable paper without naming the person to whom it would be paid.

Blanket search warrant

An unconstitutionally broad authorization from a judge that allows the police to search multiple areas for evidence without specifying exactly what they are looking for.

Blue laws

n. state or local laws which prohibit certain activities, particularly entertainment, sports or drinking on Sunday, to honor the Christian Sabbath. They were employed in the New England colonies controlled by the puritans who kept the Sabbath sacred. “Blue” was slang for puritanical. In most cases blue laws have been repealed, but vestiges remain at least informally.

Blue ribbon jury

n. a jury selected from prominent, well-educated citizens, sometimes to investigate a particular problem such as civic corruption.

Blue sky laws

n. laws intended to protect the public from purchasing stock in fraudulent companies that lack substance, such as those selling swamp land, non-existent gold strikes and dry oil wells, or who have no assets besides a post office box. Blue sky laws require that corporations advertising and selling shares to the public must get approval from the state corporations commissioner and/or the Securities and Exchange Commission after providing details on financing and management. The term comes from the intent to prevent the existence of corporations that have nothing behind them but “blue sky.”

Board of directors

n. the policy managers of a corporation or organization elected by the shareholders or members. The board in turn chooses the officers of the corporation, sets basic policy, and is responsible to the shareholders. In small corporations there are usually only three directors. In larger corporations board members provide illustrious names, but the company is often run by the officers and middle-management who have the expertise.

Bona fide

Latin for “good faith,” it signifies honesty, the “real thing” and, in the case of a party claiming title as bona fide purchaser or holder, it indicates innocence or lack of knowledge of any fact that would cast doubt on the right to hold title.

Bona fide purchaser

n. commonly called BFP in legal and banking circles; a person who has purchased an asset (including a promissory note, bond or other negotiable instrument) for stated value, innocent of any fact which would cast doubt on the right of the seller to have sold it in good faith. This is vital if the true owner shows up to claim title, since the BFP will be able to keep the asset, and the real owner will have to look to the fraudulent seller for recompense.

Bond

n. 1) written evidence of debt issued by a company with the terms of payment spelled out. A bond differs from corporate shares of stock since bond payments are pre-determined and provide a final payoff date, while stock dividends vary depending on profitability and corporate decisions to distribute. There are two types of such bonds: “registered,” in which the name of the owner is recorded by the company and “bearer,” in which interest payments are made to whomever is holding the bond. 2) written guaranty or pledge which is purchased from a bonding company (usually an insurance firm) or by an individual as security (called a “bondsman”) to guarantee some form of performance, including showing up in court (“bail bond”), properly complete construction or other contract terms (“performance bond”), that the bonded party will not steal or mismanage funds, that a purchased article is the real thing, or that title is good. If there is a failure then the bonding company will make good up to the amount of the bond.

Book account

n. an account of a customer kept in a business ledger of debits and credits (charges and payments), which shows the amount due at any given time. This can provide a clear basis for suing for a debt.

Book value

n. a determination of the value of a corporation’s stock by adding up the stated value of corporate assets as shown on the books (records) of a corporation and deducting all the liabilities (debts) of the corporation. This may not be the true value of the corporation or its shares since the assets may be under- or over-valued.

Bottomry

n. a mortgage contract in which a ship and/or its freight is pledged as security for a loan for equipment, repair, or use of a vessel. The contract is generally called a “bottomry bond.” If the loan is not paid back, the lender can sell the ship and/or its freight.

Breach

1) n. literally, a break. A breach may be a failure to perform a contract (breaking its terms), failure to do one’s duty (breach of duty, or breach of trust), causing a disturbance, threatening, or other violent acts which break public tranquility (breach of peace), illegally entering property (breach of close), not telling the truth-knowingly or innocently-about title to property (breach of warranty), or, in past times, refusal to honor a promise to marry (breach of promise). 2) v. the act of failing to perform one’s agreement, breaking one’s word, or otherwise actively violating one’s duty to other.

Breach of contract

n. failing to perform any term of a contract, written or oral, without a legitimate legal excuse. This may include not completing a job, not paying in full or on time, failure to deliver all the goods, substituting inferior or significantly different goods, not providing a bond when required, being late without excuse, or any act which shows the party will not complete the work (“anticipatory breach”). Breach of contract is one of the most common causes of law suits for damages and/or court-ordered “specific performance” of the contract.

Breach of trust

n. 1) any act which is in violation of the duties of a trustee or of the terms of a trust. Such a breach need not be intentional or with malice, but can be due to negligence. 2) breaking a promise or confidence.

Breach of warranty

n. determination that a statement as to title of property, including real property or any goods, is proved to be untrue, whether intended as a falsehood or not. It can also apply to an assurance of quality of a product or item sold. The party making the warranty is liable to the party to whom the guarantee was made. In modern law the warranty need not be expressed in so many words, but may be implied from the circumstances or surrounding language at the time of sale.

Brief

A document used to submit a legal contention or argument to a court. A brief typically sets out the facts of the case and a party’s argument as to why she should prevail. These arguments must be supported by legal authority and precedent, such as statutes, regulations and previous court decisions. Although it is usually possible to submit a brief to a trial court (called a trial brief), briefs are most commonly used as a central part of the appeal process (an appellate brief). But don’t be fooled by the name — briefs are usually anything but brief.

Broker

n. in general, a person who arranges contracts between a buyer and seller for a commission (a percentage of the sales price). These include real estate brokers (who have responsibility over an agency and its sales agents as well as their own conduct), insurance brokers (handling more than one company rather than being an agent for just a single carrier), and stockbrokers, who are the upper-level of stock salespersons and/or the operators of brokerage houses. Brokers in the more technical fields (as above) are regulated and licensed by each state and have a “fiduciary” duty to act in the best interests of the customer. Consumers should investigate whether the broker is representing the customer’s best interest or just wants to make a sale. A “pawnbroker” is a lender for items left for security (“hocked”) at high rates.

Bulk sale

n. the sale of all or a large part of a merchant’s stock as well as equipment. This generally applies to retailers, restaurants, and other businesses with inventories.

Bulk sales law

A law that regulates the transfer of business assets so that business owners cannot dispose of assets in order to avoid creditors. If a business owner wants to conduct a bulk sale of business assets — that is, get rid of an unusually large amount of inventory, merchandise or equipment — the business owner must typically publish a notice of the sale and give written notice to creditors. Then, the owner must set up an account to hold the funds from the sale for a brief period of time during which creditors may make claims against the money. The prohibition against bulk sales is spelled out in the Uniform Commercial Code — and laws modeled on the UCC have been generally adopted throughout the country.

Burden of proof

A party’s job of convincing the decisionmaker in a trial that the party’s version of the facts is true. In a civil trial, it means that the plaintiff must convince the judge or jury “by a preponderance of the evidence” that the plaintiff’s version is true — that is, over 50% of the believable evidence is in the plaintiff’s favor. In a criminal case, because a person’s liberty is at stake, the government has a harder job, and must convince the judge or jury beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant is guilty. A rule of evidence that makes a person prove a certain thing or the contrary will be assumed by the court.

Burglary

n. the crime of breaking and entering into a structure for the purpose of committing a crime. No great force is needed (pushing open a door or slipping through an open window is sufficient) if the entry is unauthorized. Contrary to common belief, a burglary is not necessarily for theft. It can apply to any crime, such as assault or sexual harassment, whether the intended criminal act is committed or not. Originally under English common law burglary was limited to entry in residences at night, but it has been expanded to all criminal entries into any building, or even into a vehicle.

Business

n. any activity or enterprise entered into for profit. It does not mean it is a company, a corporation, partnership, or has any such formal organization, but it can range from a street peddler to General Motors. It is sometimes significant to determine if an accident, visit, travel, meal or other activity was part of “business” or for pleasure or no particular purpose.

Business invitee

n. a person entering commercial premises for the purpose of doing business, rather than just taking a short cut to the next street. It is important since a business is liable to a business invitee for injury caused by dangerous conditions such as bad floors or oil on the linoleum. There is a presumption that anyone entering a retail store or restaurant in which one may browse is a business invitee unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Business records exception

An exception to the hearsay rule, which allows a business document to be admitted into evidence if a proper foundation is laid to show it is reliable.

But for rule

n. one of several tests to determine if a defendant is responsible for a particular happening. In this test, was there any other cause, or would it have occurred “but for” the defendant’s actions? Example: “But for” defendant Drivewild’s speeding, the car would not have gone out of control, and therefore the defendant is responsible. This is shorthand for whether the action was the “proximate cause” of the damage.

Buy-sell agreement

n. a contract among the owners of a business which provides terms for their purchase of a withdrawing partner’s or stockholder’s interest in the enterprise.

Bylaws

n. the written rules for conduct of a corporation, association, partnership or any organization. They should not be confused with the articles of incorporation, which only state the basic outline of the company, including stock structure. Bylaws generally provide for meetings, elections of a board of directors and officers, filling vacancies, notices, types and duties of officers, committees, assessments and other routine conduct. Bylaws are in effect a contract among members and must be formally adopted and/or amended. The bylaws also set out the duties and powers of a corporation’s officers.

Bypass trust

A trust designed to lessen a family’s overall estate tax liability. An AB trust is the most popular kind of bypass trust.

C.I.F.

n. the total of cost, insurance and freight charges to be paid on goods purchased and shipped.

Cadastre

Public register.

Calendar

1) n. the list of cases to be called for trial before a particular court; 2) v. to set and give a date and time for a case, petition or motion to be heard by a court. Usually a judge, a trial setting commissioner, or the clerk of the court calendars cases.

Calendar call

n. the hearing at which a case is set for trial.

Call

n. the demand by a corporation that a stockholder pay an installment or assessment on shares already owned.

Calumny

n. the intentional and generally vicious false accusation of a crime or other offense designed to damage one’s reputation.

Cancel

v. to cross out, annul, destroy, void and/or rescind a document. Cancelling can be done in several ways: tear up the document or mark on its face that it is cancelled, void, or terminated if the debt for which it stood has been paid. It is important that the document (like a promissory note) itself become no longer operative either by destruction or marking, so that it cannot be used again.

Capital

1) n. from Latin for caput, meaning “head,” the basic assets of a business (particularly corporations or partnerships) or of an individual, including actual funds, equipment and property as distinguished from stock in trade, inventory, payroll, maintenance and services. 2) adj. related to the basic assets or activities of a business or individual, such as capital account, capital assets, capital expenditure, and capital gain or loss. 3) n. an amount of money a person owns, as in “how much capital do you have to put into this investment?” as distinguished from the amount which must be financed.

Capital account

n. the record which lists all basic assets of a business, not including inventory or the alleged value of good will.

Capital assets

n. equipment, property, and funds owned by a business.

Capital expenditure

n. payment by a business for basic assets such as property, fixtures, or machinery, but not for day-to-day operations such as payroll, inventory, maintenance and advertising. Capital expenditures supposedly increase the value of company assets and are usually intended to improve productivity.

Capital gains

The profit on the sale of a capital asset, such as stock or real estate.The difference between the sales price and the original cost (plus improvements) of property.

Capital stock

The original amount paid by investors into a corporation for its issued stock. Capital stock bears no direct relationship to the present value of stock, which can fluctuate after the initial issue or first stock offering. Capital stock also does not reflect the value of corporate assets, which can go up or down based on profits, losses, or purchases of equipment. Capital stock remains as a ledger entry at the original price.

Capitalization

n. 1) the act of counting anticipated earnings and expenses as capital assets (property, equipment, fixtures) for accounting purposes. 2) the amount of anticipated net earnings which hypothetically can be used for conversion into capital assets.

Capitalized interest

The accrued interest that is added to the principal balance of a loan while you are not making payments or your payments are insufficient to cover both the principal and interest due. When this happens, you end up paying interest on interest, sometimes called “negative amortization.”

Capitalized value

n. anticipated earnings which are discounted (given a lower value) so that they represent a more realistic current value since projected earnings do not always turn out as favorably as expected or hoped.

Caption

A heading on all pleadings submitted to the court. It states basic information such as the parties names, court and case number. Each jurisdiction has its own rules as to the exact format of the caption.

Care

n. in law, to be attentive, prudent and vigilant. Essentially, care (and careful) means that a person does everything he/she is supposed to do (to prevent an accident). It is the opposite of negligence (and negligent), which makes the responsible person liable for damages to persons injured. If a person “exercises care,” a court cannot find him/her responsible for damages from an accident in which he/she is involved.

Carrier

n. in general, any person or business which transports property or people by any means of conveyance (truck, auto, taxi, bus, airplane, railroad, ship), almost always for a charge. The carrier is the transportation system and not the owner or operator of the system. There are two types of carriers: common carrier (in the regular business or a public utility of transportation) and a private carrier (a party not in the business, which agrees to make a delivery or carry a passenger in a specific instance). Common carriers are regulated by states and by the Interstate Commerce Commission if they cross state lines.

Carryback

n. in taxation accounting, using a current tax year’s deductions, business losses or credits to refigure and amend a previously filed tax return to reduce the tax liability.

Carrying for hire

n. the act of transporting goods or individuals for a fee. It is important to determine if the carrier has liability for safe delivery or is subject to regulation.

Carrying on business

v. pursuing a particular occupation on a continuous and substantial basis. There need not be a physical or visible business “entity” as such.

Carryover basis

The tax basis of someone who receives a gift. The recipient’s basis is the same as the giver’s; it simply “carries over” when the gift is made.

Case

A term that most often refers to a lawsuit. “Case” also refers to a written decision by a judge — or for an appellate case, a panel of judges. Finally, the term also describes the evidence a party submits in support of her position.

Case law

n. reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents. These interpretations are distinguished from “statutory law,” which is the statutes and codes (laws) enacted by legislative bodies; “regulatory law,” which is regulations required by agencies based on statutes; and in some states, the common law, which is the generally accepted law carried down from England. The rulings in trials and hearings which are not appealed and not reported are not case law and, therefore, not precedent or new interpretations. Law students principally study case law to understand the application of law to facts and learn the courts’ subsequent interpretations of statutes. The entire collection of published legal decisions of the courts which, because of stare decisis, contributes a large part of the legal rules which apply in modern society.

Case of first impression

n. a case in which a question of interpretation of law is presented which has never arisen before in any reported case. Sometimes, it is only of first impression in the particular state or jurisdiction, so decisions from other states or the federal courts may be examined as a guideline.

Case system

n. the method of studying law generally used in American law schools, in which the students read, outline (brief), discuss and hear lectures about the cases. Each case presented stands for a particular rule of law in the subject matter covered and is contained in “casebooks” on particular topics (contracts, torts, criminal law, constitutional law, agency, etc.). The system is useful since it relates the law to real and factual situations which assist students in memorization and encourages deductive reasoning. The case system is reinforced by textbooks and outlines on the subject matter, which were formerly the principal sources of learning.

Cash surrender value

The amount of cash available upon voluntary termination of an insurance policy before the insurance benefits become payable.

Cashier’s check

n. a check issued by a bank on its own account for the amount paid to the bank by the purchaser with a named payee, and stating the name of the party purchasing the check (the remitter). The check is received as cash since it is guaranteed by the bank and does not depend on the account of a private individual or business. Cashiers’ checks are commonly used when payment must be credited immediately upon receipt for business, real estate transfers, tax payments and the like.

Casual

adj. defining something that happens by chance, without being foreseen, or informally. This includes “casual” labor or employment, which is someone hired to do a task just because he/she was available at the moment. “Casual laborer” carries the implication that the laborer does not belong to a union and that the employer and the laborer will not pay appropriate taxes on the wages paid.

Casualty

n. 1) an accident which could not have been foreseen or guarded against, such as a shipwreck caused by storm or fire caused by lightning. 2) the loss, as of life, from such an unavoidable accident. The courts remain inconsistent on the exact definition.

Casualty loss

n. in taxation, loss due to damage which qualifies for a casualty loss tax deduction. It must be caused by a sudden, unexpected or unusual occurrence such as a storm, flood, fire, shipwreck, earthquake or act of God, but would not include gradual damage from water seepage or erosion.

Cause

from Latin causa 1) v. to make something happen. 2) n. the reason something happens. A cause implies what is called a “causal connection” as distinguished from events which may occur but do not have any effect on later events.

Cause of action

A specific legal claim — such as for negligence, breach of contract or medical malpractice — for which a plaintiff seeks compensation. Each cause of action is divided into discrete elements, all of which must be proved to present a winning case.

Cease and desist order

n. an order of a court or government agency to a person, business or organization to stop doing something upon a strong showing that the activity is harmful and/or contrary to law. The order may be permanent or hold until a final judicial determination of legality occurs. In many instances the activity is believed to cause irreparable damage such as receipt of funds illegally, felling of timber contrary to regulation, selling of shares of stock without a proper permit, or oil drilling which would damage the ecology.

Certificate of deposit (CD)

n. a document issued by a bank in return for a deposit of money which pays a fixed interest rate for a specified period (from a month to several years). Interest rates on CD’s are usually higher than savings accounts because banking institutions require a commitment to leave money in the CD for a fixed period of time. Often there is a financial penalty (fee) for cashing in a CD before the pledged time runs out.

Certificate of incorporation

n. document which some states issue to prove a corporation’s existence upon the filing of articles of incorporation. In most states the articles are sufficient proof.

Certificate of title

n. generally, the title document for a motor vehicle issued by the state in which it is registered, describing the vehicle by type and engine number, as well as the name and address of the registered owner and the lienholder (financial institution that loaned money to buy the car). Since in some states these documents are usually pink, the certificate of title is sometimes called a “pink slip.”

Certification mark

A name, symbol, or other device used by an organization to vouch for the quality of products and services provided by others, for example, the “AAA Approved” sign found at hotels.

Certified check

n. a check issued by a bank which certifies that the maker of the check has enough money in his/her account to cover the amount to be paid. The bank sets aside the funds so that the check will remain good even if other checks are written on the particular account. Like a cashier’s check, a certified check guarantees that it is immediately good since it is guaranteed by the bank and the recipient does not have to wait until it “clears.”

Certified copy

A copy of a document issued by a court or government agency guaranteed to be a true and exact copy of the original. Many agencies and institutions require certified copies of legal documents before permitting certain transactions. For example, a certified copy of a death certificate is required before a bank will release the funds in a deceased person’s payable-on-death account to the person who has inherited them.

Certiorari

a writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court’s decision. Certiorari is most commonly used by the U.S. Supreme Court, which is selective about which cases it will hear on appeal. To appeal to the Supreme Court one applies to the Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari, which it grants at its discretion and only when at least three members believe that the case involves a sufficiently significant federal question in the public interest. By denying such a writ the Supreme Court says it will let the lower court decision stand, particularly if it conforms to accepted precedents (previously decided cases).

Cestui que trust

1) an old-fashioned expression for the beneficiary of a trust. 2) “the one who trusts” or the person who will benefit from the trust and will receive payments or a future distribution from the trust’s assets.

Cestui que use

n. an old-fashioned term for a person who benefits from assets held in a trust for the beneficiary’s use. The term “beneficiary” is now used instead.

Chain of title

n. the succession of title ownership to real property from the present owner back to the original owner at some distant time. Chains of title include notations of deeds, judgments of distribution from estates, certificates of death of a joint tenant, foreclosures, judgments of quiet title (lawsuit to prove one’s right to property title) and other recorded transfers (conveyances) of title to real property. Usually title companies or abstractors are the professionals who search out the chain of title and provide a report so that a purchaser will be sure the title is clear of any claims.

Challenge

n. the right of each attorney in a jury trial to request that a juror be excused. There may be a “challenge for cause” on the basis the juror had admitted prejudice or shows some obvious conflict of interest (e.g. the juror used to work for the defendant or was once charged with the same type of crime) which the judge must resolve. If the juror is excused (removed) “for cause,” then the challenge does not count against the limited number of challenges allowed each side. More common is the “peremptory challenge,” which is a request that a juror be excused without stating a reason. An attorney might say: “Juror number eight may be excused.” Only six or eight peremptory challenges are normally allowed each side. Systematic peremptory challenges of all blacks or all women may be examples and proof that a defendant has been deprived of a jury of his/her peers and result in an appeal based on lack of due process.

Challenge for cause

A party’s request that the judge dismiss a potential juror from serving on a trial jury by providing a valid legal reason why he shouldn’t serve. Potential bias is a common reason potential jurors are challenged for cause — for example, the potential juror is a relative of a party or one of the lawyers, or admits to a prejudice against one party’s race or religion. Judges can also dismiss a potential juror for cause. There is no limit on the number of successful challenges for cause. Compare peremptory challenges.

Chambers

n. the private office of a judge, usually close to the courtroom so that the judge can enter the court from behind the bench and not encounter people on the way. Judges hear some motions, discuss formal legal problems like jury instructions, or conduct hearings on sensitive matters such as adoptions “in chambers.”

Champerty

n. an agreement between the party suing in a lawsuit (plaintiff) and another person, usually an attorney, who agrees to finance and carry the lawsuit in return for a percentage of the recovery (money won and paid). In common law this was illegal on the theory that it encouraged lawsuits. Today it is legal and often part of a “contingent fee” agreement between lawyer and client. It is not the same as barratry, which is active encouragement of lawsuits.

Change of circumstances

n. the principal reason for a court modifying (amending) an existing order for the payment of alimony and/or child support. The change may be an increase or decrease in the income of either the party obligated to pay or the ex-spouse receiving payment, or the health, the employment, or needs of either party. Thus, if an ex-husband’s income is substantially increased or the ex-wife becomes ill and cannot work, the judge may order the ex-husband to pay her more. Remarriage of a spouse who is receiving alimony automatically terminates the alimony order, unless there is a special provision that it continue, which is rare.

Charge

1) in jury trials, the oral instructions by the judge to the jurors just before the jury begins deliberations. This charge is based on jury instructions submitted by attorneys on both sides and agreed upon by the trial judge. 2) a fee for services.

Charitable contribution

n. in taxation, a contribution to an organization which is officially created for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, artistic, literary, or other good works. Such contributions are deductible from gross income, and thus lower the taxes paid.

Charitable trust

Any trust designed to make a substantial gift to a charity and also achieve income and estate tax savings for the person who creates the trust (the grantor).

Chattel

n. an item of personal property which is movable, as distinguished from real property (land and improvements).

Chattel mortgage

n. an outmoded written document which made a chattel (tangible personal asset) security for a loan of a certain amount. It has been replaced in most states by a security agreement, the form of which is designated in a Uniform Commercial Code as UCC-1. UCC-1 security agreements must be filed with a specific public agency (e.g. a state Secretary of State) to protect buyers of the personal property and lenders making loans secured by the property.

Check

n. a draft upon a particular account in a bank, in which the drawer or maker (the person who has the account and signs the check) directs the bank to pay a certain amount to the payee (which may include the drawer, “cash,” or someone else). Other checks include cashier’s checks issued by the bank for a sum paid to the bank, and certified checks in which the bank sets aside an amount from the maker’s bank account and then guarantees the check can be cashed immediately.

Child

1) A son or daughter of any age, sometimes including biological offspring, unborn children, adopted children, stepchildren, foster children and children born outside of marriage. 2) A person under an age specified by law, often 14 or 16. For example, state law may require a person to be over the age of 14 to make a valid will, or may define the crime of statutory rape as sex with a person under the age of 16. In this sense, a child can be distinguished from a minor, who is a person under the age of 18 in most states. A person below the specified legal age who is married is often considered an adult rather than a child. See also emancipation.

Child custody

n. a court’s determination of which parent, relative or other adult should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a minor (child) under 18. Child custody can be decided by a local court in a divorce or if a child, relative, close friend or state agency questions whether one or both parents is unfit, absent, dead, in prison or dangerous to the child’s well-being. In such cases custody can be awarded to a grandparent or other relative, a foster parent or an orphanage or other organization or institution. While a divorce is pending the court may grant temporary custody to one of the parents, require conferences or investigation (in some states, if the parents cannot agree, custody is automatically referred to a mediator, commissioner or social worker) before making a final ruling. There is a difference between physical custody, which designates where the child will actually live, and legal custody, which gives the custodial person(s) the right to make decisions for the child’s welfare. If the parents agree, the court can award joint custody, physical and/or legal. Joint legal custody is becoming increasingly common. The basic consideration on custody matters is supposed to be the best interests of the child or children. In most cases the non-custodial parent is given visitation rights, which may include weekends, parts of vacations and other occasions. The court can always change custody if circumstances warrant.

Child support

The entitlement of all children to be supported by their parents until the children reach the age of majority or become emancipated — usually by marriage, by entry into the armed forces or by living independently. Many states also impose child support obligations on parents for a year or two beyond this point if the child is a full-time student. If the parents are living separately, they each must still support the children. Typically, the parent who has custody meets his or her support obligation through taking care of the child every day, while the other parent must make payments to the custodial parent on behalf of the child — usually cash but sometimes other kinds of contributions. When parents divorce, the court almost always orders the non-custodial parent to pay the custodial parent an amount of child support fixed by state law. Sometimes, however, if the parents share physical custody more or less equally, the court will order the higher-income parent to make payments to the lower-income parent.

Churning

n. the unethical and usually illegal practice of excessive buying and selling of shares of stock for a customer by a stockbroker or sales agent for the purpose of obtaining high sales commissions.

Circuit court

The name used for the principal trial court in many states. In the federal system, appellate courts are organized into thirteen circuits. Eleven of these cover different geographical areas of the country — for example, the United States Court of Appeal for the Ninth Circuit covers Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. The remaining circuits are the District of Columbia Circuit and the Federal Circuit, (which hears patent, customs and other specialized cases based on subject matter). The term derives from an age before mechanized transit, when judges and lawyers rode “the circuit” of their territory to hold court in various places.

Circumstantial evidence

Evidence that proves a fact by means of an inference. For example, from the evidence that a person was seen running away from the scene of a crime, a judge or jury may infer that the person committed the crime.

Citation

n. 1) a notice to appear in court due to the probable commission of a minor crime such as a traffic violation, drinking liquor in a park where prohibited, letting a dog loose without a leash, and in some states for possession of a small amount of marijuana. Failure to appear can result in a warrant for the citee’s arrest. 2) a notice to appear in court in a civil matter in which the presence of a party appears necessary, usually required by statute, such as a person whose relatives wish to place him/her under a conservatorship (take over and manage his/her affairs). 3) the act of referring to (citing) a statute, precedent-setting case or legal textbook, in a brief (written legal court statement) or argument in court, called “citation of authority.” 4) the section of the statute or the name of the case as well as the volume number, the report series and the page number of a case referred to in a brief, points and authorities, or other legal argument. Example: United States vs. Wong Kim Ark, (1898) 169 U.S. 649, which is the name of the case, the year when decided, with the decision found at volume 169 of the United States [Supreme Court] Reporter at page 649. A citation also refers to the case itself, as in “counsel’s citation of the Wong case is not in point.” An order of a court to either do a certain thing or to appear before it to answer charges.

Cite

v. to make reference to a decision in another case to make a legal point in argument.

Citizen

n. person who by place of birth, nationality of one or both parents, or by going through the naturalization process has sworn loyalty to a nation.

Civil

adj. 1) that part of the law that encompasses business, contracts, estates, domestic (family) relations, accidents, negligence and everything related to legal issues, statutes and lawsuits, that is not criminal law.2) referring to one’s basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution (and the interpretations and statutes intended to implement the enforcement of those rights) such as voting, equitable taxation, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly. Generally these are referred to as “civil rights”. Violation of one’s civil rights may be a crime under federal and/or state statutes. Civil rights include civil liberties. Civil liberties emphasize protection from infringement upon basic freedoms, while statutory rights are based on laws passed by Congress or state legislatures.

Civil calendar

n. the list of lawsuits (cases) that are approaching trial in any court. Attorneys and/or parties whose cases are coming to the top of the list receive notice of the “calling” of the civil calendar on a particular day for setting a trial date. Unfortunately, some courts are so clogged with pending lawsuits that one case may be called on several civil calendars, possibly months apart, before being finally sent to trial.

Civil case

A noncriminal lawsuit, usually involving private property rights. For example, lawsuits involving breach of contract, probate, divorce, negligence and copyright violations are just a few of the many hundreds of varieties of civil lawsuits.

Civil code

n. in many states, the name for the collection of statutes and laws which deal with business and negligence lawsuits and practices.

Civil law

n. 1) a body of laws and legal concepts which come down from old Roman laws established by Emperor Justinian, and which differ from Englishcommon law, which is the framework of most state legal systems. In the United States only Louisiana (relying on the French Napoleonic Code) has a legal structure based on civil law. 2) generic term for non-criminal law.

Civil liability

n. potential responsibility for payment of damages or other court-enforcement in a lawsuit, as distinguished from criminal liability, which means open to punishment for a crime.

Civil liberties

n. rights or freedoms given to the people by the First Amendment to the Constitution, by Common Law, or legislation, allowing the individual to be free to speak, think, assemble, organize, worship, or petition without government (or even private) interference or restraints. These liberties are protective in nature, while civil rights form a broader concept and include positive elements such as the right to use facilities, the right to an equal education, or the right to participate in government.

Civil penalties

n. fines or surcharges imposed by a governmental agency to enforce regulations such as late payment of taxes, failure to obtain a permit, etc.

Civil procedure

The rules used to handle a civil case from the time the initial complaint is filed through pretrial discovery, the trial itself and any subsequent appeal. Each state adopts its own rules of civil procedure (often set out in a separate Code of Civil Procedure), but many are influenced by or modeled on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Civil rights

n. those rights guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, the 13th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution, including the right to due process, equal treatment under the law of all people regarding enjoyment of life, liberty, property, and protection. Positive civil rights include the right to vote, the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a democratic society, such as equal access to public schools, recreation, transportation, public facilities, and housing, and equal and fair treatment by law enforcement and the courts.

Claim

1) v. to make a demand for money, for property, or for enforcement of a right provided by law. 2) n. the making of a demand (asserting a claim) for money due, for property, from damages or for enforcement of a right. If such a demand is not honored, it may result in a lawsuit. In order to enforce a right against a government agency (ranging for damages from a negligent bus driver to a shortage in payroll) a claim must be filed first. If rejected or ignored by the government, it is lawsuit time.

Claim in bankruptcy

n. the written claim filed by persons or businesses owed money (creditors) by a party who files for bankruptcy (debtor) to benefit from the distribution if money becomes available. The known creditors receive written notice of the bankruptcy and will receive a creditor’s claim form. They may also receive notice that the bankrupt party has no assets to distribute and that they should not file a claim until further notice (this is bad news for the creditor).

Class

n. in legal terms, all those persons in the same category, level of rights (e.g. heirs of dead person who are related by the same degree), or who have suffered from the same incident. Whether a person is part of a class is often crucial in determining who can sue on behalf of the people who have been similarly damaged or collect his/her share if a class action judgment is given.

Class action

A lawsuit in which a large number of people with similar legal claims join together in a group (the class) to sue someone, usually a company or organization. Common class actions involve cases in which a product has injured many people, or in which a group of people has suffered discrimination at the hands of an organization.

Clean hands doctrine

n. a rule of law that a person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of his/her claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. As an affirmative defense (positive response) a defendant might claim the plaintiff (party suing him/her) has a “lack of clean hands” or “violates the clean hands doctrine” because the plaintiff has misled the defendant or has done something wrong regarding the matter under consideration. Example: A former partner sues on a claim that he was owed money on a consulting contract with the partnership when he left, but the defense states that the plaintiff (party suing) has tried to get customers from the partnership by spreading untrue stories about the remaining partner’s business practices.

Clear and convincing evidence

n. evidence that proves a matter by the “preponderance of evidence” required in civil cases and beyond the “reasonable doubt” needed to convict in a criminal case.

Clear and present danger

Speech that poses a “clear and present danger” to the public or government will not be protected under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech. The classic example is that shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theatre is not protected speech.

Clear title

n. holding ownership of real property without any claims by others on the owner’s title and no history of past claims which might affect the ownership.

Clerk

n. 1) an official or employee who handles the business of a court or a system of courts, maintains files of each case, and issues routine documents. Almost every county has a clerk of the courts or County Clerk who fulfills those functions, and most courtrooms have a clerk to keep records and assist the judge in the management of the court. 2) a young lawyer who assists a judge or a senior attorney in research and drafting of documents, usually for a year or two, and benefits in at least two ways: learning from the judge or attorney and enjoying association with them. Law clerks for judges, particularly on the Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court, are chosen from among the top students graduating from law school. 3) a person who works in an office or a store who performs physical work such as filing, stocking shelves, or counter sales.

Close corporation

A corporation owned and operated by a few individuals, often members of the same family, rather than by public shareholders. State laws permit close corporations to function more informally than regular corporations. For example, shareholders can make decisions without holding meetings of the board of directors, and can fill vacancies on the board without a vote of the shareholders.

Closing

n. the final step in the sale and purchase of real estate in which a deed of title, financing documents, title insurance policies, and remaining funds due are exchanged. Some of the final documents, including the deed and mortgage or deed of trust, are then delivered to the county recorder to be recorded. Depending on local practice, the closing is handled by a title company, escrow holder or attorney.

Closing argument

At trial, a speech made by each party after all the evidence has been presented. The purpose is to review the testimony and evidence presented during the trial as part of forcefully explaining why your side should win. Especially in trials before a judge without a jury, it is common for both parties to waive their closing argument on the theory that the judge has almost surely already arrived at her decision.

Cloud on title (cloud)

n. an actual or apparent outstanding claim on the title to real property. “Clouds” can include an old mortgage or deed of trust with no recording showing the secured debt was paid off, a failure to properly transfer all interests in the real property (such as mineral rights) to a former owner, a previous deed which was improperly written or signed, an unresolved legal debt or levy by a creditor or a taxing authority, or some other doubtful link in the chain of title. Often the “cloud” can be removed by a quiet title action, by finding a person to create or execute a document to prove a debt had been paid or corrected. Title companies will refuse to insure title to be transferred with a “cloud,” or they will insure ownership except for (“insure around”) the “cloud.”

Co-tenants

Two or more tenants who rent the same property under the same lease or rental agreement. Each co-tenant is 100% responsible for carrying out the rental agreement, which includes paying the entire rent if the other tenant skips town and paying for damage caused by the other tenant.

Co-trustee

n. a trustee of a trust when there is more than one trustee serving at the same time, usually with the same powers and obligations. Occasionally a co-trustee may be a temporary fill-in, as when the original trustee is ill but recovers. The co-trustee must act in consultation with the other trustee(s), unless the language of the trust allows one co-trustee to act alone.

Code

n. a collection of written laws gathered together, usually covering specific subject matter. Thus, a state may have a civil code, corporations code, education code, evidence code, health and safety codes, insurance code, labor code, motor vehicle code, penal code, revenue and taxation code, and so forth. Federal statutes which deal with legal matters are grouped together in codes. There are also statutes which are not codified. Despite their apparent permanence, codes are constantly being amended by legislative bodies. Some codes are administrative and have the force of law even though they were created and adopted by regulatory agencies and are not actually statutes or laws.

Code of Professional Responsibility

n. a set of rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys in the practice of the law. It covers such topics as conflicts of interest, honesty with clients, confidentiality and conduct toward other attorneys and the courts. First developed and pushed by the American Bar Association, the code has been adopted by most states.

Codefendant

n. when more than one person or entity is sued in one lawsuit, each party sued is called a codefendant.

Codicil

A supplement or addition to a will. A codicil may explain, modify, add to, subtract from, qualify, alter or revoke existing provisions in a will. Because a codicil changes a will, it must be signed in front of witnesses, just like a will.

Codify

v. to arrange and label a system of laws.

Coinsurance

n. an insurance policy in which the insurance company insures only a partial value of the property owned by the insured owner. Essentially the owner and the insurance company share the risk.

Collateral

Property that guarantees payment of a secured debt.

Collection agency

A company hired by a creditor to collect a debt that it is owed. Creditors typically hire a collection agency only after they have made efforts to collect the debt themselves, typically through letters (called “dunning” letters) and telephone calls. Collection agencies are regulated by the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. Unfortunately, too many collectors ignore this law.

Collective mark

A name, symbol or other device used by members of a group or organization to identify goods or services it provides. For example, the letters ILGWU on a shirt label signify that the shirt was made by a member of the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union.

Collective work

For copyright purposes, a work, such as a periodical, anthology or encyclopedia, in which a number of separate and independent works are assembled into one work. To create a collective work, permission must be obtained from the owners of the copyrights of the constituent parts (assuming such parts are not already in the public domain). Although the author of the compilation may not own the copyright to any of the individual parts, the creativity involved in selecting and organizing the constituent materials is in itself protected by copyright.

Collision insurance coverage

A component of car insurance that pays for damages to the insured vehicle that result from a collision with another vehicle or object. Collision insurance generally covers the amount of damage over and above an amount the insured person must pay, called the “deductible” amount.

Collusion

n. where two persons (or business entities through their officers or other employees) enter into a deceitful agreement, usually secret, to defraud and/or gain an unfair advantage over a third party, competitors, consumers or those with whom they are negotiating. Collusion can include secret price or wage fixing, secret rebates, or pretending to be independent of each other when actually conspiring together for their joint ends.

Collusive action

n. a lawsuit brought by parties pretending to be adversaries in order to obtain by subterfuge an advisory opinion or precedent-setting decision from the court. If a judge determines the action does not involve a true controversy he/she will dismiss it.

Comaker

n. when two or more people sign a check or a promissory note, each is a comaker, and each is liable for the entire amount to be paid.

Comment

n. a statement made by a judge or an attorney during a trial which is based on an alleged fact, but not a proven fact

Commerce

Trade that the federal government is authorized to regulate. To qualify for federal trademark protection and registration, a mark must have first been used in commerce. In practice, this means that a product or service must be sold outside of the state in which it originates, be advertised out of state or cater to travelers, such as a hotel, before it can qualify for trademark protection.

Commercial frustration

n. an unforeseen uncontrollable event which occurs after a written or oral contract is entered into between parties, and makes it impossible for one of the parties to fulfill his/her duties under the contract. This circumstance allows the frustrated party to rescind the contract without penalty. Such frustration (called frustration of purpose) could include the destruction by fire of the goods to be purchased, the denial of a permit to construct a building by a potential buyer, or denial of an application for a zoning variance to allow expansion by a contractor.

Commercial law

n. all the law which applies to the rights, relations and conduct of persons and businesses engaged in commerce, merchandising, trade and sales. In recent years this body of law has been codified in the Uniform Commercial Code, which has been almost universally adopted by the states.

Commingling

n. the act of mixing the funds belonging to one party with those of another party, or, most importantly with funds held in trust for another. Spouses or business partners may commingle without a problem, except that a spouse may thus risk turning separate property into community property (transmutation), and a business partner may have to account to the other. However, trustees, guardians or lawyers holding client funds must be careful not to commingle those funds with their own, since commingling is generally prohibited as a conflict of interest. Use of commingled funds for an investment, even though it might benefit both the trustee and the beneficiary, is still improper. Inadvertent commingling or temporary commingling (say, upon receipt of a settlement check in which both the client and attorney have an interest) requires prompt separation of funds and accounting to the client or beneficiary. To avoid commingling, trustees, lawyers, guardians and those responsible for another’s funds set up trust accounts for funds of another.

Commission

n. 1) a fee paid based on a percentage of the sale made by an employee or agent, as distinguished from regular payments of wages or salary. 2) a group appointed pursuant to law to conduct certain government business, especially regulation. These range from the local planning or zoning commission to the Securities and Exchange Commission or the Federal Trade Commission.

Commitment

n. a judge’s order sending someone to jail or prison, upon conviction or before trial, or directing that a mentally unstable person be confined to a mental institution. Technically the judge orders law enforcement personnel to take the prisoner or patient to such places.

Common area

n. in condominium and some cooperative housing projects, the areas not owned by an individual owner of the condominium or cooperative residence, but shared by all owners, either by percentage inter- est or owned by the management organization. Common areas may include recreation facilities, outdoor space, parking, landscaping, fences, laundry rooms and all other jointly used space. Management is by a homeowners’ association or cooperative board, which collects assessments from the owners and pays for upkeep, some insurance, maintenance and reserves for replacement of improvements in the common area. This can also refer to the area in a shopping center or mall outside of the individual stores, for which each business pays a share of maintenance based on percentage of total store space occupied.

Common carrier

n. an individual, a company or a public utility (like municipal buses) which is in the regular business of transporting people and/or freight. This is distinguished from a private carrier, which only transports occasionally or as a one-time-only event.

Common counts

n. claims for debt alleged in a lawsuit (included in the complaint) which are general and alleged together so that the defendant cannot squirm out of liability on some technicality on one of the counts. Common counts may include claims of debt for goods sold and delivered, for work performed, for money loaned or advanced, for money paid requiring repayment, for money received on behalf of the plaintiff, or for money due on an account stated or on an open book account.

Common law

n. the traditional unwritten law of England, based on custom and usage, which began to develop over a thousand years before the founding of the United States. The best of the pre-Saxon compendiums of the common law was reportedly written by a woman, Queen Martia, wife of a king of a small English kingdom. Together with a book on the “law of the monarchy” by a Duke of Cornwall, Queen Martia’s work was translated into the emerging English language by King Alfred (849-899 A.D.). When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he combined the best of this Anglo-Saxon law with Norman law, which resulted in the English common law, much of which was by custom and precedent rather than by written code. By the 14th century legal decisions and commentaries on the common law began providing precedents for the courts and lawyers to follow. It did not include the so-called law of equity (chancery), which came from the royal power to order or prohibit specific acts. The common law became the basic law of most states due to the Commentaries on the Laws of England, completed by Sir William Blackstone in 1769, which became every American lawyer’s bible. Today almost all common law has been enacted into statutes with modern variations by all the states except Louisiana, which is still influenced by the Napoleonic Code. In some states the principles of Common Law are so basic they are applied without reference to statute.

Common property

n. 1) real property owned by “tenants in common,” who each have an “undivided interest” in the entire property. 2) property managed by a homeowners’ association in a condominium project or a subdivision development, which all owners may use and each owns a percentage interest in. 3) lands owned by the government for public (common) use, like parks and national forests.

Common stock

n. stock in a corporation in which dividends (payouts) are calculated upon a percentage of net profits, with distribution determined by the board of directors. Usually holders of common stock have voting rights. These are distinguished from preferred stock in which the profits are a predetermined percentage and are paid before the common shareholders who gamble on higher profits, and collectively have voting control of the corporation.

Company

n. any formal business entity for profit, which may be a corporation, a partnership, association or individual proprietorship. Often people think the term “company” means the business is incorporated, but that is not true. In fact, a corporation usually must use some term in its name such as “corporation,” “incorporated,” “corp.” or “inc.” to show it is a corporation.

Comparable rectitude

A doctrine that grants the spouse least at fault a divorce when both spouses have shown grounds for divorce. It is a response to an old common-law rule that prevented a divorce when both spouses were at fault.

Comparative negligence

n. a rule of law applied in accident cases to determine responsibility and damages based on the negligence of every party directly involved in the accident. Most cases are not as simple, and the formulas to figure out, attribute and compare negligence often make assessment of damages problematic, difficult, and possibly totally subjective. Not all states use comparative negligence (California is a fairly recent convert), and some states still use contributory negligence which denies recovery to any party whose negligence has added to the cause of the accident in any way. Contributory negligence is often so unfair that juries tend to ignore it.

Compensation

n. 1) payment for work performed, by salary, wages, commission or otherwise. It can include giving goods rather than money. 2) the amount received to “make one whole” (or at least better) after an injury or loss, particularly that paid by an insurance company either of the party causing the damage or by one’s own insurer.

Compensatory damages

n. damages recovered in payment for actual injury or economic loss, which does not include punitive damages (as added damages due to malicious or grossly negligent action).

Competent

adj. 1) in general, able to act in the circumstances, including the ability to perform a job or occupation, or to reason or make decisions. 2) in wills, trusts and contracts, sufficiently mentally able to understand and execute a document. To be competent to make a will a person must understand what a will is, what he/she owns (although forgetting a few items among many does not show incompetency), and who are relatives who would normally inherit (“the natural objects of his/her bounty”) such as children and spouse (although forgetting a child in a will is not automatic proof of lack of competency, since it may be intentional or the child has been long gone). 3) in criminal law, sufficiently mentally able to stand trial, if he/she understands the proceedings and can rationally deal with his/her lawyer. This is often broadly interpreted by psychiatrists whose testimony may persuade a court that a party is too psychotic to be tried. If the court finds incompetency then the defendant may be sent to a state mental facility until such time as he/she regains sanity. At that time a trial may be held, but this is rare. 4) in evidence, “competent” means “relevant” and/or “material.” Lawyers often make the objection to evidence: “incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial” to cover all bases.

Competent evidence

Legally admissible evidence. Competent evidence tends to prove the matter in dispute.

Complainant

n. a person or entity who begins a lawsuit by filing a complaint and is usually called the plaintiff, or in some cases the petitioner.

Complaint

Papers filed with a court clerk by the plaintiff to initiate a lawsuit by setting out facts and legal claims (usually called causes of action). In some states and in some types of legal actions, such as divorce, complaints are called petitions and the person filing is called the petitioner. To complete the initial stage of a lawsuit, the plaintiff’s complaint must be served on the defendant, who then has the opportunity to respond by filing an answer. In practice, few lawyers prepare complaints from scratch. Instead they use — and sometimes modify — pre-drafted complaints widely available in form books.

Compound interest

n. payment of interest upon principal and previously accumulated interest, which increases the amount paid for money use above simple interest. Thus, it can increase more rapidly if compounded daily, monthly or quarterly.

Comprehensive insurance coverage

An element of car insurance that pays for damages to your vehicle caused by anything other than a collision, including vandalism, theft and natural disasters.

Compromise

1) n. an agreement between opposing parties to settle a dispute or reach a settlement in which each gives some ground, rather than continue the dispute or go to trial. Judges encourage compromise and settlement, which is often economically sensible, since it avoids mounting attorneys’ fees and costs. 2) v. to reach a settlement in which each party gives up some demands.

Conclusion

n. 1) in general, the end. 2) in a trial, when all evidence has been introduced and final arguments made, so nothing more can be presented, even if a lawyer thinks of something new or forgotten. 3) in a trial or court hearing, a final determination of the facts by the trier of fact (jury or judge) and/or a judge’s decision on the law.

Conclusion of fact

n. in a trial, the final result of an analysis of the facts presented in evidence, made by the trier of fact (a jury or by the judge if there is no jury). When a judge is the trier of fact he/she will present orally in open court or in a written judgment his/her findings of fact to support his/her decision. In most cases either party is entitled to written conclusion of facts if requested.

Conclusion of law

n. a judge’s final decision on a question of law which has been raised in a trial or a court hearing, particularly those issues which are vital to reaching a statement. These may be presented orally by the judge in open court, but are often contained in a written judgment in support of his/her judgment such as an award of damages or denial of a petition. In most cases either party is entitled to written conclusions of law if requested.

Condition

n. a term or requirement stated in a contract, which must be met for the other party to have the duty to fulfill his/her obligations.

Condition precedent

n. 1) in a contract, an event which must take place before a party to a contract must perform or do their part. 2) in a deed to real property, an event which has to occur before the title (or other right) to the property will actually be in the name of the party receiving title.

Condition subsequent

n. 1) in a contract, a happening which terminates the duty of a party to perform or do his/her part. 2) in a deed to real property, an event which terminates a person’s interest in the property.

Conditional bequest

n. in a will, a gift which will take place only if a particular event has occurred by the time the maker of the will dies.

Conditional sale

n. a sale of property or goods which will be completed if certain conditions are met (as agreed) by one or both parties to the transaction.

Conditions of carriage

The terms of your contract with an airline after you buy a ticket. Conditions of carriage cover everything from baggage limitations to the amount of compensation you can recover if you’re injured on the flight. These provisions often vary from airline to airline. A few, but by no means most, conditions of carriage appear in the fine print on the back of your ticket. To find out about the rest, you can ask the airline for a copy; it is legally obligated to provide one. The conditions of carriage contain a lot of fine print detail and will not make for exciting reading.

Condominium

n. title to a unit of real property which, in reality, is the airspace which an apartment, office or store occupies. An increasingly common form of property title in a multi-unit project. The owner of the condominium also owns a common tenancy with owners of other units in the common area, which includes all the driveways, parking, elevators, outside hallways, recreation and landscaped areas, which are managed by a homeowners’ or tenant’s association. If the condominium unit is destroyed by fire or other disaster, the owner has the right to rebuild in his/her airspace. Most states have adopted statutes to cover special issues involving development, construction, management and taxation of condominium projects.

Confidential communication

Information exchanged between two people who (1) have a relationship in which private communications are protected by law, and (2) intend that the information be kept in confidence. The law recognizes certain parties whose communications will be considered confidential and protected, including spouses, doctor and patient, attorney and client, and priest and confessor. Communications between these individuals cannot be disclosed in court unless the protected party waives that protection. The intention that the communication be confidential is critical. For example, if an attorney and his client are discussing a matter in the presence of an unnecessary third party — for example, in an elevator with other people present — the discussion will not be considered confidential and may be admitted at trial. Also known as privileged communication.

Confidential relation

n. a relationship in which one person has confidence in and relies on another because of some combination of a history of trust, older age, family connection and/or superior training and knowledge, to a point where the party relied upon dominates the situation, for good or bad. While it may include attorney and client, stockbroker and customer, real estate agent and buyer, a senior family member and an unsophisticated relative, the relationship is defined on a case-by-case basis, with reliance and dominance the key factors. In this situation, the trusting party does not have to be as vigilant or suspicious as with strangers or people who are not relied upon.

Confiscate

v. to take one’s goods or property without legal right, although there may appear to be some lawful basis. In the case of a government seizing property, it may include taking without the just compensation as guaranteed by the Constitution. There are some acts of legal confiscation, such as taking an automobile used in illegal drug traffic.

Conflict of interest

n. a situation in which a person has a duty to more than one person or organization, but cannot do justice to the actual or potentially adverse interests of both parties. This includes when an individual’s personal interests or concerns are inconsistent with the best for a customer, or when a public official’s personal interests are contrary to his/her loyalty to public business. An attorney, an accountant, a business adviser or realtor cannot represent two parties in a dispute and must avoid even the appearance of conflict. He/she may not join with a client in business without making full disclosure of his/her potential conflicts, he/she must avoid commingling funds with the client, and never, never take a position adverse to the customer.

Conflict of law

n. a situation in which both state and federal laws or courts, or laws of more than one state, are applicable to a potential lawsuit or interpretation of a document and seem to be inconsistent or in conflict. The plaintiff’s attorney’s first problem is to decide in what state or federal court the lawsuit should be filed. This can apply to a dead person’s estate with property in several states, when people earn income in several states, are involved in business in several states, or violate both state and federal laws in one scheme. Also to be considered is the issue of federal preemption, which may dictate that the federal statutes have been given a monopoly on the subject (pre-empted the field) and that a federal court must try the case, but that it will apply the laws of the state where the controversy arose.

Conformed copy

An exact copy of a document filed with a court. To conform a copy, the court clerk will stamp the document with the filing date and add any handwritten notations to the document that exist on the original, including dates and the judge’s signature. A conformed copy may or may not be certified.

Confusingly similar

adj. in the law of trademarks, when a trademark, logo or business name is so close to that of a pre-existing trademark, logo or name that the public might misidentify the new one with the old trademark, logo or name. Such confusion may not be found if the products or businesses are clearly not in the actual or potential product markets or geographic area of the other.

Consent

1) n. a voluntary agreement to another’s proposition. 2) v. to voluntarily agree to an act or proposal of another, which may range from contracts to sexual relations.

Consent decree

n. an order of a judge based upon an agreement, almost always put in writing, between the parties to a lawsuit instead of continuing the case through trial or hearing. It cannot be appealed unless it was based upon fraud by one of the parties (he lied about the situation), mutual mistake (both parties misunderstood the situation) or if the court does not have jurisdiction over the case or the parties. Obviously, such a decree is almost always final and non-appealable since the parties worked it out. A consent decree is a common practice when the government has sued to make a person or corporation comply with the law (improper securities practices, pollution, restraints of trade, conspiracy) or the defendant agrees to the consent decree (often not to repeat the offense) in return for the government not pursuing criminal penalties. In general a consent decree and a consent judgment are the same.

Consent judgment

n. a judgment issued by a judge based on an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit to settle the matter, aimed at ending the litigation with a judgment that is enforceable.

Consequential damages

n. damages claimed and/or awarded in a lawsuit which were caused as a direct foreseeable result of wrongdoing.

Conservator

Someone appointed by a judge to oversee the affairs of an incapacitated person. A conservator who manages financial affairs is often called a “conservator of the estate.” One who takes care of personal matters, such as healthcare and living arrangements, is known as a “conservator of the person.” Sometimes, one conservator is appointed to handle all these tasks. Depending on where you live, a conservator may also be called a guardian, committee or curator.

Consideration

The basis of a contract. Consideration is a benefit or right for which the parties to a contract must bargain; the contract is founded on an exchange of one form of consideration for another. Consideration may be a promise to perform a certain act — for example, a promise to fix a leaky roof — or a promise not to do something, such as build a second story on a house that will block the neighbor’s view. Whatever its particulars, consideration must be something of value to the people who are making the contract.

Consign

v. 1) to deliver goods to a merchant to sell on behalf of the party delivering the items, as distinguished from transferring to a retailer at a wholesale price for re-sale. Example: leaving one’s auto at a dealer to sell and split the profit. 2) to deliver to a carrier to be taken to an agent of the sender. 3) when a debtor has belongings but no money to pay his/her creditors and deposits his/her goods with a trustee who will sell them to raise money to pay the owner’s debts and creditors. This is done by agreement between a debtor and his/her creditors or by order of a bankruptcy judge.

Consignee

n. a person or business holding another’s goods for sale or for delivery to a designated agent.

Consignment

n. the act of consigning goods to one who will sell them for the owner or transport them for the owner.

Consortium

1) A group of separate individuals or companies that come together to undertake an enterprise or transaction that is beyond the means of any one member. For example, a group of local businesses may form a consortium to fund and construct a new office complex. 2) The duties and rights associated with marriage. Consortium includes all the tangible and intangible benefits that one spouse derives from the other, including material support, companionship, affection, guidance and sexual relations. The term may arise in a lawsuit if a spouse brings a claim against a third party for “loss of consortium” after the other spouse is injured or killed.

Constable

A peace officer for a particular geographic area — most often a rural county — who commonly has the power to serve legal papers, arrest lawbreakers and keep the peace. Depending on the state, a constable may be similar to a marshal or sheriff.

Construction

n. the act of a lawyer or court in interpreting and giving meaning to a statute or the language of a document such as a contract or will when there is some ambiguity or question about its meaning. In constitutional law, there is a distinction between liberal construction (broad construction) and strict construction (narrow construction). Liberal construction adds modern and societal meanings to the language, while strict construction adheres closely to the original language and intent without interpretation.

Constructive eviction

When a landlord provides housing that is so substandard that a landlord has legally evicted the tenant. For example, if the landlord refuses to provide heat or water or refuses to clean up an environmental health hazard, the tenant has the right to move out and stop paying rent, without incurring legal liability for breaking the lease.

Constructive fraud

n. when the circumstances show that someone’s actions give him/her an unfair advantage over another by unfair means (lying or not telling a buyer about defects in a product, for example), the court may decide from the methods used and the result that it should treat the situation as if there was actual fraud even if all the technical elements of fraud have not been proven.

Constructive notice

n. a fiction that a person got notice even though actual notice was not personally delivered to him/her. The law may provide that a public notice put on the courthouse bulletin board is a substitute for actual notice. A prime example is allowing service by publication when a spouse has left the state to avoid service (legal delivery of a legal notice) in a divorce action. The legal advertisement of the summons in an approved newspaper is treated as constructive notice, just as if the summons and petition had been served personally.

Constructive possession

n. when a person does not have actual possession, but has the power to control an asset, he/she has constructive possession. Having the key to a safe deposit box, for example, gives one constructive possession.

Constructive trust

n. when a person has title to property and/or takes possession of it under circumstances in which he/she is holding it for another, even though there is no formal trust document or agreement. The court may determine that the holder of the title holds it as constructive trustee for the benefit of the intended owner. This may occur through fraud, breach of faith, ignorance or inadvertence.

Construe

v. to determine the meaning of the words of a written document, statute or legal decision, based upon rules of legal interpretation as well as normal, widely accepted meanings.

Consumer protection laws

n. almost all states and the federal government have enacted laws and set up agencies to protect the consumer (the retail purchasers of goods and services) from inferior, adulterated, hazardous or deceptively advertised products, and deceptive or fraudulent sales practices. Federal statutes and regulations govern mail fraud, wholesome poultry and meat, misbranding and adulteration of food and cosmetics, truth in lending, false advertising, the soundness of banks, securities sales, standards of housing materials, flammable fabrics, and various business practices. The Magnuson-Moss Act (1973) sets minimum standards for product warranties, makes a company that financed the sale responsible for product defects, and creates liability (financial responsibility) for “implied” warranties (when the circumstances show that a warranty of lack of defects was intended) as well as express (specific) warranties. Mail fraud may include fake contests, “low-ball” price traps (bait and switch), supposed credit for referrals of your friends, phoney home improvement loans with huge final payments, and swamp land sales. Some states’ laws regulate and give some protection against high-pressure door-to-door sales, false labeling, unsolicited merchandise, abusive collection practices, misleading advertising and referral and promotional sales. Almost all states have agencies set up to actively protect the consumer.

Contempt of court

Behavior in or out of court that violates a court order, or otherwise disrupts or shows disregard for the court. Refusing to answer a proper question, to file court papers on time or to follow local court rules can expose witnesses, lawyers and litigants to contempt findings. Contempt of court is punishable by fine or imprisonment.

Contingency

A provision in a contract stating that some or all of the terms of the contract will be altered or voided by the occurrence of a specific event. For example, a contingency in a contract for the purchase of a house might state that if the buyer does not approve the inspection report of the physical condition of the property, the buyer does not have to complete the purchase.

Contingency fee

A method of paying a lawyer for legal representation by which, instead of an hourly or per job fee, the lawyer receives a percentage of the money her client obtains after settling or winning the case. Often contingency fee agreements — which are most commonly used in personal injury cases — award the successful lawyer between 20% and 50% of the amount recovered. Lawyers representing defendants charged with crimes may not charge contingency fees. In most states, contingency fee agreements must be in writing.

Contingent

adj. possible, but not certain.

Contingent beneficiary

1) An alternate beneficiary named in a will, trust or other document. 2) Any person entitled to property under a will if one or more prior conditions are satisfied. For example, if Fred is entitled to take property under a will only if he’s married at the time of the will maker’s death, Fred is a contingent beneficiary. Similarly, if Ellen is named to receive a house only in the event her mother, who has been named to live in the house, moves out of it, Ellen is a contingent beneficiary.

Contingent interest

n. an interest in real property which, according to the deed (or a will or trust), a party will receive only if a certain event occurs or certain circumstances happen. Examples: surviving a person who had a life estate (the right to use the property for his/her life), or having children at the time such a life estate ends.

Continuance

The postponement of a hearing, trial or other scheduled court proceeding, at the request of one or both parties, or by the judge without consulting them. Unhappiness with long trial court delays has resulted in the adoption by most states of “fast track” rules that sharply limit the ability of judges to grant continuances.

Continuing objection

n. an objection to certain questions or testimony during a trial which has been “overruled” by the judge, but the attorney who made the objection announces he/she is “continuing” the objection to all other questions on the same topic or with the same legal impropriety in the opinion of the attorney. Thus a “continuing” objection does not require an objection every time the same question or same subject is introduced.

Contra

Latin for “against” or “opposite to”. This usage is usually found in legal writing in statements.

Contract

A legally binding agreement involving two or more people or businesses (called parties) that sets forth what the parties will or will not do. Most contracts that can be carried out within one year can be either oral or written. Major exceptions include contracts involving the ownership of real estate and commercial contracts for goods worth $500 or more, which must be in writing to be enforceable. A contract is formed when competent parties — usually adults of sound mind or business entities — mutually agree to provide each other some benefit (called consideration), such as a promise to pay money in exchange for a promise to deliver specified goods or services or the actual delivery of those goods and services. A contract normally requires one party to make a reasonably detailed offer to do something — including, typically, the price, time for performance and other essential terms and conditions — and the other to accept without significant change. For example, if I offer to sell you ten roses for $5 to be delivered next Thursday and you say “It’s a deal,” we’ve made a valid contract. On the other hand, if one party fails to offer something of benefit to the other, there is no contract.

Contractor

n. 1) a person or entity that enters into a contract. 2) commonly, a person or entity that agrees to construct a building or to provide or install specialized portions of the construction. The party responsible for the overall job is a “general contractor,” and those he/she/it hires to construct or install certain parts (electrical, plumbing, roofing, tile-laying, etc.) are “subcontractors,” who are responsible to the general contractor and not to the property owner. An owner must be sure that the subcontractors are paid by the general contractor by demanding and receiving proof of payment, or the subcontractor will be entitled to payment from the owner based on a mechanic’s lien against the property. 3) a person who performs services but is not an employee, often called an “independent contractor.”

Contribution

n. 1) donation to a charity or political campaign. 2) the sharing of a loss by each of several persons who may have been jointly responsible for injury to a third party, who entered into a business which lost money or who owe a debt jointly. Quite often this arises when one responsible party pays more than his share and then demands contribution from the others in proportion to their share of the obligation.

Contributory negligence

n. a doctrine of common law that if a person was injured in part due to his/her own negligence (his/her negligence “contributed” to the accident), the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages (money) from another party who supposedly caused the accident. Under this rule, a badly injured person who was only slightly negligent could not win in court against a very negligent defendant. The possible unfair results have led some juries to ignore the rule and, in the past few decades, most states have adopted a comparative negligence test in which the relative percentages of negligence by each person are used to determine damage recovery (how much money would be paid to the injured person).

Control

1) n. the power to direct, manage, oversee and/or restrict the affairs, business or assets of a person or entity. 2) v. to exercise the power of control.

Controlling law

n. the laws of the state which will be relied upon in interpreting or judging disputes involving a contract, trust or other documents. Quite often an agreement will state as one of its provisions that the controlling law will be that of a particular state.

Controversy

n. 1) disagreement, argument or quarrel. 2) a dispute, which must be an actual contested issue between parties in order to be heard by a court. The U.S. Supreme Court particularly requires an “actual controversy” and avoids giving “what if” advisory opinions.

Convey

v. to transfer title (official ownership) to real property (or an interest in real property) from one (grantor) to another (grantee) by a written deed (or an equivalent document such as a judgment of distribution which conveys real property from an estate). This is completed by recording the document with the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds. It only applies to real property.

Conveyance

n. a generic term for any written document which transfers (conveys) real property or real property interests from one party to another. A conveyance must be acknowledged before a notary (or if a court judgment be certified as the same as the document on file) and recorded with the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds.

Cookie

A piece of information that a website stores on a visitor’s hard drive so that the website can retrieve the information when the visitor returns to the site. For example, a website may use a cookie to retrieve a visitor’s name and address so the visitor doesn’t have to enter that information again. A website can legally use cookies to personalize a visitor’s experience, to track a visitor’s movements on a site or to target a visitor for specific advertisements. Generally, a cookie cannot be used to corrupt or steal data, such as an email address, from a visitor’s hard drive.

Cooling-off rule

A rule that allows you to cancel a contract within a specified time period (typically three days) after signing it. Federal cooling-off rules apply this three-day grace period to sales made door-to-door and anywhere other than a seller’s normal place of business, such as at a trade show. Another federal cooling-off rule lets you cancel a home improvement loan or second mortgage within three days of signing. Various states have cooling-off rules that sometimes apply even longer cancellation periods to specific types of sales, such as dancing lessons and timeshares.

Cooperative

n. an association of individual businesses, farmers, ranchers or manufacturers with similar interests, intending to cooperate in marketing, shipping and related activities (sometimes under a single brand name) to sell their products efficiently, and then share the profits based on the production, capital or effort of each. Cooperatives include dairy milk producers, cotton gins and thousands of other enterprises of all sizes. There are also cooperatives in which consumers form retail outlets like grocery stores and share the profits based on the amount of patronage of each member, but they have found it difficult to compete with the giant supermarket chains. Some cooperatives exist to operate housing complexes.

Cooperative housing

n. an arrangement in which an association or corporation owns a group of housing units and the common areas for the use of all the residents. The individual participants own a share in the cooperative which entitles them to occupy an apartment (or town house) as if they were owners, to have equal access to the common areas and to vote for members of the board of directors which manages the cooperative. A cooperative differs from a condominium project in that the owners of the condominium units actually own their airspace and a percentage interest in the common area. In a cooperative there are often restrictions on transfer of shares such as giving priority to other members, limits on income or maximum sales price.

Cooperative insurance

Compulsory employment benefits provided by a state or federal government to ensure a minimum standard of living for lower and middle income people. Survivors benefits, disability benefits and health insurance are common examples. Also called social insurance.

Copy

For copyright purposes, the physical form in which an expression is reproduced and retained over time, no matter how brief. Copies include such things as photocopies, computer disks and tape recordings. The exclusive right to prepare copies of an original work is one of the primary rights protected by a copyright.

Copyright

A legal device that provides the owner the right to control how a creative work is used. A copyright is comprised of a number of exclusive rights, including the right to make copies, authorize others to make copies, make derivative works, sell and market the work and perform the work. Any one of these rights can be sold separately through transfers of copyright ownership.

Copyright notice

The © symbol, plus the date of publication and the author’s name. For works published in the U.S. after March 1, 1989, no copyright notice is required for copyright protection within the U.S. or any country that has signed the Berne Convention or GATT. A notice is still useful to remind others that the work is copyrighted, to steer a would-be user in the right direction to obtain permission to use the copyrighted material and to preclude a defense of “I didn’t know it was copyrighted” if someone uses the copyrighted material without permission.

Copyright Office

A branch of the U.S. Library of Congress that oversees the implementation of the federal copyright laws, including issuing regulations and processing applications for the registration of copyrights.

Copyright owner

Under the Copyright Act of 1976, a term with two meanings. First, it refers to the person or entity listed as the owner in the U.S. Copyright Office, usually the original author or developer. Second, it refers to a person or entity to which an exclusive part of the copyright has been transferred in writing. For instance, if Harry writes and copyrights a book, then sells the right to prepare a screenplay based on the book to a movie studio, both he and the studio are copyright owners.

Copyright registration

Act required by the U.S. Copyright Office before a court action may be brought to prevent infringement. Copyright protection automatically attaches to any work of authorship as soon as it is fixed in a tangible medium of expression. Registration also confers strategic benefits in an infringement action, including a presumption that the registered owner is the rightful owner, as well as the ability to collect damages that often make the difference between an owner being able to afford litigation and having to forego his or her rights.

Coroner

n. a county official with the responsibility to determine the cause of death of anyone who dies violently (by attack or accident), suddenly, or suspiciously. The coroner or one of his/her staff must examine the body at the scene of such a death and make a report. If the cause is not obvious or certified by an attending physician, then the coroner may order a “coroner’s inquest” which requires an autopsy (postmortem). If that is not conclusive, the coroner may hold a hearing as part of the inquest, although this is rare due to scientific advances in pathology.

Corporate opportunity

n. a business opportunity which becomes known to a corporate official, particularly a director or other upper management, due to his/her position within the corporation. In essence, the opportunity or knowledge belongs to the corporation, and the officials owe a duty (a fiduciary duty) not to use that opportunity or knowledge for their own benefit. The corporation may have the right to damages (to be paid off) for such improper appropriation (use) of the opportunity on the theory that the official holds it in “constructive trust” for the corporation. The corporation may obtain an injunction (court order) to prevent someone’s use of the knowledge or opportunity.

Corporate resolution

A written document that describes an action taken by the board of directors of a corporation. For example, when a corporation issues a stock dividend, the declaration of the dividend is a corporate resolution.

Corporation

A legal structure authorized by state law that allows a business to organize as a separate legal entity from its owners. A nonprofit is often referred to as an “artificial legal person,” meaning that, like an individual, it can enter into contracts, sue and be sued and do the many other things necessary to carry on a business. One advantage of incorporating is that a corporation’s owners (shareholders) are legally shielded from personal liability for the corporation’s liabilities and debts (unpaid taxes are often an exception). In theory, a corporation can be organized either for profit-making or nonprofit purposes. Most profit-making corporations are known as C corporations and are taxed separately from their owners, but those organized under subchapter S of the Internal Revenue Code are pass-through tax entities, meaning that all profits are federally taxed on the personal income tax returns of their owners

Corpus

Latin for body.The principal (usually money, securities and other assets) of a trust or estate as distinguished from interest or profits.

Corpus delecti

Latin for the “body of the crime.” Used to describe physical evidence, such as the corpse of a murder victim or the charred frame of a torched building.

Corpus juris

Latin the body of the law, meaning a compendium of all laws, cases and the varied interpretations of them. There are several encyclopedias of the law which fit this definition, the most famous of which is Corpus Juris Secundum. Several states have such series of books covering explanations of the law of that state.

Corroborate

v. to confirm and sometimes add substantiating (reinforcing) testimony to the testimony of another witness or a party in a trial.

Corroborating evidence

n. evidence which strengthens, adds to, or confirms already existing evidence.

Cosigner

A person who signs his or her name to a loan agreement, lease or credit application. If the primary debtor does not pay, the cosigner is fully responsible for the loan or debt. Many people use cosigners to qualify for a loan or credit card. Landlords may require a cosigner when renting to a student or someone with a poor credit history.

Cost bill

n. a list of claimed court costs submitted by the prevailing (winning) party in a lawsuit after the judge states his/her judgment formally called a “memorandum of costs.” Statutes limit what can be included in these costs.

Cost of completion

n. the amount of money (damages) required to complete performance (finish the job) when a contract has been breached by the failure to perform. Example: when a general contractor breaches by not completing a house, the cost of completion is the actual cost of bringing in a new builder to finish what is left to do. The actual costs become the measure of damages rather than an estimate of cost based on percentage of work to be done.

Counsel

1) n. a lawyer, attorney, attorney-at-law, counsellor, counsellor-at-law, solicitor, barrister, advocate or proctor (a lawyer in admiralty court), licensed to practice law. In the United States they all mean the same thing. 2) v. to give legal advice. 3) v. in some jurisdictions, to urge someone to commit a crime, which in itself is a crime.

Counsellor

n. a licensed attorney.

Count

n. each separate statement in a complaint which states a cause of action which, standing alone, would give rise to a lawsuit, or each separate charge in a criminal action. For example, the complaint in a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit might state: First Count (or cause of action) for negligence, and then state the detailed allegations; Second Count for breach of contract; Third Count for debt and so forth. In a criminal case each count would be a statement of a different alleged crime. There are also so-called common counts which cover various types of debt.

Counterclaim

A defendant’s court papers that seek to reverse the thrust of the lawsuit by claiming that it was the plaintiff — not the defendant — who committed legal wrongs, and that as a result it is the defendant who is entitled to money damages or other relief. Usually filed as part of the defendant’s answer — which also denies plaintiff’s claims — a counterclaim is commonly but not always based on the same events that form the basis of the plaintiff’s complaint. For example, a defendant in an auto accident lawsuit might file a counterclaim alleging that it was really the plaintiff who caused the accident. In some states, the counterclaim has been replaced by a similar legal pleading called a cross-complaint. In other states and in federal court, where counterclaims are still used, a defendant must file any counterclaim that stems from the same events covered by the plaintiff’s complaint or forever lose the right to do so. In still other states where counterclaims are used, they are not mandatory, meaning a defendant is free to raise a claim that it was really the plaintiff who was at fault either in a counterclaim or later as part of a separate lawsuit.

Counterclaim

n. a retaliatory claim by a defendant against a plaintiff in a lawsuit included in the defendant’s answer and intending to off-set and/or reduce the amount of the plaintiff’s original claim against the defendant. In many states the counterclaim is no longer allowed, in which case a cross-complaint, which is a separate complaint, must be filed by the defendant, but as part of the same lawsuit. On the other hand, in federal cases, if the defendant believes he/she/it has a legitimate counterclaim to reduce damages it must be alleged (stated) in the answer or it is barred from being considered.

Counterfeit

1) adj. describing a document, particularly money, which is forged or created to look real and intended to pass for real. 2) v. to criminally forge or print a false copy of money, bonds, or other valuable documents, intending to profit from the falsity. 3) n. shorthand for phoney money passed for real.

Counteroffer

The rejection of an offer to buy or sell that simultaneously makes a different offer, changing the terms in some way. For example, if a buyer offers $5000 for a used car, and the seller replies that he wants $5500, the seller has rejected the buyer’s offer of $5000 and made a counteroffer to sell at $5500. The legal significance of a counteroffer is that it completely voids the original offer, so that if the seller decided to sell for $5000 the next day, the buyer would be under no legal obligation to pay that amount for the car.

Counterpart

n. in the law of contracts, a written paper which is one of several documents which constitute a contract, such as a written offer and a written acceptance. Often a contract is in several counterparts which are the same but each paper is signed by a different party, particularly if they are in different localities.

Course

n. in the midst of or actively involved in at that time, as “in the course of business, course of employment, course of trade.”

Course of employment

adj. actively involved in a person’s employment at a particular time, most likely when an accident occurred, which is required to make a claim for work-related injury under state Worker’s Compensation Acts.

Court

n. 1) the judge, as in “The court rules in favor of the plaintiff.” 2) any official tribunal (court) presided over by a judge or judges in which legal issues and claims are heard and determined. In the United States there are essentially two systems: federal courts and state courts. The basic federal court system has jurisdiction over cases involving federal statutes, constitutional questions, actions between citizens of different states, and certain other types of cases. Its trial courts are District Courts in one or more districts per state, over which there are District Courts of Appeal (usually three-judge panels) to hear appeals from judgments of the District Courts within the “circuit.” There are 10 geographic circuits throughout the nation. Appeals on constitutional questions and other significant cases are heard by the Supreme Court, but only if that court agrees to hear the case. There are also special federal courts such as bankruptcy and tax courts with appeals directed to the District Courts. Each state has local trial courts, which include courts for misdemeanors (non-penitentiary crimes), smaller demand civil actions (called municipal, city, justice or some other designation), and then courts, usually set up in each county (variously called Superior, District, County, Common Pleas courts and called Supreme Court in New York) to hear felonies (crimes punished by state prison terms), estates, divorces and major lawsuits. The highest state court is called the State Supreme Court, except in New York and Maryland, which call them Court of Appeals. Some 29 states have intermediate appeals courts which hear appeals from trial courts which will result in final decisions unless the State Supreme Court chooses to consider the matter. Some states have speciality courts such as family, surrogate and domestic relations. Small claims courts are an adjunct of the lowest courts handling lesser disputes (although California’s limit is $5,000) with no representation by attorneys and short and somewhat informal trials conducted by judges, commissioners or lawyers. The great number of law cases and lawyers’ procedural maneuvers has clogged courts’ calendars and has induced many states or local courts to set up mediation, arbitration, mandatory settlement conferences and other formats to encourage settlement or early judgments without the cost and wait of full court trials.

Court calendar

A list of the cases and hearings that will be held by a court on a particular day, week or month. Because the length of time it will take to conduct a particular hearing or trial is at best a guess and many courts have a number of judges, accurately scheduling cases is difficult, with the result that court calendars are often revised and cases are often heard later than initially planned. A court calendar is sometimes called a docket, trial schedule or trial list.

Court costs

The fees charged for the use of a court, including the initial filing fee, fees for serving the summons, complaint and other court papers, fees to pay a court reporter to transcribe deposition and in-court testimony and, if a jury is involved, to pay the daily stipend of jurors. Often costs to photocopy court papers and exhibits are also included. Court costs must be paid by both parties as the case progresses, but ultimately, the losing party will be responsible for both parties’ costs.

Court of appeals

n. any court (state or federal) which hears appeals from judgments and rulings of trial courts or lower appeals courts.

Court of Customs and Patent Appeals

n. a federal court established (1929) to hear appeals from decisions by the U.S. Patent Office and from the U.S. Customs Court. It sits in Washington, D. C. and is composed of five judges.

Court of equity

n. originally in English common law and in several states there were separate courts (often called chancery courts) which handled lawsuits and petitions requesting remedies other than damages, such as writs, injunctions and specific performance. Gradually the courts of equity have merged with courts of law. Federal bankruptcy courts are the one example of courts which operate as courts of equity.

Court of law

n. any tribunal within a judicial system. Under English common law and in some states it was a court which heard only lawsuits in which damages were sought, as distinguished from a court of equity which could grant special remedies. That distinction has dissolved and every court (with the exception of federal bankruptcy courts) is a court of law.

Court trial

a trial with a judge but no jury.

Covenant

A restriction on the use of real estate that governs its use, such as a requirement that the property will be used only for residential purposes. Covenants are found in deeds or in documents that bind everyone who owns land in a particular development. See covenants, conditions and restrictions

Covenant not to compete

n. a common provision in a contract for sale of a business in which the seller agrees not to compete in the same business for a period of years or in the geographic area. This covenant is usually allocated (given) a value in the sales price.

Covenant that runs with the land

n. a promise contained in a deed to land or real estate which is binding upon the current owner and all future owners.

Covenants, conditions & restrictions (CC&Rs)

The restrictions governing the use of real estate, usually enforced by a homeowners’ association and passed on to the new owners of property. For example, CC&Rs may tell you how big your house can be, how you must landscape your yard or whether you can have pets. If property is subject to CC&Rs, buyers must be notified before the sale takes place.

Credibility

n. whether testimony is worthy of belief, based on competence of the witness and likelihood that it is true. Unless the testimony is contrary to other known facts or is extremely unlikely based on human experience, the test of credibility is purely subjective.

Credible witness

n. a witness whose testimony is more than likely to be true based on his/her experience, knowledge, training and appearance of honesty and forthrightness, as well as common human experience. This is subjective in that the trier of fact (judge or jury) may be influenced by the demeanor of the witness or other factors.

Credit bureau

A private, profit-making company that collects and sells information about a person’s credit history. Typical clients include banks, mortgage lenders and credit card companies that use the information to screen applicants for loans and credit cards. There are three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union, and they are regulated by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.

Credit counseling

Counseling that explores the possibility of repaying debts outside of bankruptcy and educates the debtor about credit, budgeting, and financial management. Under the new bankruptcy law, a debtor must undergo credit counseling with an approved provider before filing for bankruptcy.

Credit insurance

Insurance a lender requires a borrower to purchase to cover the loan. If the borrower dies or becomes disabled before paying off the loan, the policy will pay off the remaining balance. Federal and state consumer protection laws require the lender to disclose to existing and potential borrowers the terms and costs of obtaining credit insurance because it can affect the terms of the loan.

Credit report

An account of your credit history, prepared by a credit bureau. A credit report will contain both credit history, such as what you owe to whom and whether you make the payments on time, as well as personal history, such as your former addresses, employment record and lawsuits in which you have been involved. An estimated 50% of all credit reports contain errors, such as accounts that don’t belong to you, an incorrect account status or information reported that is older than seven years (ten years in the case of a bankruptcy).

Creditor

A person or entity (such as a bank) to whom a debt is owed.

Creditor’s claim

n. a claim required to be filed in writing, in a proper form by a person or entity owed money by a debtor who has filed a petition in bankruptcy court (or had a petition filed to declare the debtor bankrupt), or is owed money by a person who has died. Notice of the need to file a creditor’s claim in the estate of a person who has died must be printed in a legal advertisement giving notice of death. Then a creditor has only a few months to file the claim, and it must be in a form approved by the courts.

Creditor’s rights

n. the field of law dealing with the legal means and procedures to collect debts and judgments.

Crime

A type of behavior that is has been defined by the state, as deserving of punishment which usually includes imprisonment. Crimes and their punishments are defined by Congress and state legislatures.

Criminal

1) n. a popular term for anyone who has committed a crime, whether convicted of the offense or not. More properly it should apply only to those actually convicted of a crime. Repeat offenders are sometimes called habitual criminals. 2) adj. describing certain acts or people involved in or relating to a crime. Examples of uses include “criminal taking,” “criminal conspiracy,” a “criminal gang.”

Criminal case

A lawsuit brought by a prosecutor employed by the federal, state or local government that charges a person with the commission of a crime.

Criminal law

Laws written by Congress and state legislators that make certain behavior illegal and punishable by fines and/or imprisonment. By contrast, civil laws are not punishable by imprisonment. In order to be found guilty of a criminal law, the prosecution must show that the defendant intended to act as he did; in civil law, you may sometimes be responsible for your actions even though you did not intend the consequences. For example, civil law makes you financially responsible for a car accident you caused but didn’t intend.

Cross-complaint

Sometimes called a cross-claim, legal paperwork that a defendant files to initiate her own lawsuit against the original plaintiff, a co-defendant or someone who is not yet a party to the lawsuit. A cross-complaint must concern the same events that gave rise to the original lawsuit. For example, a defendant accused of causing an injury when she failed to stop at a red light might cross-complain against the mechanic who recently repaired her car, claiming that his negligence resulted in the brakes failing and, hence, that the accident was his fault. In some states where the defendant wishes to make a legal claim against the original plaintiff and no third party is claimed to be involved, a counterclaim, not a cross-complaint, should be used.

Cross-examination

At trial, the opportunity to question any witness, including your opponent, who testifies against you on direct examination. The opportunity to cross-examine usually occurs as soon as a witness completes her direct testimony — often the opposing lawyer or party, or sometimes the judge, signals that it is time to begin cross-examination by saying, “Your witness.” Typically, there are two important reasons to engage in cross-examination: to attempt to get the witness to say something helpful to your side, or to cast doubt on (impeach) the witness by getting her to admit something that reduces her credibility — for example, that her eyesight is so poor that she may not have seen an event clearly.

Cross-licensing

Businesses’ sharing of patent rights through licensing agreements so that they can use each other’s inventions.

Cruelty

Any act of inflicting unnecessary emotional or physical pain. Cruelty or mental cruelty is the most frequently used fault ground for divorce because as a practical matter, courts will accept minor wrongs or disagreements as sufficient evidence of cruelty to justify the divorce.

Culpable

adj. sufficiently responsible for criminal acts or negligence to be at fault and liable for the conduct. Sometimes culpability rests on whether the person realized the wrongful nature of his/her actions and thus should take the blame.

Cumis counsel

n. an attorney employed by a defendant in a lawsuit when there is an insurance policy supposedly covering the claim, but there is a conflict of interest between the insurance company and the insured defendant. Such a conflict might arise if the insurance company is denying full coverage. In some states (notably California) the defendant can demand that the insurance company pay the fees of his/her own attorney rather than use an insurance company lawyer. Often the insurance company will require that the attorney for the defendant be approved by the company.

Cumulative voting

n. in corporations, a system of voting by shareholders for directors in which the shareholder can multiply his voting shares by the number of candidates and vote them all for one person for director. This is intended to give minority shareholders a chance to elect at least one director whom they favor.

Current monthly income

As defined by the new bankruptcy law, a bankruptcy filer’s total gross income (whether taxable or not), averaged over the six-month period immediately preceding the bankruptcy filing. The debtor’s current monthly income is used to determine whether the debtor can file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, among other things.

Curtesy

n. in old common law, the right of a surviving husband to a life estate in the lands of his deceased wife, if they had a surviv- ing child or children who would inherit the land. A few states still recognize this charming anachronism.

Custodial interference

The taking of a child from his or her parent with the intent to interfere with that parent’s physical custody of the child. This is a crime in most states, even if the taker also has custody rights.

Custody

n. 1) holding property under one’s control. 2) law enforcement officials’ act of holding an accused or convicted person in criminal proceedings, beginning with the arrest of that person. 3) in domestic relations (divorce, dissolution) a court’s determination of which parent (or other appropriate party) should have physical and/or legal control and responsibility for a minor child.

Cy pres doctrine

n. (see-pray doctrine) from French, meaning “as close as possible.” When a gift is made by will or trust (usually for charitable or educational purposes), and the named recipient of the gift does not exist, has dissolved or no longer conducts the activity for which the gift is made, then the estate or trustee must make the gift to an organization which comes closest to fulfilling the purpose of the gift. Sometimes this results in heated court disputes in which a judge must determine the appropriate substitute to receive the gift. Example: dozens of local Societies for Protection of Cruelty to Animals contested for a gift which was made without designating which chapter would receive the benefits. The judge wisely divided up the money among several S.P.C.A. chapters.

Cybersquatting

Buying a domain name that reflects the name of a business or famous person with the intent of selling the name back to the business or celebrity for a profit. The Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999 authorizes a cybersquatting victim to file a federal lawsuit to regain a domain name or sue for financial compensation. Under the act, registering, selling or using a domain name with the intent to profit from someone else’s good name is considered cybersquatting. Victims of cybersquatting can also use the provisions of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy adopted by ICANN, an international tribunal administering domain names. This international policy results in arbitration of the dispute, not litigation.

Damages

In a lawsuit, money awarded to one party based on injury or loss caused by the other. There are many different types or categories of damages that occasionally overlap, including: compensatory damages: Damages that cover actual injury or economic loss. Compensatory damages are intended to put the injured party in the position he was in prior to the injury. Compensatory damages typically include medical expenses, lost wages and the repair or replacement of property. Also called “actual damages.” general damages: Damages intended to cover injuries for which an exact dollar amount cannot be calculated. General damages are usually composed of pain and suffering, but can also include compensation for a shortened life expectancy, loss of the companionship of a loved one and, in defamation cases (libel and slander), loss of reputation. nominal damages: A term used when a judge or jury finds in favor of one party to a lawsuit–often because a law requires them to do so–but concludes that no real harm was done and therefore awards a very small amount of money. For example, if one neighbor sues another for libel based on untrue things the second neighbor said about the first, a jury might conclude that although libel technically occurred, no serious damage was done to the first neighbor’s reputation and consequentially award nominal damages of $1.00. punitive damages: Sometimes called exemplary damages, awarded over and above special and general damages to punish a losing party’s willful or malicious misconduct. special damages: Damages that cover the winning party’s out-of-pocket costs. For example, in a vehicle accident, special damages typically include medical expenses, car repair costs, rental car fees and lost wages. Often called “specials.” statutory damages: Damages required by statutory law. For example, in many states if a landlord doesn’t return a tenant’s security deposit in a timely fashion or give a reason why it is being withheld, the state statutes give the judge authority to order the landlord to pay damages of double or triple the amount of the deposit. treble damages: Lawyerspeak for triple damages. To penalize lawbreakers, statutes occasionally give judges the power to award the winning party in a civil lawsuit the amount it lost as a result of the other party’s illegal conduct, plus damages of three times that amount. A cash compensation ordered by a court to offset losses or suffering caused by another’s fault or negligence.

DBA

n. short for “doing business as,” when a person or entity uses a business name instead of his/her/its own. All states have requirements for filing a certificate of “doing business under a fictitious name” either with the County Clerk, the state Secretary of State or some other official to inform the public as to the real person or entity behind a business name. It is not necessary if the business includes the name of the true owner and is not to be confused with the use of a corporation name, since that is registered with the state.

De facto

Latin for “in fact.” Often used in place of “actual” to show that the court will treat as a fact authority being exercised or an entity acting as if it had authority, even though the legal requirements have not been met.

De facto corporation

n. a company which operates as if it were a corporation although it has not completed the legal steps to become incorporated (has not filed its articles, for example) or has been dissolved or suspended but continues to function. The court temporarily treats the corporation as if it were legal in order to avoid unfairness to people who thought the corporation was legal.

De jure

Latin for “lawful,” as distinguished from de facto (actual).

De jure corporation

n. a corporation in good standing under the law, as compared to a de facto corporation which is acting while not fulfilling legal requirements.

De minimis

Latin for “of minimum importance” or “trifling.” Essentially it refers to something or a difference that is so little, small, minuscule or tiny that the law does not refer to it and will not consider it.

De novo

Latin for “anew,” which means starting over, as in a trial de novo. For example, a decision in a small claims case may be appealed to a local trial court, which may try the case again, de novo.

Dealer

n. anyone who buys goods or property for the purpose of selling as a business. It is important to distinguish a dealer from someone who occasionally buys and occasionally sells, since dealers may need to obtain business licenses, register with the sales tax authorities, and may not defer capital gains taxes by buying other property.

Death taxes

Taxes levied at death, based on the value of property left behind. Federal death taxes are called estate taxes. Some states levy inheritance taxes on people who inherit property.

Debenture

A type of bond (an interest-bearing document that serves as evidence of a debt) that does not require security in the form of a mortgage or lien on a specific piece of property. Repayment of a debenture is guaranteed only by the general credit of the issuer. For example, a corporation may issue a secured bond that gives the bondholder a lien on the corporation’s factory. But if it issues a debenture, the loan is not secured by any property at all. When a corporation issues debentures, the holders are considered creditors of the corporation and are entitled to payment before shareholders if the business folds.

Debit card

A card issued by a bank that combines the functions of an ATM card and checks. A debit card can be used to withdraw cash at a bank like an ATM card, and it can also be used at stores to pay for goods and services in place of a check. Unlike a credit card, a debit card automatically withdraws money from your checking account at the time of the transaction. Debit cards are regulated by the Electronic Funds Transfer Act.

Debt

n. 1) a sum of money due to another. 2) obligation to deliver particular goods or perform certain acts according to an agreement, such as returning a favor. 3) a cause of action in a lawsuit for a particular amount owed.

Debt collector

A person who works in the in-house collections department of an original creditor or a collection agency to track down debtors and get them to pay what they owe. Debt collectors can be relentless, often using scare tactics, humiliation and repeated phone calls to extract payments or promises to pay.

Debtor

A person or entity (such as a corporation) who owes money. A person who owes money, goods or services to another, the latter being referred to as the creditor.

Debtor in possession

n. in bankruptcy proceedings when a debtor has filed for the right to submit a plan for reorganization or refinancing, and the debtor is allowed to continue to manage his/her/its business without an appointed trustee, that debtor is called a “debtor in possession.”

Deceased

1) adj. dead. 2) n. the person who has died, as used in the handling of his/her estate, probate of will and other proceedings after death, or in reference to the victim of a homicide (as: “The deceased had been shot three times.”) In probate law the more genteel word is the “decedent.”

Decedent

A person who has died, also called “deceased.”

Deceit

n. dishonesty, fraudulent conduct, false statements made knowing them to be untrue, by which the liar intends to deceive a party receiving the statements and expects the party to believe and rely on them. This is a civil wrong (tort) giving rise to the right of a person to sue the deceiver if he/she reasonably relied on such dishonesty to the point of his/her injury.

Deception

n. the act of misleading another through intentionally false statements or fraudulent actions.

Decide

v. for a judge, arbitrator, court of appeals or other magistrate or tribunal to reach a determination (decision) by choosing what is right and wrong according to the law as he/she sees it.

Decision

The outcome of a proceeding before a judge, arbitrator, government agency or other legal tribunal. “Decision” is a general term often used interchangeably with the terms judgment or “opinion.” To be precise, however, a judgment is the written form of the court’s decision in the clerk’s minutes or notes, and an opinion is a written document setting out the reasons for reaching the decision.

Declarant

n. the person making a statement, usually written and signed by that person, under “penalty of perjury” pursuant to the laws of the state in which the statement, called a declaration, is made. The declaration is more commonly used than the affidavit, which is similar to a declaration but requires taking an oath to swear to the truth attested to (certified in writing) by a notary public. In theory, a declarant who knowingly does not tell the truth would be subject to the criminal charge of perjury. Such violations are seldom pursued.

Declaration

n. 1) any statement made, particularly in writing. 2) a written statement made “under penalty of perjury” and signed by the declarant, which is the modern substitute for the more cumbersome affidavit, which requires swearing to its truth before a notary public.

Declaration of mailing

n. a form stating that a particular document has been mailed to a particular person or persons (such as opposing attorneys or the clerk of the court) and declaring the truth of that fact “under penalty of perjury,” and signed by the person in the law office responsible for mailing it. This is almost always required to be attached to filed documents so that the court is assured it has been sent to the other party.

Declaration of trust

n. the document signed by a trustor (settlor) creating a trust into which assets are placed, a trustee is appointed to manage the trust (who may be the party who created the trust), the powers and duties of management of the principal and profits of the trust are stated, and distribution of profits and principal is spelled out.

Declaration under penalty of perjury

A signed statement, sworn to be true by the signer, that will make the signer guilty of the crime of perjury if the statement is shown to be materially false — that is, the lie is relevant and significant to the case.

Declaratory judgment

A court decision in a civil case that tells the parties what their rights and responsibilities are, without awarding damages or ordering them to do anything. Unlike most court cases, where the plaintiff asks for damages or other court orders, the plaintiff in a declaratory judgment case simply wants the court to resolve an uncertainty so that it can avoid serious legal trouble in the future. Courts are usually reluctant to hear declaratory judgment cases, preferring to wait until there has been a measurable loss. But especially in cases involving important constitutional rights, courts will step in to clarify the legal landscape. For example, many cities regulate the right to assemble by requiring permits to hold a parade. A disappointed applicant who thinks the decision-making process is unconstitutional might hold his parade anyway and challenge the ordinance after he’s cited; or he might ask a court beforehand to rule on the constitutionality of the law. By going to court, the applicant may avoid a messy confrontation with the city — and perhaps a citation, as well.

Declaratory relief

n. a judge’s determination (called a “declaratory judgment”) of the parties’ rights under a contract or a statute often requested (prayed for) in a lawsuit over a contract. The theory is that an early resolution of legal rights will resolve some or all of the other issues in the matter.

Decree

n. in general, synonymous with judgment. However, in some areas of the law, the term decree is either more common or preferred as in probates of estates, domestic relations (divorce), admiralty law and in equity (court rulings ordering or prohibiting certain acts). Thus, there may be references to a final or interlocutory decree of divorce, final decree of distribution of a dead person’s estate, etc.

Decriminalization

n. the repeal or amendment of statutes which made certain acts criminal, so that those acts no longer are crimes subject to prosecution. Many states have decriminalized certain sexual practices between consenting adults, “loitering” (hanging out without any criminal activity), or outmoded racist laws against miscegenation (marriage or cohabitation between people of different races). Currently, there is a considerable movement toward decriminalization of the use of some narcotics (particularly marijuana) by adults, on various grounds, including individual rights and contention that decriminalization would take the profit out of the drug trade by making drugs available through clinics and other legal sources.

Dedication

n. the giving of land by a private person or entity to the government, typically for a street, park or school site, as part of and a condition of a real estate development. The local county or city (or other public body) must accept the dedication before it is complete. In many cases there are “dedicated” streets on old subdivision maps which were never officially accepted and, in effect, belong to no one. The adjoining property owners can sue for a judgment to give them the title to the unclaimed (unowned) street or property by a quiet title action or request abandonment by the government which did not accept the street or other property.

Dedimus potestatum

An outdated legal procedure that permitted a party to take and record the testimony of a witness before trial, but only when that testimony might otherwise be lost. For example, a party to a lawsuit might use the procedure to obtain the testimony of a witness who was terminally ill and might not be able to testify at the trial. Nowadays, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure routinely permit the taking of testimony before trial if that testimony might otherwise be lost.

Deductible

Something that is taken away or subtracted. Under an insurance policy, for example, the deductible is the maximum amount that an insured person must pay toward his own losses before he can recover from the insurer. For example, Julie’s car insurance policy has a $500 deductible. One day she forgets to set her parking brake and the car rolls backwards into a telephone pole, sustaining $2,500 in damage. Julie’s insurance company deducts $500 from the total amount and issues a check to the auto body shop for $2,000.

Deduction

In tax law, an amount that you can subtract from the total amount of income on which you owe tax. Examples of federal income tax deductions include mortgage interest, charitable contributions, and certain state taxes.

Deed

A document that transfers ownership of real estate

Deed in lieu (of foreclosure)

A means of escaping an overly burdensome mortgage. If a homeowner can’t make the mortgage payments and can’t find a buyer for the house, many lenders will accept ownership of the property in place of the money owed on the mortgage. Even if the lender won’t agree to accept the property, the homeowner can prepare a quitclaim deed that unilaterally transfers the homeowner’s property rights to the lender.

Deed of trust

n. a document which pledges real property to secure a loan, used instead of a mortgage in Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The property is deeded by the title holder (trustor) to a trustee (often a title or escrow company) which holds the title in trust for the beneficiary (the lender of the money). When the loan is fully paid, the trustor requests the trustee to return the title by reconveyance. If the loan becomes delinquent the beneficiary can file a notice of default and, if the loan is not brought current, can demand that the trustee begin foreclosure on the property so that the beneficiary may either be paid or obtain title.

Deep link

A link from one website to another that bypasses the second website’s home page and takes the user directly to an internal page on the site. For example, a deep link from Yahoo might take the user directly to a news article on a news site instead of linking to the home page of the site.

Defalcation

Withholding or misappropriating funds held for another, particularly by a public official, or failing to make a proper accounting.

Defamation

A false statement that injures someone’s reputation and exposes him to public contempt, hatred, ridicule, or condemnation. If the false statement is published in print or through broadcast media, such as radio or TV, it is called libel. If it is only spoken, it is called slander.

Default

A failure to perform a legal duty. For example, a default on a mortgage or car loan happens when you fail to make the loan payments on time, fail to maintain adequate insurance or violate some other provision of the agreement. Default on a student loan occurs when you fail to repay a loan according to the terms you agreed to when you signed the promissory note, and the holder of your loan concludes that you do not intend to repay.

Default judgment

At trial, a decision awarded to the plaintiff when a defendant fails to contest the case. To appeal a default judgment, a defendant must first file a motion in the court that issued it to have the default vacated (set aside).

Defeasance

A clause in a deed, lease, will or other legal document that completely or partially negates the document if a certain condition occurs or fails to occur. Defeasance also means the act of rendering something null and void. For example, a will may provide that a gift of property is defeasable — that is, it will be void — if the beneficiary fails to marry before the willmaker’s death.

Defect

n. an imperfection, quite often so great that the machinery or written document cannot be used. A car that will not run or has faulty brakes has a defect, and so does a deed in which a party who signed the deed to give over property did not have title to the property described. There are also minor defects, like scratches that only lessen value but do not make an object useless.

Defective

adj. not being capable of fulfilling its function, ranging from a deed of land to a piece of equipment.

Defective title

n. an apparent title to real property which fails because a claimed prior holder of the title did not have title, or there is a faulty description of the property or some other “cloud” over it, which may or may not be apparent from reading the deed.

Defendant

The person against whom a lawsuit is filed. In certain states, and in certain types of lawsuits, the defendant is called the respondent. Compare plaintiff, petitioner.

Defense

n. 1) a general term for the effort of an attorney representing a defendant during trial and in pre-trial maneuvers to defeat the party suing or the prosecution in a criminal case. 2) a response to a complaint, called an affirmative defense, to counter, defeat or remove all or a part of the contentions of the plaintiff.

Defense attorney

n. 1) the attorney representing the defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. 2) a lawyer who regularly represents defendants who have insurance and who is chosen by the insurance company. 3) a lawyer who regularly represents criminal defendants. Attorneys who regularly represent clients in actions for damages are often called “plaintiff’s attorneys.”

Deficiency judgment

n. a judgment for an amount not covered by the value of security put up for a loan or installment payments. In most states the party owed money can only get a deficiency judgment if he/she chooses to file a suit for judicial foreclosure instead of just foreclosing on real property. However, some states allow a lawsuit for a deficiency after foreclosure on the mortgage or deed of trust. The right to a deficiency judgment is often written into a lease or installment contract on a vehicle. There is a danger that the sale of a repossessed vehicle will be at a wholesale price or to a friend at a sheriff’s sale or auction, leaving the debtor holding the bag for the difference between the sale price and remainder due on the lease or contract.

Deficit

n. a shortage, less than is due, or in the case of a business or government budget, more expenditures than income. Unbalanced budgets with a planned year-end deficit are prohibited at every level of government except the federal.

Defined benefit plan

A type of pension plan that pays a definite, pre-determined amount of money when the worker retires or becomes disabled. The amount received is based on length of service with a particular employer. Most often, the monthly benefit is a fixed amount of money for each year of service. Payments under a defined benefit plan may also be calculated as a percentage of salary over the years.

Defined contribution plan

A type of pension plan that does not guarantee any particular pension amount upon retirement. Instead, the employer pays into the pension fund a certain amount every month, or every year, for each employee. The employer usually pays a fixed percentage of an employee’s wages or salary, although sometimes the amount is a fraction of the company’s profits, with the size of each employee’s pension share depending on the amount of wage or salary. Upon retirement, each employee’s pension is determined by how much was contributed to the fund on behalf of that employee over the years, plus whatever earnings that money has accumulated as part of the investments of the entire pension fund.

Defraud

v. to use deceit, falsehoods or trickery to obtain money, an object, rights or anything of value belonging to another.

Degree of kinship

n. the level of relationship between two persons related by blood, such as parent to child, one sibling to another, grandparent to grandchild or uncle to nephew, first cousins, etc., calculated as one degree for each step from a common ancestor. This may become important when determining the heirs of an estate when there is no will.

Delayed exchange

n. an exchange of property to put off capital gain taxes, in which the funds are placed in a binding trust for up to 180 days while the seller acquires an “exchanged” (another similar) property.It is sometimes called a “Starker” after the man who first used this method.

Delegate

1) v. to assign authority to another. 2) n. a person chosen to attend a convention, conference or meeting on behalf of an organization, constituency, interest group or business.

Deleterious

adj. harmful.

Deliberate

1) adj. done with care and intention or premeditated. 2) v. to consider the facts, the laws and/or other matters, particularly by members of a jury, a panel of judges or by any group including a legislature.

Deliberation

n. the act of considering, discussing and, hopefully, reaching a conclusion, such as a jury’s discussions, voting and decision-making.

Delinquent

1) adj. not paid in full amount or on time. 2) n. short for an underage violator of the law as in juvenile delinquent.

Deliver

v. to actually hand an object, money or document to another.

Delivery

n. the actual handing to another of an object, money or document (such as a deed) to complete a transaction. The delivery of a deed transfers title (provided it is then recorded), and the delivery of goods makes a sale complete and final if payment has been made. Symbolic or constructive delivery (depositing something with an agent or third person) falls short of completion unless agreed to by the parties.

Demand

1) v. to claim as a need, requirement or entitlement, as in to demand payment or performance under a contract. In a lawsuit for payment of a debt or performance of an act, the party suing (plaintiff) should allege that he/she/it demanded payment or performance. 2) n. a claim, such as an unqualified request for payment or other action. 3) the amount requested by a plaintiff (usually in writing) during negotiations to settle a lawsuit. 4) adj. referring to a note payable at any time a request to pay is made.

Demand note

n. a promissory note which is payable any time the holder of the note makes a request. This is different from a note due at a specific time, upon occurrence of an event, or by installments.

Demise

1) v. an old-fashioned expression meaning to lease or transfer (convey) real property for years or life, but not beyond that. 2) n. the deed that conveys real property only for years or life. 3) n. death. 4) n. failure.

Demonstrative evidence

n. actual objects, pictures, models and other devices which are supposedly intended to clarify the facts for the judge and jury: how an accident occurred, actual damages, medical problems, or methods used in committing an alleged crime. Many of these are not supposed to be actual evidence, but “aids” to understanding. A model of a knee or a photograph of an accident scene obviously helps, but color photos of an operation in progress or a bullet-riddled body can excite the passions of a jury. The borderline balance between legitimate aids and evidence intended to inflame a juror’s emotions is in the hands of the trial judge.

Demurrer

A request made to a court, asking it to dismiss a lawsuit on the grounds that no legal claim is asserted. For example, you might file a demurrer if your neighbor sued you for parking on the street in front of her house. Your parking habits may annoy your neighbor, but the curb is public property and parking there doesn’t cause any harm recognized by the law. After a demurrer is filed, the judge holds a hearing at which both sides can make their arguments about the matter. The judge may dismiss all or part of the lawsuit, or may allow the party who filed the lawsuit to amend its complaint. In some states and in federal court, the term demurrer has been replaced by “motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim” (called a “12(b)(6) motion” in federal court) or similar term.

Denial

n. a statement in the defendant’s answer to a complaint in a lawsuit that an allegation (claim of fact) is not true. If a defendant denies all allegations it is called a general denial. In answering, the defendant is limited to admitting, denying or denying on the basis he/she/it has no information to affirm or deny. The defendant may also state affirmative defenses.

Dependent

1) n. a person receiving support from another person (such as a parent), which may qualify the party supporting the dependent for an exemption to reduce his/her income taxes. 2) adj. requiring an event to occur, as the fulfillment of a contract is dependent on the expert being available.

Dependents benefits

A type of Social Security benefit available to spouses and minor or disabled children of retired or disabled workers who qualify for either retirement or disability benefits under the program’s rigorous qualification guidelines.

Depletion

n. when a natural resource (particularly oil) is being used up. The annual amount of depletion may, ironically, provide a tax deduction for the company exploiting the resource because if the resource they are exploiting runs out, they will no longer be able to make money from it.

Deponent

Someone whose deposition is being taken.

Deposition

An important tool used in pretrial discovery where one party questions the other party or a witness in the case. Often conducted in an attorney’s office, a deposition requires that all questions be answered under oath and be recorded by a court reporter, who creates a deposition transcript. Increasingly, depositions are being videotaped. Any deponent may be represented by an attorney. At trial, deposition testimony can be used to cast doubt on (impeach) a witness’s contradictory testimony or to refresh the memory of a suddenly forgetful witness. If a deposed witness is unavailable when the trial takes place — for example, if he or she has died — the deposition may be read to the jury in place of live testimony.

Depreciate

v. in accounting, to reduce the value of an asset each year theoretically on the basis that the assets (such as equipment, vehicles or structures) will eventually become obsolete, worn out and of little value.

Depreciation

n. the actual or theoretical gradual loss of value of an asset (particularly business equipment or buildings) through increasing age, natural wear and tear, or deterioration, even though the item may retain or even increase its replacement value due to inflation. Depreciation may be used as a business deduction for income tax reduction, spread out over the expected useful life of the asset (straight line) or at a higher rate in the early years of use (accelerated).

Depreciation reserve

n. a business fund in which the probable replacement cost of equipment is accumulated each year over the life of the asset, so it can be replaced readily when it becomes obsolete and totally depreciated.

Derelict

n. something or someone who is abandoned, such as a ship left to drift at sea or a homeless person ignored by family and society.

Dereliction

n. 1) abandoning possession, which is sometimes used in the phrase “dereliction of duty.” It includes abandoning a ship, which then becomes a “derelict” which salvagers can board. 2) an old expression for increase of land due to gradual lowering of a tide line (which means the land is building up).

Derivative action

n. a lawsuit brought by a corporation shareholder against the directors, management and/or other shareholders of the corporation, for a failure by management. In effect, the suing shareholder claims to be acting on behalf of the corporation, because the directors and management are failing to exercise their authority for the benefit of the company and all of its shareholders. This type of suit often arises when there is fraud, mismanagement, self-dealing and/or dishonesty which are being ignored by officers and the board of directors of a corporation.

Derivative work

For copyright purposes, a new work based upon an original work to which enough original creative work has been added so that the new work represents an original work of authorship. Examples of derivative works include a translation of a book into another language, a jazz version of a popular tune and a movie based on a play.

Descent

n. the rules of inheritance established by law in cases in which there is no will naming the persons to receive the possessions of a person who has died. The rules of descent vary somewhat from state to state and will usually be governed by the law of the state in which the deceased party lived. Depending on which relatives survive, the estate may go all or in part to the surviving spouse, and down the line from a parent to children (or if none survive, to grandchildren), or up to surviving parents, or collaterally to brothers and sisters. If there are no survivors among those relatives, then aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews may inherit, depending on their degree of kinship (closeness of family relationship), state laws of descent and distribution, or whether the deceased person lived in a community property state, in which the wife has a survivorship right to community property.

Descent and distribution

n. the system of laws which determine who will inherit and divide the possessions of a person who has died without a will (intestate).

Descriptive mark

A trademark or service mark that describes the characteristics of the product or service to which it’s attached. For instance, “Jiffy Lube” describes its purportedly fast service. Marks judged to be descriptive are initially considered legally weak and don’t get much protection from the courts. If federal registration is sought, they are usually placed on the Supplemental rather than Principal Trademark Register, which also doesn’t provide much protection. After a descriptive mark has been in use for five years, however, it can be moved to the Principal Register on the theory that it has by that time become well known through public exposure.

Desert

v. to intentionally abandon a person or thing.

Desertion

n. the act of abandoning, particularly leaving one’s spouse and/or children without an intent to return. In desertion cases it is often expected that a deserter who is the family breadwinner may not intend to support the family he/she left. Such conduct is less significant legally in the present era of no-fault divorce and standardized rights to child support and alimony (spousal support). Desertion can influence a court in determining visitation, custody and other post-marital issues.

Design patent

A patent issued on a new design, used for purely aesthetic reasons, that does not affect the functioning of the underlying device. Design patents last for 14 years from the date the patent is issued. For example, the unique flaring fender designs appearing on new model trucks to make them look more sporty are non-functional industrial designs that may qualify for design patents.

Determinable

adj. defining something which may be terminated upon the occurrence of a particular event, used primarily to describe an interest in real property, such as a fee simple determinable, in which property is deeded to another, but may revert to the giver or go to a third person if, as examples, the receiver (grantee) marries, divorces or no longer lives in the house.

Devise

An old legal term that is generally used to refer to real estate left to someone under the terms of a will, or to the act of leaving such real estate. In some states, “devise” now applies to any kind of property left by will, making it identical to the term bequest. Compare legacy.

Devisee

A person or entity who inherits real estate under the terms of a will.

Devolution

n. 1) the transfer of title to real property by the automatic operation of law. 2) n. the transfer of rights, powers or an office (public or private) from one person or government to another.

Dictum

Latin. A remark, statement or observation of a judge that is not a necessary part of the legal reasoning needed to reach the decision in a case. Although dictum may be cited in a legal argument, it is not binding as legal precedent, meaning that other courts are not required to accept it. For example, if a defendant ran a stop sign and caused a collision, the judge’s comments about the mechanical reliability of the particular make of the defendant’s car would not be necessary to reach a decision in the case, and would be considered dictum. In future cases, lower court judges are free to ignore the comments when reaching their decisions. Dictum is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase “obiter dictum,” which means a remark by the way, or an aside.

Diligence

n. reasonable care or attention to a matter, which is good enough to avoid a claim of negligence, or is a fair attempt (as in due diligence in a process server’s attempt to locate someone).

Dilution

A situation in which a famous trademark or service mark is used in a context in which the mark’s reputation for quality is tarnished or its distinction is blurred. In this case, trademark infringement exists even though there is no likelihood of customer confusion, which is usually required in cases of trademark infringement. For example, the use of the word Candyland for a pornographic site on the Internet was ruled to dilute the reputation of the Candyland mark for the well-known children’s game, even though the traditional basis for trademark infringement (probable customer confusion) wasn’t an issue.

Diminution in value

n. in the event of a breach of contract, the decrease in value of property due to the failure to construct something exactly as specified in the contract.

Direct and proximate cause

n. the immediate reason damage was caused by an act or omission (negligence); the negligence must have caused the damages, without intervention of another party, and can- not be remote in time or place. Example (in a complaint): “Defendant’s negligent acts (speeding and losing control of his vehicle) directly and proximately caused plaintiff’s injuries.”

Direct evidence

n. real, tangible or clear evidence of a fact, happening or thing that requires no thinking or consideration to prove its existence, as compared to circumstantial evidence.

Direct examination

At trial, the initial questioning of a party or witness by the side that called him or her to testify. The major purpose of direct examination is to explain your version of events to the judge or jury and to undercut your adversary’s version. Good direct examination seeks to prove all facts necessary to satisfy the plaintiff’s legal claims or causes of action — for example, that the defendant breached a valid contract and, as a result, the plaintiff suffered a loss.

Directed verdict

A ruling by a judge, typically made after the plaintiff has presented all of her evidence but before the defendant puts on his case, that awards judgment to the defendant. A directed verdict is usually made because the judge concludes the plaintiff has failed to offer the minimum amount of evidence to prove her case even if there were no opposition. In other words, the judge is saying that, as a matter of law, no reasonable jury could decide in the plaintiff’s favor. In a criminal case, a directed verdict is a judgement of acquittal for the defendant.

Director

A member of the governing board of a corporation, typically elected at an annual meeting of the shareholders. Directors are responsible for making important business decisions — especially those that legally bind the corporation — leaving day-to-day management to officers and employees of the corporation. For example, a decision to borrow money, lease an office or buy real property would normally be authorized by the board of directors. However, in the small business world, where it is common for owners to be directors, officers and employees simultaneously, distinctions dividing the roles and responsibilities of these groups are often blurred.

Disability

n. 1) a condition which prevents one from performing all usual physical or mental functions. This usually means a permanent state, like blindness, but in some cases is temporary. In recent times society and the law have dictated that people with disabilities should be accommodated and encouraged to operate to their maximum potential and have the right to participate in societal and governmental activity without impediments. Hence, access by ramps, elevators, special parking places and other special arrangements have become required in many states. 2) a legal impediment, including being a minor who can- not make a contract, or being insane or incompetent.

Disability benefits

Money available from Social Security to benefit those under 65 who qualify because of their work and earning record and who meet the program’s medical guidelines defining disability. The benefits are roughly equal to those available in Social Security retirement benefits.

Disbar

v. to remove an attorney from the list of practicing attorneys for improper conduct. This penalty is usually invoked by the State Bar Association (if so empowered) or the highest state court, and will automatically prohibit the attorney from practicing law before the courts in that state or from giving advice for a fee to clients. The causes of permanent disbarment include conviction of a felony involving “moral turpitude,” forgery, fraud, a history of dishonesty, consistent lack of attention to clients, abandoning several clients, alcoholism or drug abuse which affect the attorney’s ability to practice, theft of funds, or any pattern of violation of the professional code of ethics. Singular incidents (other than felony conviction) will generally result in reprimand, suspension and/or a requirement that the lawyer correct his/her conduct, show remorse and/or pass a test on legal ethics.

Discharge (of debts)

A bankruptcy court’s erasure of the debts of a person or business that has filed for bankruptcy.

Discharge (of probate administrator)

A court order releasing the administrator or executor from any further duties connected with the probate of an estate. This typically occurs when the duties have been completed but may happen sooner if the executor or administrator wishes to withdraw or is dismissed.

Dischargeable debts

Debts that can be erased by going through bankruptcy. Most debts incurred prior to declaring bankruptcy are dischargeable, including back rent, credit card bills and medical bills. Compare nondischargeable debts.

Disclaim

1) To refuse or give away a claim or a right to something. For example, if your aunt leaves you a white elephant in her will and you don’t want it, you can refuse the gift by disclaiming your ownership rights. 2) To deny responsibility for a claim or act. For example, a merchant that sells goods second-hand may disclaim responsibility for a product’s defects by selling it “as is.”

Disclaimer

1) A refusal or renunciation of a claim or right. 2) A refusal or denial of responsibility for a claim or an act. 3) The written clause or document that sets out the disclaimer. See also disclaim.

Disclosure

The making known of a fact that had previously been hidden; a revelation. For example, in many states you must disclose major physical defects in a house you are selling, such as a leaky roof or potential flooding problem.

Discount

n. the payment of less than the full amount due on a promissory note or price for goods or services. Usually a discount is by agreement and includes the common situation in which a holder of a long-term promissory note or material goods will sell it/them for less than face value in order to get cash now-the difference is the discount.

Discovery

A formal investigation — governed by court rules — that is conducted before trial. Discovery allows one party to question other parties, and sometimes witnesses. It also allows one party to force the others to produce requested documents or other physical evidence. The most common types of discovery are interrogatories, consisting of written questions the other party must answer under penalty of perjury, and depositions, which involve an in-person session at which one party to a lawsuit has the opportunity to ask oral questions of the other party or her witnesses under oath while a written transcript is made by a court reporter. Other types of pretrial discovery consist of written requests to produce documents and requests for admissions, by which one party asks the other to admit or deny key facts in the case. One major purpose of discovery is to assess the strength or weakness of an opponent’s case, with the idea of opening settlement talks. Another is to gather information to use at trial. Discovery is also present in criminal cases, in which by law the prosecutor must turn over to the defense any witness statements and any evidence that might tend to exonerate the defendant. Depending on the rules of the court, the defendant may also be obliged to share evidence with the prosecutor.

Discretion

n. the power of a judge, public official or a private party (under authority given by contract, trust or will) to make decisions on various matters based on his/her opinion within general legal guidelines. Examples: a) a judge may have discretion as to the amount of a fine or whether to grant a continuance of a trial; b) a trustee or executor of an estate may have discretion to divide assets among the beneficiaries so long as the value to each is approximately equal; c) a District Attorney may have discretion to charge a crime as a misdemeanor (maximum term of one year) or felony; d) a Governor may have discretion to grant a pardon; or e) a planning commission may use its discretion to grant or not to grant a variance to a zoning ordinance.

Discrimination

n. unequal treatment of persons, for a reason which has nothing to do with legal rights or ability. Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination in employment, availability of housing, rates of pay, right to promotion, educational opportunity, civil rights, and use of facilities based on race, nationality, creed, color, age, sex or sexual orientation. The rights to protest discrimination or enforce one’s rights to equal treatment are provided in various federal and state laws, which allow for private lawsuits with the right to damages. There are also federal and state commissions to investigate and enforce equal rights.

Dishonor

v. to refuse to pay the face amount of a check or the amount due on a promissory note.

Disinherit

To deliberately prevent someone from inheriting something. This is usually done by a provision in a will stating that someone who would ordinarily inherit property — a close family member, for example — should not receive it. In most states, you cannot completely disinherit your spouse; a surviving spouse has the right to claim a portion (usually one-third to one-half) of the deceased spouse’s estate. With a few exceptions, however, you can expressly disinherit children.

Disjunctive allegations

n. the attempt to claim in a civil lawsuit that one thing “or” another occurred, and in criminal charges that the accused committed one crime “or” another. Such complaints are disallowed because the defendant is entitled to know what he/she must defend.

Dismiss

v. the ruling by a judge that all or a portion (one or more of the causes of action) of the plaintiff’s lawsuit is terminated (thrown out) at that point without further evidence or testimony. This judgment may be made before, during or at the end of a trial, when the judge becomes convinced that the plaintiff has not and cannot prove his/her/its case. This can be based on the complaint failing to allege a cause of action, on a motion for summary judgment, plaintiff’s opening statement of what will be proved, or on some development in the evidence by either side which bars judgment for the plaintiff. The judge may dismiss on his own or upon motion by the defendant. The plaintiff may voluntarily dismiss a cause of action before or during trial if the case is settled, if it is not provable or trial strategy dictates getting rid of a weak claim. A defendant may be “dismissed” from a lawsuit, meaning the suit is dropped against that party.

Dismissal

n. 1) the act of voluntarily terminating a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit or one of its causes of action by one of the parties. 2) a judge’s ruling that a lawsuit or criminal charge is terminated. 3) an appeals court’s act of dismissing an appeal, letting the lower court decision stand. 4) the act of a plaintiff dismissing a lawsuit upon settling the case. Such a dismissal may be dismissal with prejudice, meaning it can never be filed again, or dismissal without prejudice, leaving open the possibility of bringing the suit again if the defendant does not follow through on the terms of the settlement.

Disposable income

The difference between a debtor’s current monthly income and allowable expenses. This is the amount that the new bankruptcy law deems available to pay.

Disposing mind and memory

n. the mental ability to understand in general what one possesses and the persons who are the “natural objects of bounty” (wife and/or children), at the time of making a will.

Disposition

n. the court’s final determination of a lawsuit or criminal charge.

Dispossess

v. to eject someone from real property, either legally or by self-help.

Dispute

The assertion of conflicting claims or rights between parties involved in a legal proceeding, such as a lawsuit, mediation or arbitration.

Dissent

n. 1) the opinion of a judge of a court of appeals, including the U.S. Supreme Court, which disagrees with the majority opinion. Sometimes a dissent may eventually prevail as the law or society evolves.

Dissolution

A term used instead of divorce in some states.

Dissolution of corporation

n. termination of a corporation, either a) voluntarily by resolution, paying debts, distributing assets and filing dissolution documents with the Secretary of State; or b) by state suspension for not paying corporate taxes or some other action of the government.

Distinctive mark

A trademark or service mark that is unusual in the context of its use, and therefore memorable. Distinctive marks typically consist of terms that are fanciful or arbitrary (Penguin books), suggestive (Accuride tires), or coined (Maalox antacid). Distinctive marks receive maximum judicial protection under state and federal laws.

Distinguish

v. to argue that the rule in one appeals court decision does not apply to a particular case although there is an apparent similarity (i.e. it is “distinguished”).

Distress

1) n. the self-help taking of another’s possessions in order to force payment of a claim, which is generally illegal without a court order. 2) adj. at lowest price due to negative circumstances.

Distribute

v. 1) the dividing up of those assets of an estate or trust when someone has died according to the terms of the deceased’s will or trust, or in absence of a will, according to the laws of descent and distribution. 2) division of profits or assets of a corporation or business.

Distributee

Anyone who receives something. Usually, the term refers to someone who inherits a deceased person’s property. If the deceased person dies without a will (called intestate), state law determines what each distributee will receive. Also called a beneficiary.

Distribution

n. the act of dividing up the assets of an estate or trust, or paying out profits or assets of a corporation or business according to the ownership percentages.

District Attorney (D.A.)

A lawyer who is elected to represent a state government in criminal cases in a designated county or judicial district. A D.A.’s duties typically include reviewing police arrest reports, deciding whether to bring criminal charges against arrested people and prosecuting criminal cases in court. The D.A. may also supervise other attorneys, called Deputy District Attorneys or Assistant District Attorneys. In some states a District Attorney may be called a Prosecuting Attorney, County Attorney or State’s Attorney. In the federal system, the equivalent to the D.A. is a United States Attorney. The country has many U.S. Attorneys, each appointed by the President, who supervise regional offices staffed with prosecutors called Assistant United States Attorneys.

District court

In federal court and, in some states, the name of the main trial court. Thus, if you file suit in federal court, your case will normally be heard in federal district court. States may also group their appellate courts into districts — for example, The First District Court of Appeal.

Diversity jurisdiction

The power of the federal courts to decide cases between two citizens of different states, provided the amount the plaintiff seeks in damages exceeds $75000.

Diversity of citizenship

n. when opposing parties in a lawsuit are citizens of different states (including corporations incorporated or doing business in different states) or a citizen of a foreign country, which places the case under federal court jurisdiction, if the amount in controversy exceeds $10,000.

Divestiture

n. the court-ordered or voluntary giving up of a possession or right, which is a common result in an antitrust action to prevent monopoly or other restraint of trade.

Divestment

n. the act of stripping one’s investment from an entity.

Dividend

A portion of profits distributed by a corporation to its shareholders based on the type of stock and number of shares owned. Dividends are usually paid in cash, though they may also be paid in the form of additional shares of stock or other property. The amount of a dividend is established by the corporation’s board of directors; however, state laws often restrict a corporation’s ability to declare dividends by requiring a minimum level of profits or assets before the dividend can be approved.

Divorce

The legal termination of marriage. All states require a spouse to identify a legal reason for requesting a divorce when that spouse files the divorce papers with the court. These reasons are referred to as grounds for a divorce.

Divorce agreement

An agreement made by a divorcing couple regarding the division of property, custody and visitation of the children, alimony or child support. The agreement must be put in writing, signed by the parties and accepted by the court. It becomes part of the divorce decree and does away with the necessity of having a trial on the issues covered by the agreement. A divorce agreement may also be called a marital settlement agreement, marital termination agreement or settlement agreement.

Docket

1) n. the cases on a court calendar. 2) n. brief notes, usually written by the court clerk, stating what action was taken that day in court. 3) v. to write down the name of a case to be put on calendar or make notes on action in court.

Doctrine of equivalents

A patent rule under which a new device or process violates an existing patent if the new invention does the same work in a substantially similar way to achieve the same results.

Document

n. a popular generic word among lawyers for any paper with writing on it. Technically it could include a piece of wood with a will or message scratched on it.

Documentary evidence

n. any document (paper) which is presented and allowed as evidence in a trial or hearing, as distinguished from oral testimony. However, the opposing attorney may object to its being admitted. In the first place, it must be proved by other evidence from a witness that the paper is genuine (called “laying a foundation”), as well as pass muster over the usual objections such as relevancy.

Doing business as (DBA)

A situation in which a business owner operates a company under a name different from his or her real name. The owner must file a “fictitious name statement” or similar document with the appropriate agency — for example, the county clerk. This enables consumers to discover the names of the business owners, which is important if a consumer needs to sue the business.

Domain name

A combination of letters and numbers that identifies a specific computer or website on the Internet. A domain name usually consists of three parts: a generic “top-level” domain such as “.com” or “.gov” that identifies the type of organization; a second level domain such as nolo or yahoo, which identifies the organization, site or individual; and a third level domain such as “www,” which is used to identify a particular host server. Domain names have various functions. They can serve as an address (whitehouse.com), as a trademark (amazon.com) or as an expression of free speech (presidentbushsucks.com). A domain name owner can stop another business from using the same name for its business or product only if the domain name is being used as a trademark. In other words, if you use your domain name in connection with the sale of goods or services and consumers associate the domain name with your business, you can stop another business from using it. On the flip side, trademark owners can stop others from using a domain name if it conflicts with their existing trademark.

Domicile

n. the place where a person has his/her permanent principal home to which he/she returns or intends to return. This becomes significant in determining in what state a probate of a dead person’s estate is filed, what state can assess income or inheritance taxes, where a party can begin divorce proceedings, or whether there is “diversity of citizenship” between two parties which may give federal courts jurisdiction over a lawsuit. Where a person has several “residences” it may be a matter of proof as to which is the state of domicile. A business has its domicile in the state where its headquarters is located.

Dominant estate

n. in real estate law, the property retained when the owner splits off and conveys part of the property to another party but retains some rights such as an easement for access (a driveway) or utilities. The property sold off upon which there is the easement is called the servient estate. These are also called dominant tenement and servient tenement, respectively.

Dominant tenement

Property that carries a right to use a portion of a neighboring property. For example, property that benefits from a beach access trail across another property is the dominant tenement.

Donation

A gift of property. The IRS allows you to take an income tax deduction for the value of donations made to charitable organizations who are recognized as such by the IRS.

Donee

Someone who receives a gift.

Donor

Someone who gives a gift.

Double jeopardy

n. placing someone on trial a second time for an offense for which he/she has been previously acquitted, even when new incriminating evidence has been unearthed. This is specifically prohibited by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: “…nor shall any person be subject for the same offence [sic] to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb…” However, in rare instances a person may be tried for a different crime based on some of the same facts which were used to try him/her when he/she was acquitted.

Double taxation

n. taxation of the same property for the same purpose twice in one year. This is generally prohibited if it occurs through such circumstances as transfer of property which has been taxed once and then the tax is imposed on a new owner. However, if all property in a jurisdiction is taxed twice in the same year, it is legal since it is not discriminatory or unfair.

Dower

n. an old English common law right of a widow to one-third of her late husband’s estate, which is still the law in a few states. In those states the surviving wife can choose either the dower rights or, if more generous, accept the terms of her husband’s will in what is called a widow’s election. In an obvious sexist imbalance, a surviving husband’s equivalent right (called curtesy) is to the wife’s entire estate, or if there are living children, to a life estate in everything.

Dower and curtesy

A surviving spouse’s right to receive a set portion of the deceased spouse’s estate — usually one-third to one-half. Dower (not to be confused with a “dowry”) refers to the portion to which a surviving wife is entitled, while curtesy refers to what a man may claim. Until recently, these amounts differed in a number of states. However, because discrimination on the basis of sex is now illegal in most cases, most states have abolished dower and curtesy and generally provide the same benefits regardless of sex — and this amount is often known simply as the statutory share. Under certain circumstances, a living spouse may not be able to sell or convey property that is subject to the other spouse’s dower and curtesy or statutory share rights.

Down payment

A lump sum cash payment paid by a buyer when he or she purchases a major piece of property, such as a car or house. The buyer typically takes out a loan for the balance remaining, and pays it off in monthly installments over time.

Draft

1) A written order for the payment of money, such as a check. The person who writes the draft is called the drawer, the person who holds the money — for example, the bank — is called the drawee, and the person who ultimately receives the money is called the payee. After receiving the draft, the payee can demand payment at any time unless the draft specifies a particular time for payment. Also called a bill of exchange.2) A preliminary version of a written document, such as a law or a legal brief, that is ready for revision or correction.3) To select for some purpose, such as military service.

Draw

v. 1) to prepare any document. 2) specifically to have prepared and signed a bill of exchange or check.

Drawer

n. the person who signs a bill of exchange.

Driving under the influence (DUI)

The crime of operating a motor vehicle while under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including prescription drugs. Complete intoxication is not required; the level of alcohol or drugs in the driver’s body must simply be enough to prevent him from thinking clearly or driving safely. State laws specify the levels of blood alcohol content at which a person is presumed to be under the influence. Also called driving while intoxicated (DWI and drunk driving).

Driving while intoxicated (DWI)

See driving under the influence.

Drop dead date

n. a provision in a contract or a court order which sets the last date an event must take place (such as payment) or otherwise certain consequences will automatically follow, such as cancelling the contract, taking property or entering a judgment.

Due

n. and adj. owed as of a specific date. A popular legal redundancy is that a debt is “due, owing and unpaid.” Unpaid does not necessarily mean that a debt is due.

Due care

n. the conduct that a reasonable man or woman will exercise in a particular situation, in looking out for the safety of others. If one uses due care then an injured party cannot prove negligence. This is one of those nebulous standards by which negligence is tested. Each juror has to determine what a “reasonable” man or woman would do.

Due process of law

n. a fundamental principle of fairness in all legal matters, both civil and criminal, especially in the courts. All legal procedures set by statute and court practice, including notice of rights, must be followed for each individual so that no prejudicial or unequal treatment will result. While somewhat indefinite, the term can be gauged by its aim to safeguard both private and public rights against unfairness. The universal guarantee of due process is in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides “No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law,” and is applied to all states by the 14th Amendment. From this basic principle flows many legal decisions determining both procedural and substantive rights.

Durable power of attorney

A power of attorney that remains in effect if the principal becomes incapacitated. If a power of attorney is not specifically made durable, it automatically expires if the principal becomes incapacitated. See durable power of attorney for finances; durable power of attorney for healthcare.

Durable power of attorney for finances

A legal document that gives someone authority to manage your financial affairs if you become incapacitated. The person you name to represent you is usually called your agent or attorney-in-fact.

Durable power of attorney for health care

A legal document that you can use to give someone permission to make medical decisions for you if you are unable to make those decisions yourself. The person you name to represent you may be called an agent, attorney-in-fact, health care proxy, patient advocate, or something similar, depending on where you live.

Duress

n. the use of force, false imprisonment or threats (and possibly psychological torture or “brainwashing”) to compel someone to act contrary to his/her wishes or interests. If duress is used to get someone to sign an agreement or execute a will, a court may find the document null and void. A defendant in a criminal prosecution may raise the defense that others used duress to force him/her to take part in an alleged crime.

Duty

n. 1) a legal obligation, the breach of which can result in liability. In a lawsuit a plaintiff must claim and prove that there was a duty by defendant to plaintiff. This can be a duty of care in a negligence case or a duty to perform in a contract case. 2) a tax on imports.

Duty of care

n. a requirement that a person act toward others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use. If a person’s actions do not meet this standard of care, then the acts are considered negligent, and any damages resulting may be claimed in a lawsuit for negligence.

Dying declaration

n. the statement of a mortally injured person who is aware he/she is about to die, telling who caused the injury and possibly the circumstances. Although hearsay since the dead person cannot testify in person, it is admissible on the theory that a dying person has no reason not to tell the truth.

Dynamite charge

An judge’s admonition to a deadlocked jury to go back to the jury room and try harder to reach a verdict. The judge might remind the jurors to respectfully consider the opinions of others and will often assure them that if the case has to be tried again, another jury won’t necessarily do a better job than they’re doing. Because of its coercive nature, some states prohibit the use of a dynamite charge as a violation of their state constitution, but the practice passed Federal constitutional muster in the case of Allen v. Gainer. The instruction is also known as a dynamite instruction, shotgun instruction, Allen charge or third degree instruction.

Earnest payment

n. a deposit paid to demonstrate commitment and to bind a contract, with the remainder due at a particular time. If the contract is breached by failure to pay, then the earnest payment is kept by the recipient as pre-determined (liquidated) or committed damages.

Easement

A right to use another person’s real estate for a specific purpose. The most common type of easement is the right to travel over another person’s land, known as a right of way. In addition, property owners commonly grant easements for the placement of utility poles, utility trenches, water lines or sewer lines. The owner of property that is subject to an easement is said to be “burdened” with the easement, because he or she is not allowed to interfere with its use. For example, if the deed to John’s property permits Sue to travel across John’s main road to reach her own home, John cannot do anything to block the road. On the other hand, Sue cannot do anything that exceeds the scope of her easement, such as widening the roadway. A right of passage over a neighbor’s land or waterway.

Easement by prescription

A right to use property, acquired by a long tradition of open and obvious use. For example, if hikers have been using a trail through your backyard for ten years and you’ve never complained, they probably have an easement by prescription through your yard to the trail.

Eavesdropping

Listening to conversations or observing conduct which is meant to be private, typically by using devices that amplify sound or light, such as stethoscopes or binoculars. The term comes from the common law offense of listening to private conversations by crouching under the windows or eaves of a house. Nowadays, eavesdropping includes using electronic equipment to intercept telephone or other wire communications, or radio equipment to intercept broadcast communications. Generally, the term “eavesdropping” is used when the activity is not legally authorized by a search warrant or court order; and the term “surveillance” is used when the activity is permitted by law.

Effluxion of time

The normal expiration of a lease due to the passage of time, rather than due to a specific event that might cause the lease to end, such as destruction of the building.

Egress

An exit, or the act of exiting. The most famous use of this word was by P.T. Barnum, who put up a large sign in his circus tent saying “This Way to the Egress.” Thinking an egress was some type of exotic bird, people eagerly went though the passage and found themselves outside the circus tent.

Ejectment

n. a lawsuit brought to remove a party who is occupying real property. This is not the same as an unlawful detainer (eviction) suit against a non-paying or unsatisfactory tenant. It is against someone who has tried to claim title to the property.

Ejusdem generis

Latin for “of the same kind,” used to interpret loosely written statutes. Where a law lists specific classes of persons or things and then refers to them in general, the general statements only apply to the same kind of persons or things specifically listed.

Elder law

n. a specialty in legal practice, covering estate planning, wills, trusts, arrangements for care, social security and retirement benefits, protection against elder abuse (physical, emotional and financial), and other concerns of older people. As more people live longer it has become an increasingly important field.

Election of remedies

n. an outmoded requirement that if a plaintiff (party filing suit) asks for two remedies based on legal theories which are inconsistent (a judge can grant only one or the other), the plaintiff must decide which one is the most provable and which one he/she really wants to pursue, usually just before the trial begins.

Election under the will

n. in those states which have statutes which give a widow a particular percentage of the late husband’s estate (such as dower), the surviving wife may elect to take that percentage instead of any lesser amount (or assets with unacceptable conditions such as an estate which will be cancelled if she remarries) left to her under his will.

Electronic Funds Transfer Act

A federal law that gives you certain rights in the event that mistakes occur on your ATM or bank statements or if your ATM card is lost or stolen. Generally, you have a duty to report the mistake or lost card–and the sooner the better. If you notify the bank in a timely manner, it is under a duty to rectify the mistake or not charge you for withdrawals made by someone else with your card. If you delay in reporting your card lost or stolen, however, you can be liable for up to $500, or an unlimited amount if you don’t report the problem for more than 60 days.

Electronic signature

A paperless method of entering into an electronic contract. To “sign” a contract electronically, a person may be asked to click an “I Accept” button or use a “key” to encrypt (scramble) information that uniquely identifies the signer using a method called Public Key Infrastructure (PKI). Electronic signatures are as binding as those in ink.

Electronic surveillance

A highly advanced form of eavesdropping. Electronic surveillance employs sophisticated electronic equipment to intercept private conversations or observe conduct that is meant to be private. It includes the use of radio equipment to intercept broadcast communications, the use of small radio transmitters or “bugs” to listen in on telephone or in-person conversations, the use of lasers to intercept conversations inside a room from the slight vibrations of the window glass, and the use of thermal imaging scopes for observing conduct inside a structure. Many of these sophisticated forms of surveillance require a search warrant because they violate a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy. This area of law is in a constant state of flux as courts interpret the use of new technologies.

Electronic ticket

An airline ticket in the form of a computer entry. An electronic ticket, or e-ticket, is supposed to function like an actual paper ticket by reserving you a space on a flight; all you need to do is give an identification number and show an ID at the airport. But you should also bring the written receipt sent by the airline in the event the airline’s computer system has crashed or the airline has lost your reservation.

Elements (of a case)

The component parts of a legal claim or cause of action. To win a lawsuit, a plaintiff must prove every element of a legal claim. For example, here are the elements of a breach of contract claim: 1. There was a valid contract. 2. The plaintiff performed as specified by the contract. 3. The defendant failed to perform as specified by the contract. 4. The plaintiff suffered an economic loss as a result of the defendant’s breach of contract.

Emancipation

The act of freeing someone from restraint or bondage. Nowadays, emancipation refers to the point at which a child is free from parental control. It occurs when the child’s parents no longer perform their parental duties and surrender their rights to the care, custody and earnings of their minor child. Emancipation may be the result of a voluntary agreement between the parents and child, or it may be implied from their acts and ongoing conduct. Emancipation may also occur when a minor child marries or enters the military. Term used to describe the act of freeing a person who was under the legal authority of another (such as a child before the age of majority) from that control (such as child reaching the age of majority).

Embargo

This is an act of international military aggression where an order is made prohibiting ships or goods from leaving a certain port, city or territory and may be enforced by military threat of destroying any vehicle that attempts to break it or by trade pen

Embezzlement

n. the crime of stealing the funds or property of an employer, company or government or misappropriating money or assets held in trust.

Embezzler

n. a person who commits the crime of embezzlement by fraudulently taking funds or property of an employer or trust.

Emblements

n. crops to which a tenant who cultivated the land is entitled by agreement with the owner. If the tenant dies before harvest the crop will become the property of his/her estate.

Emergency

n. a sudden, unforeseen happening which requires action to correct or to protect lives and/or property.

Emergency protective order

Any court-issued order meant to protect a person from harm or harassment. An emergency protective order is issued by the police, when court is out of session, to prevent domestic violence. An emergency protective order is a stop-gap measure, usually lasting only for a weekend or holiday, after which the abused person is expected to seek a temporary restraining order (tro) from a court.

Eminent domain

The power of the federal or state government to take private property for a public purpose, even if the property owner objects. The Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution allows the government to take private property if the taking is for a public use and the owner is “justly compensated” (usually, paid fair market value) for his or her loss. A public use is virtually anything that is sanctioned by a federal or state legislative body, but such uses may include roads, parks, reservoirs, schools, hospitals or other public buildings. Sometimes called condemnation, taking or expropriation.

Emolument

n. salary, wages and benefits paid for employment or an office held. A legal word which refers to all wages, benefits or other benefit received as compensation for holding some office or employment.

Emotional distress

n. an increasingly popular basis for a claim of damages in lawsuits for injury due to the negligence or intentional acts of another. Originally damages for emotional distress were only awardable in conjunction with damages for actual physical harm. Recently courts in many states, including New York and California, have recognized a right to an award of money damages for emotional distress without physical injury or contact. In sexual harassment claims, emotional distress can be the major, or even only, harmful result. In most jurisdictions, emotional distress cannot be claimed for breach of contract or other business activity, but can be alleged in cases of libel and slander. Evidentiary problems include the fact that such distress is easily feigned or exaggerated, and professional testimony by a therapist or psychiatrist may be required to validate the existence and depth of the distress and place a dollar value upon it.

Employee

n. a person who is hired for a wage, salary, fee or payment to perform work for an employer. In agency law the employee is called an agent and the employer is called the principal. This is important to determine if one is acting as employee when injured (for worker’s compensation) or when he/she causes damage to another, thereby making the employer liable for damages to the injured party.

Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA)

A federal law passed to protect pension rights. ERISA: 1.sets minimum standards for pension plans, guaranteeing that pension rights cannot be unfairly denied to or taken from a worker. 2.provides some protection for workers in the event certain types of pension plans cannot pay the benefits to which workers are entitled, and 3.r equires that employers provide full and clear information about employees’ pension rights, including the way pension benefits accumulate, how the company invests pension funds, and when and how pension benefits can be collected.

Employer

n. a person or entity which hires the services of another called a principal in the law of agency.

Employment

n. the hiring of a person for compensation. It is important to determine if acts occurred in the “scope of employment” to establish the possible responsibility of the employer to the employee for injuries on the job or to the public for acts of the employee.

En banc

French for “in the bench,” it signifies a decision by the full court of all the appeals judges in jurisdictions where there is more than one three- or four-judge panel. The larger number sit in judgment when the court feels there is a particularly significant issue at stake or when requested by one or both parties to the case and agreed to by the court.

Enabling clause

n. a provision in a new statute which empowers a particular public official (Governor, State Treasurer) to put it into effect, including making expenditures.

Enclosure

(inclosure) n. land bounded by a fence, wall, hedge, ditch or other physical evidence of boundary. Unfortunately, too often these creations are not included among the actual legally described boundaries and cause legal problems.

Encroach

v. to build a structure which is in whole or in part across the property line of another’s real property. This may occur due to incorrect surveys, guesses or miscalculations by builders and/or owners when erecting a building. The solutions vary from giving the encroaching party an easement or lease (for a price, usually) for the lifetime of the building, or if the structure is small, actually moving it onto the owner’s own property.

Encroachment

The building of a structure entirely or partly on a neighbor’s property. Encroachment may occur due to faulty surveying or sheer obstreperousness on the part of the builder. Solutions range from paying the rightful property owner for the use of the property to the court-ordered removal of the structure.

Encumbrance

(incumbrance) n. a general term for any claim or lien on a parcel of real property. These include: mortgages, deeds of trust, recorded abstracts of judgment, unpaid real property taxes, tax liens, mechanic’s liens, easements and water or timber rights. While the owner has title, any encumbrance is usually on record (with the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds) and must be paid for at some point.

Endorse (indorse)

v. 1) to sign one’s name to the back of a check, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument with the intention of making it cashable or transferable. 2) to pledge support to a program, proposal or candidate.

Endorsement

(indorsement) n. 1) the act of the owner or payee signing his/her name to the back of a check, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument so as to make it payable to another or cashable by any person. An endorsement may be made after a specific direction (“pay to Dolly Madison” or “for deposit only”), called a qualified endorsement, or with no qualifying language, thereby making it payable to the holder, called a blank endorsement. There are also other forms of endorsement which may give credit or restrict the use of the check. 2) the act of pledging or committing support to a program, proposal or candidate.

Endowment

n. the creation of a fund, often by gift or bequest from a dead person’s estate, for the maintenance of a public institution, particularly a college, university or scholarship.

Endowment insurance

Provides that an insured person who lives for the specified endowment period receives the face value of the insurance policy–that is, the amount paid at death. If the policy-holder dies sooner, the beneficiary named in the policy receives the proceeds.

Enjoin

v. for a court to order that someone either do a specific act, cease a course of conduct or be prohibited from committing a certain act. To obtain such an order, called an injunction, a private party or public agency has to file a petition for a writ of injunction, serve it on the party he/she/it hopes to be enjoined, allowing time for a written response. Then a court hearing is held in which the judge will consider evidence, both written and oral, listen to the arguments and then either grant the writ or deny it. If granted the court will issue a final or permanent injunction. A preliminary injunction or temporary injunction is an order made by the court while the matter is being processed and considered, based on the petition and any accompanying declarations, either of which is intended to keep matters in status quo (as they are) or prevent possible irreparable harm (like cutting trees, poisoning a stream or moving out of the country with a child or money) until a final decision is made.

Enjoyment

n. 1) to exercise a right. 2) pleasure. 3) the use of funds or occupancy of property. Sometimes this is used in the phrase “quiet enjoyment” which means one is entitled to be free of noise or interference.

Enter a judgment

v. to officially record a judgment on the “judgment roll,” which entry is normally performed by the court clerk once the exact wording of the judgment has been prepared or approved and signed by the trial judge. All times for appeal and other post-judgment actions are based on the date of the entry of judgment and not the date when the judgment is announced.

Entity

An organization, institution or being that has its own existence for legal or tax purposes. An entity is often an organization with an existence separate from its individual members–for example, a corporation, partnership, trust, estate or government agency. The entity is treated like a person; it can function legally, be sued, and make decisions through agents.

Environmental impact report

n. a study of all the factors which a land development or construction project would have on the environment in the area, including population, traffic, schools, fire protection, endangered species, archeological artifacts and community beauty. Many states require such reports be submitted to local governments before the development or project can be approved, unless the governmental body finds there is no possible impact, which finding is called a “negative declaration.”

Environmental law

n. a body of state and federal statutes intended to protect the environment, wildlife, land and beauty, prevent pollution or over-cutting of forests, save endangered species, conserve water, develop and follow general plans and prevent damaging practices. These laws often give individuals and groups the right to bring legal actions or seek court orders to enforce the protections or demand revisions of private and public activity which may have detrimental effects on the environment.

Equal opportunity

1) n. a right supposedly guaranteed by both federal and many state laws against any discrimination in employment, education, housing or credit rights due to a person’s race, color, sex (or sometimes sexual orientation), religion, national origin, age or handicap. A person who believes he/she has not been granted equal opportunity or has been outright sexually harassed or discriminated against may bring a lawsuit under federal and most state laws, or file a complaint with the federal Equal Opportunity Employment Commission or a state equal opportunity agency. 2) adj. a term applied to employers, lenders and landlords, who advertise that they are “equal opportunity employers,” subtly suggesting all others are not, even though they are required by law to be so.

Equal protection of the law

n. the right of all persons to have the same access to the law and courts and to be treated equally by the law and courts, both in procedures and in the substance of the law. It is akin to the right to due process of law, but in particular applies to equal treatment as an element of fundamental fairness.

Equitable

adj. 1) just, based on fairness and not legal technicalities. 2) refers to positive remedies (orders to do something, not money damages) employed by the courts to solve disputes or give relief.

Equitable distribution

A legal principle, followed by most states, under which assets and earnings acquired during marriage are divided equitably (fairly) at divorce. In theory, equitable means equal, but in practice it often means that the higher wage earner gets two-thirds to the lower wage earner’s one-third. If a spouse obtains a fault divorce, the “guilty” spouse may receive less than his equitable share upon divorce.

Equitable estoppel

A type of estoppel that bars a person from adopting a position in court that contradicts his or her past statements or actions when that contradictory stance would be unfair to another person who relied on the original position. For example, if a landlord agrees to allow a tenant to pay the rent ten days late for six months, it would be unfair to allow the landlord to bring a court action in the fourth month to evict the tenant for being a week late with the rent. The landlord would be estopped from asserting his right to evict the tenant for late payment of rent. Also known as estoppel in pais.

Equitable lien

n. a lien on property imposed by a court in order to achieve fairness, particularly when someone has possession of property which he/she holds for another.

Equity

n. 1) a venerable group of rights and procedures to provide fairness, unhampered by the narrow strictures of the old common law or other technical requirements of the law. In essence courts do the fair thing by court orders such as correction of property lines, taking possession of assets, imposing a lien, dividing assets, or injunctive relief (ordering a person to do something) to prevent irreparable damage. The rules of equity arose in England where the strict limitations of common law would not solve all problems, so the King set up courts of chancery (equity) to provide remedies through the royal power. Most eastern states had courts of equity or chancery separate from courts of law, and others had parallel systems of law and equity with different procedural rules. Now most states combine law and equity and treat both under “one cause of action.” 2) the net value of real property, determined by subtracting the amount of unpaid debts secured by (against) the property from the appraised value of the property

Equity of redemption

n. the right of a mortgagor (person owing on a loan or debt against their real property), after commencement of foreclosure proceedings, to “cure” his/her default by making delinquent payments. The mortgagor also must pay all accumulated costs as well as the delinquency to keep the property.

Equivalent

n., adj. equal in value, force or meaning.

Ergo

Latin for “therefore,” often used in legal writings. Its most famous use was in Cogito, ergo sum: “I think, therefore I am” principle by French philosopher Rene Descartes (1596-1650).

Erroneous

adj. 1) in error, wrong. 2) not according to established law, particularly in a legal decision or court ruling.

Error

n. a mistake by a judge in procedure or in substantive law, during a hearing, upon petitions or motions, denial of rights, during the conduct of a trial (either granting or denying objections), on approving or denying jury instructions, on a judgment not supported by facts or applicable law or any other step in the judicial process. If a majority of an appeals court finds an error or errors which affect the result, or a denial of fundamental rights such as due process, the higher court will reverse the lower court’s error in whole or in part (the entire judgment or a part of it), and remand (send it back) with instructions to the lower court. Appeals courts often find errors which have no prejudicial effect on the rights of a party and are thus harmless error.

Errors and omissions

n. short hand for malpractice insurance which gives physicians, attorneys, architects, accountants and other professionals coverage for claims by patients and clients for alleged professional errors and omissions which amount to negligence.

Escalator clause

n. a provision in a lease or other agreement in which rent, installment payments or alimony, for example, will increase from time to time when the cost of living index (or a similar gauge) goes up. Often there is a maximum amount of increase (“cap”) and seldom is there a provision for reduction if the cost of living goes down or for deflation instead of inflation.

Escape clause

n. a provision in a contract which allows one of the parties to be relieved from (get out of) any obligation if a certain event occurs.

Escheat

The forfeit of all property to the state when a person dies without heirs.

Escrow

1) n. a form of account held by an “escrow agent” (an individual, escrow company or title company) into which is deposited the documents and funds in a transfer of real property, including the money, a mortgage or deed of trust, an existing promissory note secured by the real property, escrow “instructions” from both parties, an accounting of the funds and other documents necessary to complete the transaction by a date (“closing”) agreed to by the buyer and seller. When the funding is complete and the deed is clear, the escrow agent will then record the deed to the buyer and deliver funds to the seller. The escrow agent or officer is an independent holder and agent for both parties who receives a fee for his/her/its services. 2) n. originally escrow meant the deed held by the escrow agent. 3) n. colloquially, the escrow agent is called an “escrow,” while actually the escrow is the account and not a person. 4) v. to place the documents and funds in an escrow account, as in: “we will escrow the deal.”

Escrow agent

n. a person or entity holding documents and funds in a transfer of real property, acting for both parties pursuant to instructions. Typically the agent is a person (commonly an attorney), escrow company or title company, depending on local practice.

Escrow instructions

n. the written instructions by buyer and seller of real estate given to a title company, escrow company or individual escrow in “closing” a real estate transaction. These instructions are generally prepared by the escrow holder and then approved by the parties and their agents.

Esquire

n. a form of address showing that someone is an attorney Originally in England an Esquire was a rank just above “gentleman” and below “knight.” It became a title for barristers, sheriffs and judges.

Estate

n. 1) all that one owns in real estate and other assets. 2) commonly, all the possessions of one who has died and are subject to probate (administration supervised by the court) and distribution to heirs and beneficiaries, all the possessions which a guardian manages for a ward (young person requiring protection and administration of affairs), or assets a conservator manages for a conservatee (a person whose physical or mental lack of competence requires administration of his/her affairs). 3) an alternative term for real property interest which is used in conjunction with another defining word, like “life estate,” “estate for years,” or “real estate.”

Estate by entirety

n. tenancy by the entirety

Estate planning

The art of continuing to prosper when you’re alive, and passing your property to your loved ones with a minimum of fuss and expense after you die. Planning your estate may involve making a will, living trust, healthcare directives, durable power of attorney for finances or other documents.

Estate taxes

Taxes imposed by the state or federal government on property as it passes from the dead to the living. All property you own, whatever the form of ownership, and whether or not it goes through probate after your death, is subject to federal estate tax. Currently, however, federal estate tax is due only if your property is worth at least $2 million when you die. The estate tax is scheduled to be repealed for one year, in 2010, but Congress will probably make the repeal (or a very high exempt amount) permanent. Any property left to a surviving spouse (if he or she is a U.S. citizen) or a tax-exempt charity is exempt from federal estate taxes. Many states now also impose their own estate taxes or inheritance taxes.

Estop

v. to halt, bar or prevent.

Estoppel

A legal principle that prevents a person from asserting or denying something in court that contradicts what has already been established as the truth.

Estoppel by deed

A type of estoppel that prevents a person from denying the truth of anything that he or she stated in a deed, especially regarding who has valid ownership of the property. For example, someone who grants a deed to real estate before he actually owns the property can’t later go back and undo the sale for that reason if, say, the new owner strikes oil in the backyard.

Estoppel by silence

A type of estoppel that prevents a person from asserting something when she had both the duty and the opportunity to speak up earlier, and her silence put another person at a disadvantage.

Et al.

n. abbreviation for the Latin phrase et alii meaning “and others.” This is commonly used in shortening the name of a case, as in “Pat Murgatroyd v. Sally Sherman, et al.”

Et seq.

n. abbreviation for the Latin phrase et sequentes meaning “and the following.” It is commonly used by lawyers to include numbered lists, pages or sections after the first number is stated, as in “the rules of the road are found in Vehicle Code Section 1204, et seq.”

Et ux.

n. abbreviation for the Latin words et uxor meaning “and wife.” It is usually found in deeds, tax assessment rolls and other documents in the form “John Alden et ux.,” to show that the wife as well as the husband own property. The connotation that somehow the wife is merely an adjunct to her husband, as well as the modern concepts of joint tenancy, tenancy in common, community property where applicable and equal rights of the sexes have combined to make the expression a chauvinistic anachronism.

Evasion of tax

n. the intentional attempt to avoid paying taxes through fraudulent means, as distinguished from late payment, using legal “loopholes” or errors.

Eviction

Removal of a tenant from rental property by a law enforcement officer. First, the landlord must file and win an eviction lawsuit, also known as an “unlawful detainer.”

Evidence

The many types of information presented to a judge or jury designed to convince them of the truth or falsity of key facts. Evidence typically includes testimony of witnesses, documents, photographs, items of damaged property, government records, videos and laboratory reports. Rules that are as strict as they are quirky and technical govern what types of evidence can be properly admitted as part of a trial. For example, the hearsay rule purports to prevent secondhand testimony of the “he said, she said” variety, but the existence of dozens of exceptions often means that hairsplitting lawyers can find a way to introduce such testimony into evidence. See also admissible evidence, inadmissible evidence.

Evidentiary

1) Constituting evidence or having the quality of evidence. For example, Joan’s statement at the scene of a car wreck that one of the drivers was speeding has evidentiary value because it says something about how the accident happened. 2) Something that relates to the evidence in a particular case. For example, if a judge holds a hearing to decide whether or not a particular piece of evidence is admissible at trial, that hearing might be called an evidentiary hearing.

Ex delicto

Latin for a reference to something that arises out of a fault or wrong, but not out of contracts. Of only academic interest today, it identified actions which were civil wrongs (torts).

Ex officio

Latin for “from the office,” to describe someone who has a right because of an office held, such as being allowed to sit on a committee simply because one is president of the corporation.

Ex parte

Latin meaning “for one party,” referring to motions, hearings or orders granted on the request of and for the benefit of one party only. This is an exception to the basic rule of court procedure that both parties must be present at any argument before a judge, and to the otherwise strict rule that an attorney may not notify a judge without previously notifying the opposition. Ex parte matters are usually temporary orders (like a restraining order or temporary custody) pending a formal hearing or an emergency request for a continuance. Most jurisdictions require at least a diligent attempt to contact the other party’s lawyer of the time and place of any ex parte hearing.

Ex post facto

Latin for “after the fact,” which refers to laws adopted after an act is committed making it illegal although it was legal when done, or increasing the penalty for a crime after it is committed. Such laws are specifically prohibited by the U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 9. Therefore, if a state legislature or Congress enacts new rules of proof or longer sentences, those new rules or sentences do not apply to crimes committed before the new law was adopted.

Ex rel.

abbreviation for Latin ex relatione, meaning “upon being related” or “upon information,” used in the title of a legal proceeding filed by a state Attorney General (or the federal Department of Justice) on behalf of the government, on the instigation of a private person, who needs the state to enforce the rights of himself/herself and the public.

Examination

n. 1) the questioning of a witness by an attorney. Direct examination is interrogation by the attorney who called the witness, and cross-examination is questioning by the opposing attorney. A principal difference is that an attorney putting questions to his own witness cannot ask “leading” questions, which put words in the mouth of the witness or suggest the answer, while on cross-examination he/she can pose a question that seems to contain an answer or suggest language for the witness to use or agree to. 2) in bankruptcy, the questions asked of a debtor by the judge, trustee in bankruptcy, attorneys or even creditors, to determine the state of the debtor’s affairs. 3) in criminal law, a preliminary examination is a hearing before a judge or other magistrate to determine whether a defendant charged with a felony should be held for trial. Usually this is held by a lower court and if there is any substantial evidence to show a felony has been committed by the defendant he/she is bound over to the appropriate court for trial, but otherwise the charge will be dismissed by the judge.

Exception

n. 1) a formal objection during trial (“We take exception, or simply, “exception”)” to the ruling of a judge on any matter, including rulings on objections to evidence, to show to a higher court that the lawyer did not agree with the ruling. In modern practice, it is not necessary “to take exception” to a judge’s adverse ruling, since it is now assumed that the attorney against whom the ruling is made objects. This also keeps the transcribed record from being cluttered with shouts of “exception.” 2) in contracts, statutes or deeds, a statement that some matter is not included.

Exception in deed

n. a notation in a deed of title to real property which states that certain interests, such as easements, mineral rights or a life estate, are not included in the transfer (conveyance) of title.

Excessive bail

n. an amount of bail ordered posted by an accused defendant which is much more than necessary or usual to assure he/she will make court appearances, particularly in relation to minor crimes. If excessive bail is claimed, the defendant can make a motion for reduction of bail, and if it is not granted, he/she can then apply directly to a court of appeal for reduction.

Exchange

1) v. to trade or barter property, goods and/or services for other property, goods and/or services, unlike a sale or employment in which money is paid for the property, goods or services. 2) n. the act of making a trade or barter. An exchange of “equivalent” property, including real estate, can defer capital gains taxation until the acquired property is sold. 3) n. short for “Starker” exchange of investment real property to defer capital gains tax.

Excise

n. a tax upon manufacture, sale or for a business license or charter, as distinguished from a tax on real property, income or estates. Sometimes it is redundantly called an excise tax.

Exclusionary rule

A rule of evidence that disallows the use of illegally obtained evidence in criminal trials. For example, the exclusionary rule would prevent a prosecutor from introducing at trial evidence seized during an illegal search.

Exclusive license

A valid contract in which a copyright owner authorizes another person or entity (called the licensee) to exclusively exercise one or more of the rights (or portion of such rights) that belong to the copyright owner under the copyright. The licensee is said to “own” the rights granted in the license and is referred to as a copyright owner.

Exculpatory

adj. applied to evidence which may justify or excuse an accused defendant’s actions and which will tend to show the defendant is not guilty or has no criminal intent.

Exculpatory clause

A provision in a lease that absolves the landlord from responsibility for all damages, injuries or losses occurring on the property, including those caused by the landlord’s actions. Most states have laws that void exculpatory clauses in rental agreements, which means that a court will not enforce them.

Excusable neglect

n. a legitimate excuse for the failure of a party or his/her lawyer to take required action (like filing an answer to a complaint) on time. This is usually claimed to set aside a default judgment for failure to answer (or otherwise respond) in the period set by law. Illness, press of business by the lawyer (but not necessarily the defendant), or an understandable oversight by the lawyer’s staff (“just blame the secretary”) are common excuses which the courts will often accept. However, if the defendant loses the complaint or fails to call his/her attorney the courts will be less lenient. In any event, the defendant must also show he/she had some worthwhile defense.

Execute

v. 1) to finish, complete or perform as required, as in fulfilling one’s obligations under a contract or a court order. 2) to sign and otherwise complete a document, such as acknowledging the signature if required to make the document valid. 3) to seize property under court order. 4) to put to death pursuant to a sentence rendered by a court.

Executed

1) adj. to have been completed. (Example: “it is an executed contract”) 2) v. to have completed or fully performed. (Example: “he executed all the promises made in the contract”) 3) v. completed and formally signed a document, such as a deed, contract or lease. 4) v. to have been put to death for a crime pursuant to a death sentence.

Execution

n. 1) the act of getting an officer of the court to take possession of the property of a losing party in a lawsuit (judgment debtor) on behalf of the winner (judgment creditor), sell it and use the proceeds to pay the judgment. The procedure is to take the judgment to the clerk of the court and have a writ of execution issued which is taken to the sheriff (or marshal, constable or other authorized official) with instructions on what property to execute upon. In the case of real property the official must first levy (place a lien on the title), and then execute upon it (seize it). However, the judgment debtor (loser in the lawsuit) may pay the judgment and costs before sale to redeem real estate. 2) carrying out a death sentence.

Executive clemency

n. the power of a President in federal criminal cases, and the Governor in state convictions, to pardon a person convicted of a crime, commute the sentence (shorten it, often to time already served) or reduce it from death to another lesser sentence. There are many reasons for exercising this power, including real doubts about the guilt of the party, apparent excessive sentence, humanitarian reasons such as illness of an aged inmate, to clear the record of someone who has demonstrated rehabilitation or public service, or because the party is a political or personal friend of the Governor.

Executive order

n. a President’s or Governor’s declaration which has the force of law, usually based on existing statutory powers, and requiring no action by the Congress or state legislature.

Executive privilege

The privilege that allows the president and other high officials of the executive branch to keep certain communications private if disclosing those communications would disrupt the functions or decisionmaking processes of the executive branch. As demonstrated by the Watergate hearings, this privilege does not extend to information germane to a criminal investigation.

Executor

The person named in a will to handle the property of someone who has died. The executor collects the property, pays debts and taxes, and then distributes what’s left, as specified in the will. The executor also handles any probate court proceedings and notifies people and organizations of the death. Also called personal representatives.

Executory

adj. something not yet performed or done. Examples: an executory contract is one in which all or part of the required performance has not been done; an executory bequest is a gift under a will which has not been distributed to the beneficiary.

Executory interest

n. an interest in property (particularly real estate) which will only pass to another in the future, or never, if certain events occur

Executrix

An old-fashioned term for a female executor–the person named in a will to handle the distribution of the deceased person’s property. Now, whether male or female, this person is called either the executor or the personal representative.

Exemplary damages

n. often called punitive damages, these are damages requested and/or awarded in a lawsuit when the defendant’s willful acts were malicious, violent, oppressive, fraudulent, wanton or grossly reckless. Examples of acts warranting exemplary damages: publishing that someone had committed murders when the publisher knew it was not true but hated the person; an ex-husband trashes his former wife’s auto and threatens further property damage; a stockbroker buys and sells a widow’s stocks to generate commissions resulting in her losing all her capital (money). These damages are awarded both as a punishment and to set a public example. They reward the plaintiff for the horrible nature of what she/he went through or suffered. Although often requested, exemplary damages are seldom awarded. There have been major awards in egregious (remarkable or outstanding) cases, such as fraud schemes, sexual harassment or other intentional and vicious actions even when the provable actual damages were not extensive.

Exempt property

The items of property you are allowed to keep if a creditor wins a lawsuit against you or if you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Most states let you keep clothing, household furnishings, an inexpensive car (or an expensive car on which you still owe a bundle), Social Security payments you haven’t spent and other basic items. A few states let you keep your house. Following are brief descriptions of specific types of exempt property. 1) animal exemption Allows you to keep animals such as household pets, livestock or poultry. The animal exemption varies among states. If your state simply allows you to exempt “animals,” you may keep livestock, poultry or pets. Some states exempt only domestic animals, which are usually considered to be livestock and poultry, but not pets. 2) appliance exemption Allows you to keep some of your household equipment operated by electricity, gas or propane. Examples include refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners and air conditioners. 3) arms & accouterments exemption Allows you to keep some weapons (such as pistols, rifles or swords) and accouterments, which are the furnishings of a soldier’s outfit, such as a belt or pack, but not clothes. A soldier’s clothing is his or her uniform. 4) building materials exemption Allows you to keep a certain amount of items needed to build or improve structures, such as lumber, brick, stone, iron, paint and varnish. This exemption is not available in all states. 5) burial exemption Allows you to keep a cemetery plot, crypt, monument or the cash to purchase a burial plot. Some states allow you to claim the burial exemption only if you do not use your state’s homestead exemption. States may also limit the amount exempted. This exemption is available in most states. 6) crops exemption Allows you to keep products of the soil or earth that are grown and raised annually and gathered in a single season. For example, oranges (on the tree or harvested) are crops; but an orange tree isn’t. 7) farm tools exemption Allows you to keep the tools you use if your primary occupation is farming. Some states limit farm tools of the trade to items which can be held in the hand: hoes, axes, pitchforks, shovels, scythes and the like. In other states, farm tools also include plows, harnesses, mowers, reapers and other larger tools. 8) furnishings exemption Allows you to keep a certain amount of furniture, fixtures in your home (such as a heating unit, furnace or built-in lighting) and other items with which a home is furnished (carpets and drapes, for example). 9) health aids exemption Allows you to keep items needed to maintain your health, such as wheelchairs, crutches, prostheses or hearing aids. States either exempt all heath aids or limit the dollar amount of the total exemption. 10) heirloom exemption Allows you to keep certain items passed from generation to generation which have special monetary or sentimental value. 11) homestead exemption Protects a specified value or specified number of acres in a homestead. The amount you can protect with the exemption varies, depending on the state where you live. A few states have unlimited homestead exemptions, meaning a house worth even many millions of dollars can’t be taken by judgment creditors or in Chapter 7 bankruptcy. At the other extreme, a small number of states have no homestead exemption at all. 12) household goods exemption Allows you to keep a certain number of items of a permanent nature (as opposed to items consumed, like food or cosmetics) used in or about the house. It includes linens, dinnerware, utensils, pots and pans and small electronic equipment like radios and toasters. The amount you may keep varies from state to state. 13) implement exemption Protects a certain amount of the instruments, tools or utensils you use to accomplish your job. Some states use this term instead of tools of the trade. 14) in lieu of homestead (or burial) exemption An exemption available in some states only if you don’t claim the homestead exemption or burial exemption. The amount of the exemption varies from state to state. It can be the approximate equivalent of the homestead or burial exemption or some amount fixed by state law. It’s the same as the wild card exemption. 15) jewelry exemption Protects certain items created for personal adornment; usually includes watches. Expensive jewelry is usually not included, although many states exempt wedding and engagement rings. Most states limit the total jewelry exemption amount, ranging from $250 to $1,000. Another term for jewelry is “articles of adornment.” 16) motor vehicle exemption Protects a self-propelled vehicle suitable for use on a street or road, such as a car, truck, motorcycle, van or moped, up to a certain value. For example, if your state’s motor vehicle exemption is $2,500 (that’s about average), your car is worth $10,000 and you still owe $8,000 to your lender, your car is exempt. You have equity of $2,000 ($10,000 – $8,000) and a $2,500 exemption to put toward it. (This assumes you can afford to keep making your car payments. If you can’t, your lender will repossess your car and sell it at an auction.) On the other hand, if your vehicle is worth a lot and you don’t owe anything on it, you probably won’t be able to keep it, because the exemption won’t cover the full amount of your equity. 17) musical instrument exemption Allows you to keep certain instruments having the capacity, in and of themselves, when properly operated, to produce a musical sound. Pianos, guitars, drums, drum machines, synthesizers and harmonicas are musical instruments. Spoons (knocked on knees or into each other) and metal garbage can lids (when banged together like cymbals) aren’t. 18) property of business partnership exemption Protects business partnership property. Virtually all states allow this exemption if the property has the following characteristics: * Each partner has a right to possess the property for partnership purposes, but has no right to possess it for any other purpose without consent of the partners. * At a partner’s death, his share of the partnership property passes to the surviving partners. * The property isn’t subject to state non-partnership property laws such as dower, curtesy, spouse’s share or intestate succession. 19) tools of the trade exemption Protects items of property needed to perform a line of work. For a mechanic, plumber or carpenter, tools of trade are the implements used to repair, build and install. For a doctor, tools of trade are the items found in the doctor’s office and bag. For a clergy person, tools of trade often consist of no more than books. Traditionally, the exemption was limited to items that could be held in the hand. But most states now embrace a broader definition and a debtor may be able to fit many items under a tools of trade exemption. A motor vehicle is rarely considered a tool of the trade, unless it is a necessary part of the job–as it would be for a traveling sales representative–not merely used for commuting. 20) wild card exemption Protects any property you choose, though it’s not available in all states. Some states that include this exemption limit it to personal property; while others include real estate as well. Some states offer it only in lieu of homestead (or burial) exemption. In nearly all states that offer it, you can apply the exemption to nonexempt property, such as expensive jewelry or clothes, or use it to increase the amount for an already partially exempt item. For example, if Fergie’s state has no specific motor vehicle exemption but does have a wild card exemption, Fergie can use the wild card exemption to put toward her car. If the state has a specific motor vehicle exemption, but the amount is limited, Fergie can use the wild card exemption to increase the exempt amount.

Exemption

n. 1) in income taxation, a credit given for each dependent, blindness or other disability, and age over 65, which result in a downward calculation in tax levels. These are not to be confused with deductions, which reduce gross income upon which taxes are paid. 2) a right to be excluded from, such as not being subject to attachment of one’s wages if one is in a low-income bracket, or not being subject to the military draft if one is employed in essential industry, has several children or is a college student.

Exemption trust

A bypass trust funded with an amount no larger than the personal federal estate tax exemption in the year of death. If the trust grantor leaves property worth more than that amount, it usually goes to the surviving spouse. The trust property passes free from estate tax because of the personal exemption, and the rest is shielded from tax under the surviving spouse’s marital deduction.

Exhibit

n. 1) a document or object (including a photograph) introduced as evidence during a trial. These are subject to objections by opposing attorneys just like any evidence. 2) a copy of a paper attached to a pleading (any legal paper filed in a lawsuit), declaration, affidavit or other document, which is referred to and incorporated into the main document.

Expectancy

n. a possibility of future enjoyment of something one counts on receiving, usually referring to real property or the estate of a deceased person, such as a remainder, reversion, or distribution after the death of someone who has use for life.

Expense

n. in business accounting and business taxation, any current cost of operation, such as rent, utilities and payroll, as distinguished from capital expenditure for long-term property and equipment.

Expert testimony

n. opinions stated during trial or deposition (testimony under oath before trial) by a specialist qualified as an expert on a subject relevant to a lawsuit or a criminal case.

Expert witness

n. a person who is a specialist in a subject, often technical, who may present his/her expert opinion without having been a witness to any occurrence relating to the lawsuit or criminal case. It is an exception to the rule against giving an opinion in trial, provided that the expert is qualified by evidence of his/her expertise, training and special knowledge. If the expertise is challenged, the attorney for the party calling the “expert” must make a showing of the necessary background through questions in court, and the trial judge has discretion to qualify the witness or rule he/she is not an expert, or is an expert on limited subjects. Experts are usually paid handsomely for their services and may be asked by the opposition the amount they are receiving for their work on the case. In most jurisdictions, both sides must exchange the names and addresses of proposed experts to allow pre-trial depositions.

Express

adj. direct, unambiguous, distinct language, particularly in a contract, which does not require thought, guessing, inference or implication to determine the meaning.

Express contract

n. a contract in which all elements are specifically stated (offer, acceptance, consideration), and the terms are stated, as compared to an “implied” contract in which the existence of the contract is assumed by the circumstances.

Express warranty

A guarantee about the quality of goods or services made by a seller, such as “This item is guaranteed against defects in construction for one year.” Most express warranties come directly from the manufacturer or are included in the sales contract. If you want to hold the seller to an oral guarantee, it’s best to get it in writing or have witnesses to the guarantee so that it doesn’t come down to your word against the seller’s if a problem arises.

Expropriation

n. a taking of property or rights by governmental authority such as eminent domain, possibly including an emergency situation, such as taking a person’s truck or bulldozer to build a levee during a flood. In such a case just compensation eventually must be paid to the owner, who can make a claim against the taker.

Expunge

To intentionally destroy, obliterate or strike out records or information in files, computers and other depositories. For example, state law may allow the criminal records of a juvenile offender to be expunged when he reaches the age of majority, to allow him to begin his adult life with a clean record. Or, a company or government agency may routinely expunge out-of-date records to save storage space.

Extended warranty contracts

Warranty coverage on an item that kicks in after the warranty coverage provided by the manufacturer or seller expires. Many consumers are encouraged to buy extended warranties (also called service contracts) when they buy cars or appliances. In the case of appliances and electronic equipment, extended warranties are all profit for the seller and not much benefit to the buyer because only about 3% of goods ever break down during an extended warranty period. An extended warranty may make sense, however, if you are buying a brand new model in the first few months after it has been manufactured.

Extension

n. granting of a specific amount of extra time to make a payment, file a legal document after the date due or continue a lease after the original expiration of the term.

Extenuating circumstances

n. surrounding factors (sometimes called mitigation) which make a crime appear less serious, less aggravated or without criminal intent, and thus warranting a more lenient punishment or lesser charge (manslaughter rather than murder, for example).

Extinguishment

n. the cancellation or destruction of a right, quite often because the time for enforcement has passed. Example: waiting more than four years after the due date to make a demand for payment on a promissory note wipes out the person’s right to collect the money owed to him/her. It can also occur by fulfilling the obligation so no further money or performance is due.

Extortion

n. obtaining money or property by threat to a victim’s property or loved ones, intimidation, or false claim of a right (such as pretending to be an IRS agent). It is a felony in all states, except that a direct threat to harm the victim is usually treated as the crime of robbery. Blackmail is a form of extortion in which the threat is to expose embarrassing, damaging information to family, friends or the public.

Extradition

n. the surrender by one state or country of a person charged with a crime in another state or country. Formally, the request of the state (usually through the Governor’s office) claiming the right to prosecute is made to the Governor of the state in which the accused is present. Occasionally a Governor will refuse to extradite (send the person back) if he/she is satisfied that the prosecution is not warranted, despite a constitutional mandate that “on demand of the Executive authority of the State from which [a fugitive from justice] fled, be delivered up, to be removed to the State having jurisdiction of the crime.” The defendant may “waive extradition” and allow himself/herself to be taken into custody and returned to the state where charges are pending. International extradition is more difficult and is governed in many cases by treaty. While most countries will extradite persons charged with serious crimes, some will not, others refuse to extradite for certain crimes, set up legal roadblocks, or, as in Canada’s case, will not extradite if the accused may get the death penalty.

Extrajudicial

adj. referring to actions outside the judicial (court) system, such as an extralegal confession, which, if brought in as evidence, may be recognized by the judge during a trial.

Extraordinary fees

n. attorneys’ fees claimed, usually in the administration of a dead person’s estate, for work beyond the normal, including filing collection suits, preparing tax returns or requiring unusual effort beneficial to the estate. This claim is in addition to the usual statutory or court-approved legal fees. The attorney must submit proof of time, effort and benefit to justify the claim, and the final determination is at the judge’s discretion.

Extrinsic fraud

n. fraudulent acts which keep a person from obtaining information about his/her rights to enforce a contract or getting evidence to defend against a lawsuit. This could include destroying evidence or misleading an ignorant person about the right to sue. Extrinsic fraud is distinguished from “intrinsic fraud,” which is the fraud that is the subject of a lawsuit.

Eyewitness

n. a person who has actually seen an event and can so testify in court.

Face amount

n. the original amount due on a promissory note or insurance policy as stated therein, without calculating interest.

Face value

n. in shares of stock, the original cost of the stock shown on the certificate, or “par value.”

Fact

n. an actual thing or happening, which must be proved at trial by presentation of evidence and which is evaluated by the finder of fact (a jury in a jury trial, or by the judge if he/she sits without a jury).

Fact finder (finder of fact)

n. in a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, the jury or judge (if there is no jury) who decides if facts have been proven. Occasionally a judge may appoint a “special master” to investigate and report on the existence of certain facts.

Factor

n. 1) a salesman who sells in his/her own name on behalf of others, taking a commission for services. 2) something that contributes to the result.

Failure of consideration

The refusal or inability of a contracting party to perform its side of a bargain.

Failure of issue

A situation in which a person dies without children who could have inherited her property.

Fair comment

n. a statement of opinion (no matter how ludicrous) based on facts which are correctly stated and which does not allege dishonorable motives on the part of the target of the comment. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that to protect free speech, statements made about a public person (politician, officeholder, movie star, author, etc.), even though untrue and harmful, are fair comment unless the victim can prove the opinions were stated maliciously-with hate, dislike, intent and/or desire to harm. Thus, a public figure may not sue for defamation based on published opinions or alleged information which would be the basis of a lawsuit if said or published about a private person not worthy of opinion or comment. This is a crucial defense against libel suits put up by members of the media.

Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA)

A federal law that gives you rights when an error occurs on your credit card statement. You must notify the credit card company of the mistake within 60 days after it mailed the bill to you. The company must then correct the mistake, or at least acknowledge receipt of your letter within 30 days, and must correct the error within 90 days or explain why it believes the credit card statement is correct.

Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA)

A federal law that is designed to prevent inaccurate or obsolete information from entering or remaining in a credit report. The law requires credit bureaus to adopt reasonable procedures for gathering, maintaining and disseminating information and bars credit bureaus from reporting negative information that is older than seven years, except a bankruptcy, which may be reported for ten. If you notify a credit bureau of an error in your credit report, the FCRA requires the bureau to investigate your allegations within 30 days, review all information you provide, remove inaccurate and unverified information and adopt procedures to keep the information from reappearing. In addition, the law requires that creditors refrain from reporting incorrect information to credit bureaus.

Fair Debt Collections & Practices Act (FDCPA)

A federal law that outlaws unfair debt collection practices, including lying, harassing, misleading and otherwise abusing debtors, by debt collectors working for collection agencies. The law does not apply to creditors collecting their own debts. This law has greatly improved conditions for debtors, although more than a few debt collectors ignore the law. If a collection agency violates the law, debtors can contact the Federal Trade Commission for help.

Fair Housing Act & Fair Housing Amendments Act

Federal laws that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of race or color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status or disability. The federal Acts apply to all aspects of the landlord/tenant relationship, from refusing to rent to members of certain groups to providing different services during tenancy.

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA)

A federal law that guarantees a worker’s right to be paid fairly. The FLSA defines the 40-hour workweek, sets out the federal minimum wage, states requirements for overtime and places restrictions on child labor.

Fair market value

n. the amount for which property would sell on the open market if put up for sale. This is distinguished from “replacement value,” which is the cost of duplicating the property. Real estate appraisers will use “comparable” sales of similar property in the area to determine market value, adding or deducting amounts based on differences in quality and size of the property.

Fair trade laws

n. state laws which permit manufacturers or producers to set minimum rates for resale of the product. They have been repealed or found violative of state constitutions in many states.

Fair use rule

A law that authorizes the use of copyrighted materials for certain purposes without the copyright owner’s permission. Generally, uses intended to further scholarship, education or an informed public are considered fair use, but recent years have seen severe limits placed on the amount of a work that can be reproduced under the fair use rule. n. the non-competitive right to use of copyrighted material without giving the author the right to compensation or to sue for infringement of copyright. With the growing use of copy machines, teachers and businesses copy articles, pages of texts, charts and excerpts for classroom use, advice to employees or to assist in research without violating the copyright.

False arrest

n. physically detaining someone without the legal right to do so. Quite often this involves private security people or other owners or employees of retail establishments who hold someone without having seen a crime committed in their presence or pretend that they are police officers. While they may be entitled to make a “citizen’s arrest” they had better be sure that they have a person who has committed a crime, and they must call law enforcement officers to take over at the first opportunity. Other common false arrest situations include an arrest by a police officer of the wrong person or without probable cause to believe a crime has been committed and/or without a warrant. Only when the arresting party knowingly holds someone who has not committed a crime, is the false arrest itself a crime. However, probable false arrest can be the basis of a lawsuit for damages, including mental distress and embarrassment.

False imprisonment

Intentionally restraining another person without having the legal right to do so. It’s not necessary that physical force be used; threats or a show of apparent authority are sufficient. False imprisonment is a misdemeanor and a tort (a civil wrong). If the perpetrator confines the victim for a substantial period of time (or moves him a significant distance) in order to commit a felony, the false imprisonment may become a kidnapping. People who are arrested and get the charges dropped, or are later acquitted, often think that they can sue the arresting officer for false imprisonment (also known as false arrest). These lawsuits rarely succeed: As long as the officer had probable cause to arrest the person, the officer will not be liable for a false arrest, even if it turns out later that the information the officer relied upon was incorrect.

False pretenses

n. the crime of knowingly making untrue statements for the purpose of obtaining money or property fraudulently. This can range from claiming zircons are diamonds and turning back the odometer on a car, to falsely stating that a mine has been producing gold when it has not. It is one form of theft.

Family

n. 1) husband, wife and children. 2) all blood relations. 3) all who live in the same household including servants and relatives, with some person or persons directing this economic and social unit.

Family allowance

A certain amount of a deceased person’s money to which immediate family members are entitled at the beginning of the probate process. The allowance is meant to help support the surviving spouse and children during the time it takes to probate the estate. The amount is determined by state law and varies greatly from state to state.

Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

A federal law that requires employers to provide an employee with 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a year’s time for the birth or adoption of a child, family health needs or personal illness. The employer must allow the employee to return to the same position or a position similar to that held before taking the leave. There are exceptions to the FMLA: the most notable is that only employers with 50 or more employees are covered–about half the workforce.

Family court

A separate court, or more likely a separate division of the regular state trial court, that considers only cases involving divorce (dissolution of marriage), child custody and support, guardianship, adoption, and other cases having to do with family-related issues, including the issuance of restraining orders in domestic violence cases.

Family purpose doctrine

n. a rule of law that the registered owner of an automobile is responsible for damages to anyone injured when the auto is driven by a member of the family with or without the owner’s permission. The theory of this liability is that the vehicle is owned for family purposes. This doctrine is the law in some states instead of making a registered owner liable for damages caused by anyone driving his/her car with permission.

Fault divorce

A tradition that required one spouse to prove that the other spouse was legally at fault, to obtain a divorce. The “innocent” spouse was then granted the divorce from the “guilty” spouse. Today, 35 states still allow a spouse to allege fault in obtaining a divorce. The traditional fault grounds for divorce are adultery, cruelty, desertion, confinement in prison, physical incapacity and incurable insanity. These grounds are also generally referred to as marital misconduct.

Federal court

A branch of the United States government with power derived directly from the U.S. Constitution. Federal courts decide cases involving the U.S. Constitution, federal law–for example, patents, federal taxes, labor law and federal crimes, such as robbing a federally chartered bank–and cases where the parties are from different states and are involved in a dispute for $75,000 or more.

Federal question

n. one basis for filing a lawsuit in federal district court is that it is based on subjects enumerated in the U.S. Constitution or when a federal statute is involved. Thus, existence of such a federal question gives the federal court jurisdiction.

Federal Tort Claims Act

n. a statute (1948) which removed the power of the federal government to claim immunity from a lawsuit for damages due to negligent or intentional injury by a federal employee in the scope of his/her work for the government. It also established a set of regulations and format for making claims, giving jurisdiction to federal district courts.

Federal Trade Commission (FTC)

A federal government agency established to regulate business practices and enforce antitrust laws. The FTC often shows up in the news when big businesses merge, but it also plays a role in protecting consumers from unfair business practices, including actions by collection agencies and credit bureaus. While the FTC generally does not have authority to intervene in individual consumer disputes, the FTC can take action against a company about which it has received numerous consumer complaints.

Fee

n. 1) absolute title in land, from old French, fief, for “payment,” since lands were originally given by lords to those who served them. The word “fee” can be modified to show that the title was “conditional” on some occurrence or could be terminated (“determinable”) upon a future event. 2) a charge for services.

Fee simple

n. absolute title to land, free of any other claims against the title, which one can sell or pass to another by will or inheritance. This is a redundant form of “fee,” but is used to show the fee (absolute title) is not a “conditional fee,” or “determinable fee,” or “fee tail.”

Fee tail

n. an old feudal expression for a title to real property which can only be passed to one’s heirs “of his body” or certain heirs who are blood relatives. If the blood line ran out (no children) then the title would revert to the descendants of the lord who originally gave the land to the title-holding family. Thus, it could not be transferred to anyone outside the family. The intention was to keep lands within a family line and not subdivided. In 16th century England, trusts were established to get around this “restraint on alienation” so the land could be held in trust for another person to use. Fee tail is of historic and academic interest only.

Felony

A serious crime (contrasted with misdemeanors and infractions, less serious crimes), usually punishable by a prison term of more than one year or, in some cases, by death. For example, murder, extortion and kidnapping are felonies; a minor fist fight is usually charged as a misdemeanor, and a speeding ticket is generally an infraction.

Felony murder doctrine

n. a rule of criminal statutes that any death which occurs during the commission of a felony is first degree murder, and all participants in that felony or attempted felony can be charged with and found guilty of murder. A typical example is a robbery involving more than one criminal, in which one of them shoots, beats to death or runs over a store clerk, killing the clerk. Even if the death were accidental, all of the participants can be found guilty of felony murder, including those who did no harm, had no gun, and/or did not intend to hurt anyone. In a bizarre situation, if one of the holdup men or women is killed, his/her fellow robbers can be charged with murder.

Feres doctrine

A legal doctrine that prevents people who are injured as a result of military service from successfully suing the federal government under the Federal Tort Claims Act. The doctrine comes from the U.S. Supreme Court case Feres v. United States, in which servicemen who picked up highly radioactive weapons fragments from a crashed airplane were not permitted to recover damages from the government. Also known as the Feres-Stencel doctrine or the Feres rule.

Fictitious defendants

n. when a party suing (plaintiff) is not sure if he/she knows if there are unknown persons involved in the incident or the business being sued, there are named fictitious persons, usually designated Doe I, Doe II, and so forth, or “Green and Red Company,” with an allegation in the complaint that if and when the true names are discovered they will be inserted in the complaint by amendment. Naming fictitious defendants stops the statute of limitations (the time in which a party has to file a lawsuit) from running out even though the true name is not yet known. Sometimes during the investigation or discovery (taking depositions or asking written questions under oath) new information about a potential defendant is found and the real name substituted. Then that person is served with a summons and complaint. If no substitution of a real name for a Doe has been made by the time of trial, usually the fictitious defendants are then dismissed from the case since they never existed in the first place, and the case continues against the named defendants. Fictitious defendants are not permitted in federal cases.

Fictitious name

Fictitious names are often used in conducting a business (see doing business as.) They may also be used when filing a lawsuit against a party whose real name is unknown or when it is appropriate to conceal the true name of the party.

Fiduciary

1) n. from the Latin fiducia, meaning “trust,” a person (or a business like a bank or stock brokerage) who has the power and obligation to act for another (often called the beneficiary) under circumstances which require total trust, good faith and honesty. The most common is a trustee of a trust, but fiduciaries can include business advisers, attorneys, guardians, administrators of estates, real estate agents, bankers, stockbrokers, title companies or anyone who undertakes to assist someone who places complete confidence and trust in that person or company. Characteristically, the fiduciary has greater knowledge and expertise about the matters being handled. A fiduciary is held to a standard of conduct and trust above that of a stranger or of a casual business person. He/she/it must avoid “self-dealing” or “conflicts of interests” in which the potential benefit to the fiduciary is in conflict with what is best for the person who trusts him/her/it. For example, a stockbroker must consider the best investment for the client and not buy or sell on the basis of what brings him/her the highest commission. While a fiduciary and the beneficiary may join together in a business venture or a purchase of property, the best interest of the beneficiary must be primary, and absolute candor is required of the fiduciary. 2) adj. defining a situation or relationship in which a person is acting as a fiduciary for another. Normally, the term is synonymous to a trustee, which is the classic form of a fiduciary relationship.

Fiduciary relationship

n. where one person places complete confidence in another in regard to a particular transaction or one’s general affairs or business. The relationship is not necessarily formally or legally established as in a declaration of trust, but can be one of moral or personal responsibility, due to the superior knowledge and training of the fiduciary as compared to the one whose affairs the fiduciary is handling.

Fieri facias

Latin for “that you cause to be done.” This is a court document that instructs a sheriff to seize and sell a defendant’s property in order to satisfy a monetary judgment against the defendant.

Fighting words

n. words intentionally directed toward another person which are so nasty and full of malice as to cause the hearer to suffer emotional distress or incite him/her to immediately retaliate physically (hit, stab, shoot, etc.). While such words are not an excuse or defense for a retaliatory assault and battery, if they are threatening they can form the basis for a lawsuit for assault.

File

A term commonly used to describe both the process of submitting a document to a court–for example, “I filed my small claims case today”–and to describe the physical location where these papers are kept. Traditionally, a court’s case files were kept indefinitely in one or more cardboard folders. Today many files–especially those for inactive cases–are stored by computer.

Filing fee

A fee charged by a public official to accept a document for processing. For example, you must usually pay a filing fee to submit pleadings and other documents to the court in a civil matter, or to put a deed on file in the public records.

Final beneficiary

The person or institution designated to receive trust property upon the death of a life beneficiary. For example, Jim creates a trust through which his wife Jane receives income for the duration of her life. Their daughter, the final beneficiary, receives the trust principal after Jane’s death

Final decree

n. another name for a final judgment. In states where there are interlocutory decrees of divorce (in the hope that a further wait may lead to reconciliation), followed several months later by the actual divorce, the second order is called a final decree, issued after the filing of a declaration that the couple is still asunder (can not get back together).

Final judgment

n. the written determination of a lawsuit by the judge who presided at trial (or heard a successful motion to dismiss or a stipulation for judgment), which renders (makes) rulings on all issues and completes the case unless it is appealed to a higher court. It is also called a final decree or final decision.

Final settlement

n. an agreement reached by the parties to a lawsuit, usually in writing and/or read into the record in court, settling all issues. Usually there are elements of compromise, waiver of any right to reopen or appeal the matter even if there is information found later which would change matters (such as recurrence of a problem with an injury), mutual release of any further claim by each party, a statement that neither side is admitting fault, and some action or payment by one or both sides. In short, the case is over, provided the parties do what they are supposed to do according to the final settlement’s terms. With the glut of cases crowding court calendars and overwhelming the system and delays in getting to trial (due to three factors: increased criminal case load, increased litigious nature of society and an insufficient number of judges), judges encourage attempts to settle, including mandatory settlement conferences with judges or experienced settlement attorneys present.

Finder’s fee

A fee charged by real estate brokers and apartment-finding services in exchange for locating a rental property. These fees are permitted by law. Some landlords, however, charge finder’s fees merely for renting a place. This type of charge is not legitimate and, in some areas, is specifically declared illegal.

Finding

n. the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact. A finding of fact is distinguished from a conclusion of law which is determined by the judge as the sole legal expert. Findings of fact and conclusions of law, need not be made if waived or not requested by the trial attorneys, leaving just the bare judgment in the case.

Firm offer

n. in contract law, an offer (usually in writing) which states it may not be withdrawn, revoked or amended for a specific period of time. If the offer is accepted without a change during that period, there is a firm, enforceable contract.

First degree murder

n. although it varies from state to state, it is generally a killing which is deliberate and premeditated (planned, after lying in wait, by poison or as part of a scheme), in conjunction with felonies such as rape, burglary, arson, or involving multiple deaths, the killing of certain types of people (such as a child, a police officer, a prison guard, a fellow prisoner), or certain weapons, particularly a gun. The specific criteria for first degree murder, are established by statute in each state and by the U.S. Code in federal prosecutions. It is distinguished from second degree murder in which premeditation is usually absent, and from manslaughter, which lacks premeditation and suggests that at most there was intent to harm rather than to kill.

First impression

adj. referring to a legal issue which has never been decided by an appeals court and, therefore, there is no precedent for the court to follow. To reach a decision the court must use its own logic, analogies from prior rulings by appeals courts and refer to commentaries and articles by legal scholars. In such cases the trial judge usually asks for legal briefs by attorneys for both sides to assist him/her.

Fishing expedition

Legal grasping at straws; the use of pre-trial investigation (discovery) or witness questioning in an unfocused attempt to uncover damaging evidence you can use against your adversary.

Fitness

The ability of a prospective adoptive parent to provide for the best interests of a child. A court may consider many aspects of the prospective parents’ lives in evaluating their fitness to adopt a child, including financial stability, marital stability, career obligations, other children, physical and mental health and criminal history.

Fixed in a tangible medium of expression

A requirement before a work can be protected by a copyright. The work must be recorded in some physical medium, whether on paper, audio tape or computer disk. This means that spontaneous speech or musicianship that is not recorded, (a jazz solo, for instance) is not protected by copyright.

Fixed rate mortgage

A mortgage loan that has an interest rate that remains constant throughout the life of the loan, so that the amount you pay each month remains the same over the entire mortgage term, typically 15, 20 or 30 years.

Fixture

n. a piece of equipment which has been attached to real estate in such a way as to be part of the premises and its removal would do harm to the building or land. Thus, a fixture is transformed from a movable asset to an integral part of the real property. Essentially a question of fact, it often arises when a tenant has installed a lighting fixture, a heater, window box or other item which is bolted, nailed, screwed or wired into the wall, ceiling or floor. Trade fixtures are those which a merchant would normally use to operate the business and display goods and may be removed at the merchant’s expense for any necessary repair.

Flight

n. running away or hiding by a person officially accused of a crime with the apparent intent of avoiding arrest or prosecution.

Floating easement

n. an easement (a right to use another’s property for a particular purpose) which allows access and/or egress but does not spell out the exact dimensions and location of the easement.

FOB

1) adj. short for free on board, meaning shipped to a specific place without cost. 2) adj. referring to purchased goods shipped without transportation charge to a specific place. Free on board at the place of manufacture shows there is a charge for delivery. Example: if an automaker in Detroit sells a car “FOB Detroit,” then there will be a shipping charge if delivery is taken anywhere else. If the contract reads “FOB New Orleans,” then the auto will be shipped to that city without charge, but with charge for delivery from New Orleans to somewhere else.

For sale by owner (FSBO)

Selling your house without a real estate broker. Doing so can save you a commission but requires that you devote time and energy not only to marketing and showing the house but also to learning and following the legal rules controlling sales of real estate in your area. The acronym FSBO is pronounced “fizzbo.”

For value received

A phrase used in a promissory note, a bill of exchange or a deed to show that some consideration (value) has been given without stating what that payment was.

Forbearance

Voluntarily refraining from doing something, such as asserting a legal right. For example, a creditor may forbear on its right to collect a debt by temporarily postponing or reducing the borrower’s payments.

Forced sale

n. a sale of goods seized to satisfy (pay) a judgment.

Forcible entry

n. the crime of taking possession of a house or other structure or land by the use of physical force or serious threats against the occupants. This can include breaking windows or doors or using terror to gain entry, as well as forcing the occupants out by threat or violence after having come in peacefully.

Foreclosure

The forced sale of real estate to pay off a loan on which the owner of the property has defaulted.

Foreclosure sale

n. the actual forced sale of real property at a public auction (often on the courthouse steps following public notice posted at the courthouse and published in a local newspaper) after foreclosure on that property as security under a mortgage or deed of trust for a loan that is substantially delinquent. The lender who has not been paid may bid for the property, using his/her/its own unpaid note toward payment, which can result in a bargain purchase.

Foreign corporation

n. a corporation which is incorporated under the laws of a different state or nation. A “foreign” corporation must file a notice of doing business in any state in which it does substantial regular business. It must name an “agent for acceptance of service” in that state, or the Secretary of State in some jurisdictions will automatically be that agent so people doing business with a foreign corporation will be able to bring legal actions locally if necessary.

Foreign divorce

A divorce obtained in a different state or country from the place where one spouse resides at the time of the divorce. As a general rule, foreign divorces are recognized as valid if the spouse requesting the divorce became a resident of the state or country granting the divorce, and if both parties consented to the jurisdiction of the foreign court. A foreign divorce obtained by one person without the consent of the other is normally not valid, unless the nonconsenting spouse later acts as if the foreign divorce were valid, for example, by remarrying.

Forensic

1) adj. from Latin forensis for “belonging to the forum,” ancient Rome’s site for public debate and currently meaning pertaining to the courts. Thus, forensic testimony or forensic medicine are used to assist the court or the attorneys in legal matters, including trials.

Forensic medicine

n. research, reports and testimony in court by experts in medical science to assist in determining a legal question. Cause of death is a common issue determined by pathologists who may be coroners or medical examiners.

Forensic testimony

n. any testimony of expert scientific, engineering, economic or other specialized nature used to assist the court and the lawyers in a lawsuit or prosecution.

Forensics

n. public speaking or argumentation.

Foreseeability

n. reasonable anticipation of the possible results of an action, such as what may happen if one is negligent or consequential damages resulting from breach of a contract.

Foreseeable risk

n. a danger which a reasonable person should anticipate as the result from his/her actions. Foreseeable risk is a common affirmative defense put up as a response by defendants in lawsuits for negligence. A skier hits a bump on a ski run, falls and breaks his leg. This is a foreseeable risk of skiing. A mother is severely injured while accompanying her child on a roller coaster when the car jumps the track and comes loose. While there is potential risk, she had the right to anticipate that the roller coaster was properly maintained and did not assume the risk that it would come apart. Signs that warn “use at your own risk” do not bar lawsuits for risks that are not foreseeable.

Forfeit

v. to lose property or rights involuntarily as a penalty for violation of law. Example: the government can take automobiles or houses which are used for illegal drug trafficking or manufacture. A drug pusher may forfeit his/her car (property) if caught carrying drugs in it and found guilty. A parent may have to forfeit his/her house if his/her daughter is selling drugs from the house, even though the parent had nothing to do with and no knowledge of the drugs. One may have to forfeit one’s driver’s license or lose driving privileges due to multiple traffic violations or drunk driving.

Forfeiture

The loss of property or a privilege due to breaking a law. For example, a landlord may forfeit his or her property to the federal or state government if the landlord knows it is a drug-dealing site but fails to stop the illegal activity. Or, you may have to forfeit your driver’s license if you commit too many moving violations or are convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Forger

n. a person who commits the crime of forgery, by making false documents or signatures.

Forgery

n. 1) the crime of creating a false document, altering a document, or writing a false signature for the illegal benefit of the person making the forgery. This includes improperly filling in a blank document, like an automobile purchase contract, over a buyer’s signature, with the terms different from those agreed. It does not include such innocent representation as a staff member autographing photos of politicians or movie stars. While similar to forgery, counterfeiting refers to the creation of phoney money, stock certificates or bonds which are negotiable for cash. 2) a document or signature falsely created or altered.

Form interrogatories

Printed or “canned” sets of questions that one party in a lawsuit asks an opposing party. Form interratories cover the issues commonly encountered in the kind of lawsuit at hand. For example, lawyers’ form books have sets of interrogatories designed for contract disputes, landlord-tenant cases and many others. Form interrogatories are often supplemented by questions written by the lawyers and designed for the particular issues in the case.

Forthwith

adv. a term found in contracts, court orders and statutes, meaning as soon as it can be reasonably done. It implies immediacy, with no excuses for delay.

Forum

Refers to the court in which a lawsuit is filed or in which a hearing or trial is conducted.

Forum nonconveniens

Latin for an inconvenient court. Because these days strict written rules of jurisdiction and venue are used to decide where a case can and cannot be properly filed, this term has largely lost any real meaning, except as yet another example of a confusing Latin term that lawyers take pleasure in using.

Forum shopping

The process by which a plaintiff chooses among two or more courts that have the power–technically, the correct jurisdiction and venue–to consider his case. This decision is based on which court is likely to consider the case most favorably. In some instances, a case can properly be filed in two or more federal district courts as well as in the trial courts of several states–and this makes forum shopping a complicated business. It often involves weighing a number of factors, including proximity to the court, the reputation of the judge in the particular legal area, the likely type of available jurors and subtle differences in governing law and procedure.

Foster care

Court-ordered care provided to children who are unable to live in their own homes, usually because their parents have abused or neglected them. Foster parents have a legal responsibility to care for their foster children, but do not have all the rights of a biological parent–for example, they may have limited rights to discipline the children, to raise them according to a certain religion or to authorize non-emergency medical procedures for them. The foster parents do not become the child’s legal parents unless the biological parents’ rights are terminated by a court and the foster parents adopt the child. This is not typically encouraged, as the goal of foster care is to provide temporary support for the children until they can be returned to their parents. See also foster child.

Foster child

A child placed by a government agency or a court in the care of someone other than his or her natural parents. Foster children may be removed from their family home because of parental abuse or neglect. Occasionally, parents voluntarily place their children in foster care.

Four corners of an instrument

n. the term for studying an entire document to understand its meaning, without reference to anything outside of the document (“extrinsic evidence”), such as the circumstances surrounding its writing or the history of the party signing it. If possible a document should be construed based on what lies within its four corners, unless such examination cannot solve an ambiguity in its language.

Framing

The act of displaying another company’s web page within a bordered area of a website — similar to the “picture-in-picture” feature offered on some televisions. For example, when a user enters a search engine request, the search engine might display the contents of an online store within the search engine’s website, framed by the search engine’s text and logos. When a web page is framed within another website, the URL or domain name of the framed web page is not displayed and users are not able to bookmark that site.

Franchise

1) n. a right granted by the government to a person or corporation, such as a taxi permit, bus route, an airline’s use of a public airport, business license or corporate existence. 2) n. the right to vote in a public election. 3) v. to grant (for a periodic fee or share of profits) the right to operate a business or sell goods or services under a brand or chain name. Well-known franchise operations include McDonald’s, Holiday Inns, Ace Hardware, Rexall Drug Stores, and Amway Distributors. 4) n. the right one has to operate a store or sell goods or services under a franchise agreement, as in “we have the Taco Bell franchise in our town.” 5) adj. referring to a “franchise tax” which is placed on businesses (especially corporations) for the right to conduct business, as distinguished from a tax on property, income or profits tax.

Franchise tax

n. a state tax on corporations or businesses.

Fraternal benefit society benefits

These are benefits, often group life insurance, paid for by fraternal societies to their members. Elks, Masons or Knights of Columbus are common fraternal societies that provide benefits. Also called benefit society, benevolent society or mutual aid association benefits. Under bankruptcy laws, these benefits are virtually always considered exempt property.

Fraud

n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one’s own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. Since fraud is intended to employ dishonesty to deprive another of money, property or a right, it can also be a crime for which the fraudulent person(s) can be charged, tried and convicted. Borderline overreaching or taking advantage of another’s naiveté involving smaller amounts is often overlooked by law enforcement, which suggests the victim seek a “civil remedy” (i.e., sue). However, increasingly fraud, which has victimized a large segment of the public (even in individually small amounts), has become the target of consumer fraud divisions in the offices of district attorneys and attorneys general.

Fraud in the inducement

n. the use of deceit or trick to cause someone to act to his/her disadvantage, such as signing an agreement or deeding away real property. The heart of this type of fraud is misleading the other party as to the facts upon which he/she will base his/her decision to act

Fraudulent conveyance

n. the transfer (conveyance) of title to real property for the express purpose of putting it beyond the reach of a known creditor. In such a case the creditor may bring a lawsuit to void the transfer. However, if the transfer was made without knowledge of the claim (or before a debt has matured), for other legitimate reasons, and/or in the normal course of business, then the creditor’s attempt to obtain a judgment setting aside the conveyance will probably fail.

Fraudulent transfer

In a bankruptcy case, a transfer of property to another for less than the property’s value for the purpose of hiding the property from the bankruptcy trustee — for instance, when a debtor signs a car over to a relative to keep it out of the bankruptcy estate. Fraudulently transferred property can be recovered and sold by the trustee for the benefit of the creditors.

Free and clear

adj. referring to the ownership of real property upon which there is no lien, encumbrance, recorded judgment or the right of anyone to make a claim against the property. The term is used in contracts for sale of real property and deeds, to state that the title has no claim against it.

Freehold

n. any interest in real property which is a life estate or of uncertain or undetermined duration (having no stated end), as distinguished from a leasehold which may have declining value toward the end of a long-term lease (such as the 99-year variety).

Freeze-out

Majority shareholders in a company using their power to deprive one or more minority shareholders of their role in governing the company. This is done to force the minority shareholders to sell their stock at a reduced price and exit the company.

Fresh pursuit

n. immediate chase of a suspected criminal by a law enforcement officer, in which situation the officer may arrest the suspect without a warrant. It can also refer to chasing a suspect or escaped felon into a neighboring jurisdiction in an emergency, as distinguished from entering another jurisdiction with time to alert law enforcement people in that area. Example: when a deputy sheriff from Montgomery County pursues a car driven by a suspected bank robber into Baltimore County (in which he normally has no power to enforce the law), the doctrine of fresh pursuit allows him/her to make the arrest. It is also called hot pursuit.

Friendly suit

A lawsuit brought by two parties, not as adversaries, but as collaborators in order to resolve a legal question that affects them both. For example, two companies might bring a friendly suit to court in order to clarify a legal interpretation of a contract between them.

Friendly witness

A witness whom you have called to testify, and whom you may not cross-examine. If the witness testifies in a way that hurts your case, you can ask the judge to declare him a “hostile witness,” which means that you can begin to cross-examine him with leading questions.

Frisk

v. quickly patting down the clothes of a possible criminal suspect to determine if there is a concealed weapon. This police action is generally considered legal (constitutional) without a search warrant. Generally it is preferred that women officers frisk women and men officers frisk men.

Frivolous

adj. referring to a legal move in a lawsuit clearly intended merely to harass, delay or embarrass the opposition. Frivolous acts can include filing the lawsuit itself, a baseless motion for a legal ruling, an answer of a defendant to a complaint which does not deny, contest, prove or controvert anything, or an appeal which contains not a single arguable basis (by any stretch of the imagination) for the appeal. A frivolous lawsuit, motion or appeal can result in a successful claim by the other party for payment by the frivolous suer of their attorneys’ fees for defending the case. Judges are reluctant to find an action frivolous, based on the desire not to discourage people from using the courts to resolve disputes.

Frolic

An employee detour that is so far removed from the purposes of employment that the employer will not be liable for any injury he causes while on the trip. For example, the U.S. Postal Service would not have been responsible for any injuries caused by Seinfeld’s Newman and Kramer when they used a U.S. Postal Service truck to cart bottles to Michigan for recycling.

Fruit of the poisonous tree

n. in criminal law, the doctrine that evidence discovered due to information found through illegal search or other unconstitutional means (such as a forced confession) may not be introduced by a prosecutor. The theory is that the tree (original illegal evidence) is poisoned and thus taints what grows from it. For example, as part of a coerced admission made without giving a prime suspect the so-called “Miranda warnings” (statement of rights, including the right to remain silent and what he/she says will be used against them), the suspect tells the police the location of stolen property. Since the admission cannot be introduced as evidence in trial, neither can the stolen property.

Frustration of purpose

n. sometimes called commercial frustration, when unexpected events arise which make a contract impossible to be performed, entitling the frustrated party to rescind the contract without paying damages.

Fugitive from justice

n. a person convicted or accused of a crime who hides from law enforcement in the state or flees across state lines to avoid arrest or punishment.Governors are required to “deliver up” and return any fugitives from justice to the state where they allegedly committed the crime, a process called extradition.

Full disclosure

n. the need in business transactions to tell the “whole truth” about any matter which the other party should know in deciding to buy or contract. In real estate sales in many states there is a full disclosure form which must be filled out and signed under penalty of perjury for knowingly falsifying or concealing any significant fact.

Full faith and credit

“Full faith and credit shall be given in each State to the public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Thus, a judgment in a lawsuit or a criminal conviction rendered in one state shall be recognized and enforced in any other state, so long as the original judgment was reached by due process of law. Each state has a process for obtaining an enforceable judgment based on a “foreign” (out-of-state) judgment.

Funding a trust

Transferring ownership of property to a trust.

Fungible things

n. sometimes merely called “fungibles,” goods which are interchangeable, often sold or delivered in bulk, since any one of them is as good as another. Grain or gravel are fungibles, as are securities which are identical.

Future interest

A right to property that cannot be enforced in the present, but only at some time in the future. For example, John’s will leaves his house to his sister Marian, but only after the death of his wife, Hillary. Marian has a future interest in the house.

Gag order

n. a judge’s order prohibiting the attorneys and the parties to a pending lawsuit or criminal prosecution from talking to the media or the public about the case. The supposed intent is to prevent prejudice due to pre-trial publicity which would influence potential jurors. A gag order has the secondary purpose of preventing the lawyers from trying the case in the press and on television, and thus creating a public mood (which could get ugly) in favor of one party or the other. Based on the “freedom of the press” provision of the First Amendment, the court cannot constitutionally restrict the media from printing or broadcasting information about the case, so the only way is to put a gag on the participants under the court’s control. In Canada, however, the media can be restricted, as in a famous case in which American newspapers were smuggled across the border to report on a particularly lurid sex-murder case in which a second accused person was yet to be tried. A gag order can also be made by an executive agency such as when President George Bush issued a gag order which forbade federally funded health clinics from giving out information about abortions, a gag order which President Bill Clinton rescinded on his first day in office, January 22, 1993.

Garnish

v. to obtain a court order directing a party holding funds (such as a bank) or about to pay wages (such as an employer) to an alleged debtor to set that money aside until the court determines (decides) how much the debtor owes to the creditor. Garnishing funds is also a warning to the party holding the funds (garnishee) not to pay them, and to inform the court as to how much money is being held. If the garnishee (such as a bank or employer) should mistakenly give the money to the account owner or employee, the garnishee will be liable to pay the creditor what he/she/it has coming. Garnishing wages is a typical means used to collect late child support and alimony payments or money judgments. Often the order will be to pay installment payments to the sheriff until the debt is collected. Then the sheriff pays the whole amount or payments to the person to whom the money is owed.

Garnishee

n. a person or entity, quite often a bank or employer, which receives a court order not to release funds held for or owed to a customer or employee, pending further order of the court.

Garnishment

A court-ordered process that takes property from a person to satisfy a debt. For example, a person who owes money to a creditor may have her wages garnished if she loses a lawsuit filed by the creditor. Up to 25% of a person’s wages can be deducted. The seizing of a person’s property, credit or salary, on the basis of a law which allows it, and for the purposes of paying off a debt.

Gender bias

n. unequal treatment in employment opportunity (such as promotion, pay, benefits and privileges), and expectations due to attitudes based on the sex of an employee or group of employees. Gender bias can be a legitimate basis for a lawsuit under anti-discrimination statutes.

General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT)

A comprehensive free-trade treaty signed in 1947 by 117 nations, including almost every developed country. The goal of GATT has been to promote global economic growth by encouraging and regulating world trade. Among other things, member countries are required to treat all other member countries equally in the application of import and export tariffs, offer basic copyright protection to authors from member countries, consult with each other about trade matters and attempt to resolve differences in a peaceful manner. GATT created an international regulatory body known as the World Trade Organization (WTO) to enforce compliance with the agreement.

General appearance

n. an attorney’s representation of a client in court for all purposes connected with a pending lawsuit or prosecution. After “appearing” in court, the attorney is then responsible for all future appearances in court unless officially relieved by court order or substitution of another attorney. A lawyer may be leery of making a general appearance unless all details of representation (such as the amount and payment of his/her fees) have been worked out with the client. This is distinguished from a special appearance, which is only for a particular purpose or court session and does not make the attorney responsible for future conduct of the case.

General counsel

n. the chief attorney for a corporation, who is paid usually full time for legal services. Attorneys who work only for one business are “house counsel.”

General damages

n. monetary recovery (money won) in a lawsuit for injuries suffered (such as pain, suffering, inability to perform certain functions) or breach of contract for which there is no exact dollar value which can be calculated. They are distinguished from special damages, which are for specific costs, and from punitive (exemplary) damages for punishment and to set an example when malice, intent or gross negligence was a factor.

General denial

n. a statement in an answer to a lawsuit or claim by a defendant in a lawsuit, in which the defendant denies everything alleged in the complaint without specifically denying any allegation. It reads: “Defendant denies each and every allegation contained in the complaint on file herein,” or similar inclusive language.

General partner

A person who joins with at least one other to own and operate a business for profit — and who (unlike a corporation’s owners), is personally liable for all the business’s debts and obligations. A general partner’s actions can legally bind the entire business. See also partnership, limited partnership.

General plan

n. a plan of a city, county or area which establishes zones for different types of development, uses, traffic patterns and future development.

Generation skipping

adj., adv. referring to gifts made through trusts by a grandparent to a grandchild, skipping one’s child (the grandchild’s parent). Originally intended to avoid or defer federal gift or estate taxes if paid through a “generation skipping trust,” it is now subject to a generation skipping tax, and if made directly without a trust, the gift is as taxable as any large gift. In other words, although generation skipping no longer works to avoid taxes, a grandparent can still give or leave gifts under $10,000 a year to a grandchild without a gift tax.

Generation-skipping transfer tax

A federal tax imposed on money placed in a generation-skipping trust. Currently, there is a $1 million exemption to the GSTT; that is, each person may leave $1 million in a generation-skipping trust free of this tax. The GSST is imposed when the middle-generation beneficiaries die and the property is transferred to the third-generation beneficiaries. Every dollar over $1 million is subject to the highest existing estate tax rate–currently 55%–at the time the GSTT tax is applied.

Generation-skipping trust

A trust designed to save on estate tax. The trust principal is preserved for the trust maker’s grandchildren, with his or her children receiving only income from the trust. Because the children (the middle generation) never legally own the property, it isn’t subject to estate tax at their death

Generic mark

In trademark law, a word or symbol commonly used to describe an entire type of product or service rather than to distinguish one product or service from another. An example is “raisin bran,” used by several manufacturers of breakfast cereals to describe their products. Generic marks never receive protection because they don’t serve the basic function of marks, which is to distinguish goods and services in the marketplace.

Genericide

Loss of trademark protection that occurs when a specific brand name becomes identified with the entire type of product or service. For example, Xerox was in danger of losing the trademark on its name when “to Xerox” something was equivalent to copying it.

Gift

n. the voluntary transfer of property (including money) to another person completely free of payment or strings while both the giver and the recipient are still alive. Large gifts are subject to the federal gift tax, and in some states, to a state gift tax.

Gift in contemplation of death

n. called a gift “causa mortis”, a gift of personal property (not real estate) by a person expecting to die soon due to ill health or age. Federal tax law will recognize this reason for a gift if the giver dies within three years of the gift. Treating the gift as made in contemplation of death has the benefit of including the gift in the value of the estate, rather than making the gift subject to a separate federal gift tax charged the giver. If the giver gets over an apparently mortal illness, the gift is treated like any other gift for tax purposes.

Gift taxes

Federal taxes assessed on any gift, or combination of gifts, from one person to another that exceeds $12,000 in one year. Several kinds of gifts are exempt form this tax: gifts to tax-exempt charities, gifts to your spouse (limited to $120,000 annually if the recipient isn’t a U.S. citizen) and gifts made for tuition or medical bills. In addition to the  annual gift tax exclusion, there is a $1 million cumulative tax exemption for gifts. In other words, you can give away a total of $1 million during your lifetime — over and above the gifts you give using the annual exclusion — without paying gift taxes.

Golden rule argument

During a jury trial, an attempt to persuade the jurors to put themselves in the place of the victim or the injured person and deliver the verdict that they would wish to receive if they were in that person’s position. For example, if the plaintiff in a personal injury case has suffered severe scarring, the plaintiff’s lawyer might ask the jury to come back with the verdict they themselves would want to receive had they been disfigured in such a manner. As a rule, judges frown upon this type of argument, because jurors are supposed to consider the facts of a case in an objective manner.

Good cause

n. a legally sufficient reason for a ruling or other action by a judge. The language is commonly: “There being good cause shown, the court orders….”

Good faith

n. honest intent to act without taking an unfair advantage over another person or to fulfill a promise to act, even when some legal technicality is not fulfilled. The term is applied to all kinds of transactions.

Good Samaritan rule

n. from a Biblical story, if a volunteer comes to the aid of an injured or ill person who is a stranger, the person giving the aid owes the stranger a duty of being reasonably careful. In some circumstances negligence could result in a claim of negligent care if the injuries or illness were made worse by the volunteer’s negligence.

Good title

n. ownership of real property which is totally free of claims against it and therefore can be sold, transferred or put up as security (placing a mortgage or deed of trust on the property).

Goods

n. items held for sale in the regular course of business, as in a retail store.

Goodwill

n. the benefit of a business having a good reputation under its name and regular patronage. Goodwill is not tangible like equipment, right to lease the premises or inventory of goods. It becomes important when a business is sold, since there can be an allocation in the sales price for the value of the goodwill, which is always a subjective estimate. Included in goodwill upon sale may be the right to do business without competition by the seller in the area and/or for a specified period of time. Sellers like the allocation to goodwill to be high since it is not subject to capital gains tax, while buyers prefer it to be low, because it cannot be depreciated for tax purposes like tangible assets. Goodwill also may be overestimated by a proud seller and believed by an unknowing buyer.

Governmental immunity

n. the doctrine from English common law that no governmental body can be sued unless it gives permission. This protection resulted in terrible injustices, since public hospitals, government drivers and other employees could be negligent with impunity (free) from judgment. The Federal Tort Claims Act and state waivers of immunity (with specific claims systems) have negated this rule, which stemmed from the days when kings set prerogatives.

Grace period

A period of time during which you are not required to make payments on a debt. For example, most credit cards give you a grace period of 20-30 days before you have to pay interest on the amount of your purchases. Cash advances, however, usually have no grace period; interest begins to accumulate from the date of the withdrawal, even if you pay your bills on time. Also, some student loans give you a grace period after graduating or dropping out of school. During this time, you are not required to make payments on your loan.

Gran Jury

In criminal cases, a group that decides whether there is enough evidence to justify an indictment (formal charges) and a trial. A grand jury indictment is the first step, after arrest, in any formal prosecution of a felony.

Grand larceny

n. the crime of theft of another’s property (including money) over a certain value (for example, $500), as distinguished from petty (or petit) larceny in which the value is below the grand larceny limit. Some states only recognize the crime of larceny, but draw the line between a felony (punishable by state prison time) and a misdemeanor (local jail and/or fine) based on the value of the loot.

Grandfather clause

A provision in a new law that limits its application to people who are new to the system; people already in the system are exempt from the new regulation. For example, when Washington, D.C. raised its drinking age from 18 to 21, people between those ages, who could drink under the old law, were allowed to retain the right to legally consume alcohol under a grandfather clause.

Grandfathered in

adj. refers to continued allowed use of property as it was when restrictions or zoning ordinances were adopted.

Grant

v. to transfer real property from a title holder (grantor) or holders to another (grantee) with or without payment. However, there is an important difference between the types of deeds used. A grant deed warrants (guarantees) that the grantor (seller) has full right and title to the property, while a quitclaim deed only grants whatever the grantor owns (which may be nothing) and guarantees nothing.

Grant deed

A deed containing an implied promise that the person transfering the property actually owns the title and that it is not encumbered in any way, except as described in the deed. This is the most commonly used type of deed.

Grantee

n. the party who receives title to real property (buyer, recipient, donee) from the seller (grantor) by a document called a grant deed or quitclaim deed.

Grantor

Someone who creates a trust. Also called a trustor or settlor.

Grantor retained income trust

Irrevocable trusts designed to save on estate tax. There are several kinds; with all of them, you keep income from trust property, or use of that property, for a period of years. When the trust ends, the property goes to the final beneficiaries you’ve named. These trusts are for people who have enough wealth to feel comfortable giving away a substantial hunk of property. They come in three flavors: Grantor-Retained Annuity Trusts (GRATs), Grantor-Retained Unitrusts (GRUTs) and Grantor-Retained Income Trusts (GRITs).

Grantor-grantee index

n. a set of books and/or computerized lists found in the office of every County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds which lists all recorded transfers of title by deed (as well as liens, mortgages, deeds of trust and other documents affecting title). Each yearly index is usually alphabetized by the last names of grantors (the party transferring title) and grantee (the recipients of title). The listing includes the date of transfer, and cross-references to the book and page or document number where a copy of the document (often on microfilm) was recorded and can be examined. This is a key instrument in tracking a chain of title.

Gratuitous

adj. or adv. voluntary or free.

Gravamen

The essential element of a lawsuit. For example, the gravamen of a lawsuit involving a car accident might be the careless driving of the defendant.

Gross estate

For federal estate tax filing purposes, the total of all property owned at death, without regard to any debts or liens against the property or the costs of probate. Taxes are due only on the value of the property the person actually owned (the net estate) plus the amount of any taxable gifts made during life. In a few states, the gross estate is used when computing attorney fees for probating estates; the lawyer gets a percentage of the gross estate.

Gross income

n. in calculating income tax, the income of an individual or business from all sources before deducting allowable expenses, which will result in net income.

Gross lease

A commercial real estate lease in which the tenant pays a fixed amount of rent per month or year, regardless of the landlord’s operating costs, such as maintenance, taxes and insurance. A gross lease closely resembles the typical residential lease. The tenant may agree to a “gross lease with stops,” meaning that the tenant will pitch in if the landlord’s operating costs rise above a certain level. In real estate lingo, the point when the tenant starts to contribute is called the “stop level,” because that’s where the landlord’s share of the costs stops.

Gross negligence

n. carelessness which is in reckless disregard for the safety or lives of others, and is so great it appears to be a conscious violation of other people’s rights to safety. It is more than simple inadvertence, but it is just shy of being intentionally evil. If one has borrowed or contracted to take care of another’s property, then gross negligence is the failure to actively take the care one would of his/her own property. If gross negligence is found by the trier of fact (judge or jury), it can result in the award of punitive damages on top of general and special damages.

Grounds for divorce

Legal reasons for requesting a divorce. All states require a spouse who files for divorce to state the grounds, court and whether requesting a fault divorce or a no-fault divorce.

Group life or group health insurance

A single policy under which individuals in a group–for example, employees–and their dependents are covered.

Guarantee

1) v. to pledge or agree to be responsible for another’s debt or contractual performance if that other person does not pay or perform. Usually, the party receiving the guarantee will first try to collect or obtain performance from the debtor before trying to collect from the one making the guarantee (guarantor). 2) the promise to pay another’s debt or fulfill contract obligations if that party fails to pay or perform. 3) n. occasionally, the person to whom the guarantee is made. 4) a promise to make a product good if it has some defect.

Guaranteed reservation

A hotel or rental car reservation secured by a credit card number. In exchange for your card number, the hotel or rental agency promises to have a room or vehicle for you no matter when you show up. If you have a guaranteed reservation with a hotel, it must provide you with a room, either at that hotel or at another comparable establishment. If you have a guaranteed reservation with a car agency, it must provide you with a vehicle. The downside of a guaranteed reservation is that if you don’t show up and haven’t cancelled your reservation, you will be billed for one night in the room or one day’s use of the vehicle.

Guarantor

A person who makes a legally binding promise to either pay another person’s debt or perform another person’s duty if that person defaults or fails to perform. The guarantor gives a “guaranty,” which is an assurance that the debt or other obligation will be fulfilled.

Guaranty

When used as a verb, to agree to pay another person’s debt or perform another person’s duty, if that person fails to come through. As a noun, the written document in which this assurance is made. For example, if you cosign a loan, you have made a guaranty and will be legally responsible for the debt if the borrower fails to repay the money as promised. The person who makes a guaranty is called the guarantor. Also known as a guarantee or warranty.

Guardian

An adult who has been given the legal right by a court to control and care for a minor or her property. Someone who looks after a child’s property is called a “guardian of the estate.” An adult who has legal authority to make personal decisions for the child, including responsibility for his physical, medical and educational needs, is called a “guardian of the person.” Sometimes just one person will be named to take care of all these tasks. An individual appointed by a court to look after an incapacitated adult may also be known as a guardian, but is more frequently called a conservator.

Guardian ad litem

A person, not necessarily a lawyer, who is appointed by a court to represent and protect the interests of a child or an incapacitated adult during a lawsuit. For example, a guardian ad litem (GAL) may be appointed to represent the interests of a child whose parents are locked in a contentious battle for custody, or to protect a child’s interests in a lawsuit where there are allegations of child abuse. The GAL may conduct interviews and investigations, make reports to the court and participate in court hearings or mediation sessions. Sometimes called court-appointed special advocates (CASAs).

Guardian of the estate

Someone appointed by a court to care for the property of a minor child that is not supervised by an adult under some other legal method, such as a trust. A guardian of the estate may also be called a “property guardian” or “financial guardian.”

Guardianship

A legal relationship created by a court between a guardian and his ward–either a minor child or an incapacitated adult. The guardian has a legal right and duty to care for the ward. This may involve making personal decisions on his or her behalf, managing property or both. Guardianships of incapacitated adults are more typically called conservatorships.

Guest

n. 1) in general, a person paying to stay in a hotel, motel or inn for a short time. 2) a person staying at another’s residence without charge, called a “social guest.” An important distinction is that a non-paying guest is not owed the duty of being provided a safe boarding space, as is a paying customer. Thus if a social guest trips on a slippery rug, he/she has no right to sue for negligence, but a paying guest might. 3) an “automobile” guest is one who is a passenger without paying, as distinguished from a taxi fare, bus rider or one who has paid a friend to drive. However, the so-called “guest statute” may give a non-paying passenger the right to sue. An automobile guest is somewhat (but not entirely) analogous to the “social guest” in a residence.

Guest statute

n. a state law which sets standards of care by the driver of a car to a non-paying passenger. Although state laws vary, the basic concept is that the social passenger can bring suit for negligence against the driver for gross negligence only if the driver could have foreseen that his/her actions or car could put the rider in great peril.

Guilty

adj. having been convicted of a crime or having admitted the commission of a crime by pleading “guilty” (saying you did it). A defendant may also be found guilty by a judge after a plea of “no contest,” or in Latin nolo contendere. The term “guilty” is also sometimes applied to persons against whom a judgment has been found in a lawsuit for a civil wrong, such as negligence or some intentional act like assault or fraud, but that is a confusing misuse of the word since it should only apply to a criminal charge.

Habeas corpus

Latin for “You have the body.” A prisoner files a petition for writ of habeas corpus in order to challenge the authority of the prison or jail warden to continue to hold him. If the judge orders a hearing after reading the writ, the prisoner gets to argue that his confinement is illegal. These writs are frequently filed by convicted prisoners who challenge their conviction on the grounds that the trial attorney failed to prepare the defense and was incompetent. Prisoners sentenced to death also file habeas petitions challenging the constitutionality of the state death penalty law. Habeas writs are different from and do not replace appeals, which are arguments for reversal of a conviction based on claims that the judge conducted the trial improperly. Often, convicted prisoners file both.

Habitable

adj. referring to a residence that is safe and can be occupied in reasonable comfort. Although standards vary by region, the premises should be closed in against the weather, provide running water, access to decent toilets and bathing facilities, heating, and electricity. Particularly in multi-dwelling buildings freedom from noxious smells, noise and garbage are included in the standard. This can become important in landlord-tenant disputes or government actions to force a landlord to make the premises livable (abatement of deficiencies).

Half blood

1) adj. sharing one parent only. 2) n. a half brother or half sister. “Half blood” should not be confused with “half breed,” which was a pejorative expression for a person born of parents of two races, particularly Native American and white.

Harass

v. systematic and/or continual unwanted and annoying pestering, which often includes threats and demands. This can include lewd or offensive remarks, sexual advances, threatening telephone calls from collection agencies, etc.

Harassment

n. the act of systematic and/or continued unwanted and annoying actions of one party or a group, including threats and demands. The purposes may vary, including racial prejudice, personal malice, an attempt to force someone to quit a job or grant sexual favors, apply illegal pressure to collect a bill or merely gain sadistic pleasure from making someone anxious or fearful. Such activities may be the basis for a lawsuit if due to discrimination based on race or sex, a violation on the statutory limitations on collection agencies, involve revenge by an ex-spouse, or be shown to be a form of blackmail (“I’ll stop bothering you if you’ll go to bed with me”). The victim may file a petition for a “stay away” (restraining) order, intended to prevent contact by the offensive party. A systematic pattern of harassment by an employee against another worker may subject the employer to a lawsuit for failure to protect the worker.

Harmless error

n. an error by a judge in the conduct of a trial which an appellate court finds is not sufficient for it to reverse or modify the lower court’s judgment at trial. Harmless error would include: a technical error which has no bearing on the outcome of the trial, an error that was corrected (such as allowing testimony and then ordering it stricken and admonishing the jury to ignore it), the issue affected by the error was found in the appellant’s favor (such as hearsay evidence on premeditation, but the jury found no premeditation), and the appeals court’s view that even though there were errors the appealing party could not have won in trial in any event.

Head of household

A person who supports and maintains, in one household, one or more people who are closely related to him by blood, marriage or adoption. Under federal income tax law, you are eligible for favorable tax treatment as the head of household only if you are unmarried and you manage a household which is the principal residence (for more than half of the year) of dependent children or other dependent relatives. Under bankruptcy homestead and exemption laws, the terms householder and “head of household” mean the same thing. Examples include a single woman supporting her disabled sister and her own children or a bachelor supporting his parents. Many states consider a single person supporting only himself to be a head of household as well.

Headnote

n. the summary of the key legal points determined by an appeals court, which appears just above each decision in published reports of cases. Headnotes are useful for a quick scan of the judgment, but they are the editor’s remarks and not the court’s.

Health benefits

Benefits paid under health insurance plans, such as Blue Cross/Blue Shield, to cover the costs of healthcare.

Health care directives

Legal documents that allow you to set out written wishes for your medical care — and to name a person to make sure those wishes are carried out.

Health care proxy

A person named in a health care directive or durable power of attorney for health care to make medical decisions for the person who signed the document, called the principal. A health care proxy may also be known as an attorney-in-fact, agent, or patient advocate.

Hearing

In the trial court context, a legal proceeding (other than a full-scale trial) held before a judge. During a hearing, evidence and arguments are presented in an effort to resolve a disputed factual or legal issue. Hearings typically, but by no means always, occur prior to trial when a party asks the judge to decide a specific issue–often on an interim basis–such as whether a temporary restraining order or preliminary injunction should be issued, or temporary child custody or child support awarded. In the administrative or agency law context, a hearing is usually a proceeding before an administrative hearing officer or judge representing an agency that has the power to regulate a particular field or oversee a governmental benefit program.

Hearsay

n. 1) second-hand evidence in which the witness is not telling what he/she knows personally, but what others have said to him/her. 2) a common objection made by the opposing lawyer to testimony when it appears the witness has violated the hearsay rule. 3) scuttlebutt or gossip.

Hearsay rule

A rule of evidence that prohibits secondhand testimony at a trial. For example, if an eyewitness to an accident later tells another person what she saw, the second person’s testimony is hearsay. The reason for this rule is that the opposing party has no ability to confront and cross-examine the person who has firsthand knowledge of the event.

Heir

One who receives property from someone who has died. While the traditional meaning includes only those who had a legal right to the deceased person’s property, modern usage includes anyone who receives property from the estate of a deceased person.

Heir apparent

One who expects to be receive property from the estate of a family member, as long as she outlives that person.

Heir at law

A person entitled to inherit property under intestate succession laws.

Heiress

n. feminine heir, often used to denote a woman who has received a large amount upon the death of a rich relative, as in the “department store heiress.”

Heirs of the body

n. descendants of one’s bloodline, such as children or grandchildren until such time as there are no direct descendants. If the bloodline runs out, the property will “revert” to the nearest relative traced back to the original owner.

Held

v. decided or ruled, as “the court held that the contract was valid.”

Hereditament

n. any kind of property which can be inherited. This is old-fashioned language still found in some wills and deeds.

Hidden asset

n. an item of value which does not show on the books of a business, often excluded for some improper purpose such as escaping taxation or hiding it from a bankruptcy trustee. However, there may be a legitimate business reason for not including all assets on a profit and loss statement.

High seas

International marine waters not included in the territorial waters of any country. Because the high seas are not owned by any country, they have their own set of laws.

Hit and run

n. the crime of a driver of a vehicle who is involved in a collision with another vehicle, property or human being, who knowingly fails to stop to give his/her name, license number and other information as required by statute to the injured party, a witness or law enforcement officers. If there is only property damage and no other person is present, leaving the information attached to the damaged property may be sufficient, provided the person causing the accident makes a report to the police. Hit and run statutes vary from state to state. It is not a violation of the constitutional protection against self-incrimination to be required to stop and give this information since it is a report and not an admission of guilt. Some hit and run cases are difficult to determine, such as the driver leaves the accident scene to go a block to his/her house or the neighborhood repair garage, and then walks back to the scene.

Hobby loss

n. in income tax, a loss from a business activity engaged in more for enjoyment than for profit, which can be deducted against annual income only.

Hold harmless

In a contract, a promise by one party not to hold the other party responsible if the other party carries out the contract in a way that causes damage to the first party. For example, many leases include a hold harmless clause in which the tenant agrees not to sue the landlord if the tenant is injured due to the landlord’s failure to maintain the premises. In most states, these clauses are illegal in residential tenancies, but may be upheld in commercial settings.

Holder

n. a general term for anyone in possession of property, but usually referring to anyone holding a promissory note, check, bond or other paper, either handed to the holder (delivery) or signed over by endorsement, for which he/she/it is entitled to receive payment as stated in the document.

Holder in due course

n. one holding a check or promissory note, received for value (he/she paid for it) in good faith and with no suspicion that it might be no good, claimed by another, overdue or previously dishonored (a bank had refused to pay since the account was overdrawn). Such a holder is entitled to payment by the maker of the check or note.

Holding

1) n. any ruling or decision of a court. 2) n. any real property to which one has title. 3) n. investment in a business. 4) v. keeping in one’s possession.

Holding company

n. a company, usually a corporation, which is created to own the stock of other corporations, thereby often controlling the management and policies of all of them.

Holdover tenancy

n. the situation when a tenant of real estate continues to occupy the premises without the owner’s agreement after the original lease or rental agreement between the owner (landlord) and the tenant has expired. The tenant is responsible for payment of the monthly rental at the existing rate and terms, which the landlord may accept without admitting the legality of the occupancy. A holdover tenant is subject to a notice to quit (get out) and, if he/she does not leave, to a lawsuit for unlawful detainer.

Holographic will

A will that is completely handwritten, dated and signed by the person making it. Holographic wills are generally not witnessed. Although it’s legal in many states, making a holographic will is never advised except as a last resort.

Home rule

n. the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of governing and local ordinances without receiving a charter from the state which comes with certain requirements and limitations. The concept has become popular with so-called libertarians, survivalists and others who would like to divorce local government from as much state regulation as possible. However, few cities and counties have chosen this route. For example, in California, there is one small county (Colusa) out of the 58 which has chosen “home rule.” This does not mean they will not take state funds for local improvements.

Home study

An investigation of prospective adoptive parents to make sure they are fit to raise a child, required by all states. Common areas of inquiry include financial stability, marital stability, lifestyles and other social factors, physical and mental health and criminal history.

Home warranty

A service contract that covers a major housing system–for example, plumbing or electrical wiring–for a set period of time from the date a house is sold. The warranty guarantees repairs to the covered system and is renewable.

Homeowners’ association

An organization comprising neighbors concerned with managing the common areas of a subdivision or condominium complex. These associations take on issues such as salting and sanding a subdivision when it snows and collecting dues from residents. The homeowners’ association is also responsible for enforcing any covenants, conditions & restrictions that apply to the property.

Homestead

1) The house in which a family lives, plus any adjoining land and other buildings on that land. 2) Real estate which is not subject to the claims of creditors as long as it is occupied as a home by the head of the household. After the head of the family dies, homestead laws often allow the surviving spouse or minor children to live on the property for as long as they choose. 3) Land acquired out of the public lands of the United States. The term “homesteaders” refers to people who got their land by settling it and making it productive, rather than purchasing it outright.

Homestead declaration

A form filed with the county recorder’s office to put on record your right to a homestead exemption. In most states, the homestead exemption is automatic–that is, you are not required to record a homestead declaration in order to claim the homestead exemption. A few states do require such a recording, however.

Hometowned

adv. legalese for a lawyer or client suffering discrimination by a local judge who seems to favor local parties and/or attorneys over those from out of town.

Homicide

The killing of one human being by the act or omission of another. The term applies to all such killings, whether criminal or not. Homicide is considered noncriminal in a number of situations, including deaths as the result of war and putting someone to death by the valid sentence of a court. Killing may also be legally justified or excused, as it is in cases of self-defense or when someone is killed by another person who is attempting to prevent a violent felony. Criminal homicide occurs when a person purposely, knowingly, recklessly or negligently causes the death of another. Murder and manslaughter are both examples of criminal homicide.

Hornbook law

n. lawyer lingo for a fundamental and well-accepted legal principle that does not require any further explanation, since a hornbook is a primer of basics.

Hostile possession

n. occupancy of a piece of real property coupled with a claim of ownership (which may be implied by actions, such as putting in a fence) over anyone, including the holder of recorded title. It may be an element of gaining title through long-term adverse possession or claiming real estate which has no known owner.

Hostile witness

n. technically an “adverse witness” in a trial who is found by the judge to be hostile (adverse) to the position of the party whose attorney is questioning the witness, even though the attorney called the witness to testify on behalf of his/her client. When the attorney calling the witness finds that the answers are contrary to the legal position of his/her client or the witness becomes openly antagonistic, the attorney may request the judge to declare the witness to be “hostile” or “adverse.” If the judge declares the witness to be hostile (i.e. adverse), the attorney may ask “leading” questions which suggest answers or are challenging to the testimony just as on cross examination of a witness who has testified for the opposition.

Hot pursuit

An exception to the general rule that a police officer needs an arrest warrant before he can enter a home to make an arrest. If a felony has just occurred and an officer has chased a suspect to a private house, the officer can forcefully enter the house in order to prevent the suspect from escaping or hiding or destroying evidence.

Hotchpot

n. the putting together, blending or mixing of various properties in order to achieve equal division among beneficiaries or heirs. There may be cash, securities, personal belongings, and even real estate which are part of the residue of an estate to be given to “my children, share and share alike.” To make such distribution possible, all of the items are put in the hotchpot and then divided.

House closing

The final transfer of the ownership of a house from the seller to the buyer, which occurs after both have met all the terms of their contract and the deed has been recorded.

House counsel

n. any attorney who works only for a particular business.

Household

n. a family living together, all of whom need not be related.

Householder

A person who supports and maintains a household, with or without other people. In bankruptcy law, a householder, housekeeper or head of household can claim a homestead exemption and possibly other exemptions relating to the maintenance of the household.

Hung jury

A jury unable to come to a final decision, resulting in a mistrial. Judges do their best to avoid hung juries, typically sending juries back into deliberations with an assurance (sometimes known as a “dynamite charge”) that they will be able to reach a decision if they try harder. If a mistrial is declared, the case is tried again unless the parties settle the case (in a civil case) or the prosecution dismisses the charges or offers a plea bargain (in a criminal case).

Hyperlink

See link.

Hypothecate

v. from Greek for “pledge,” a generic term for using property to secure payment of a loan, which includes mortgages, pledges and putting up collateral, while the borrower retains possession.

i.e.

prep. abbreviation for id est, which is Latin for “that is” or “that is to say.” It is used to expand or explain a general term as in “his children (i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and Joan).” It should not be confused with “e.g.,” which means “for example.”

Illegal

1) adj. in violation of statute, regulation or ordinance, which may be criminal or merely not in conformity. Thus, an armed robbery is illegal, and so is an access road which is narrower than the county allows, but the violation is not criminal. 2) status of a person residing in a country of which he/she is not a citizen and who has no official permission to be there. 3) Against or not authorized by the law. Also called illicit or unlawful.

Illusory promise

A promise that pledges nothing, because it is vague or because the promisor can choose whether or not to honor it. Such promises are not legally binding. For example, if you get a new job and promise to work for three years, unless you resign sooner, you haven’t made a valid contract and can resign or be fired at any time.

Immaterial

adj. a commonly heard objection to introducing evidence in a trial on the ground that it had nothing substantial to do with the case or any issue in the case. It can also apply to any matter (such as an argument or complaint) in a lawsuit which has no bearing on the issues to be decided in a trial. The public is often surprised at what is immaterial, such as references to a person’s character or bad deeds in other situations.

Immediate relative

Although the common meaning of this is a close family relation, it has a more specific meaning in immigration law. Immediate relatives are a category of prospective immigrants, who include a U.S. citizen’s spouse, minor children (under the age of 21), and parents (so long as the citizen is at least 21 years old).

Immediately

adv. 1) at once. 2) in orders of the court or in contracts it means “as soon as can be done” without excuse.

Immunity

n. exemption from penalties, payments or legal requirements, granted by authorities or statutes. Generally there are three types of immunity at law: a) a promise not to prosecute for a crime in exchange for information or testimony in a criminal matter, granted by the prosecutors, a judge, a grand jury or an investigating legislative committee; b) public officials’ protection from liability for their decisions (like a city manager or member of a public hospital board); c) governmental (or sovereign) immunity, which protects government agencies from lawsuits unless the government agreed to be sued; d) diplomatic immunity which excuses foreign ambassadors from most U.S. criminal laws. An exemption that a person (individual or corporate) enjoys from the normal operation of the law such as a legal duty or liability, either criminal or civil.

Impanel

v. to select and install a jury.

Impaneling

n. the act of selecting a jury from the list of potential jurors, called the “panel” or “venire.” The steps are 1) drawing names at random from a large number of jurors called; 2) seating 12 tentative jurors (or fewer where agreed to); 3) hearing individual juror requests for being excused, to be determined by the judge; 4) questions from judge and lawyers for both sides, called “voir dire”; 5) challenges of tentative jurors either for cause (decided by the judge) or peremptory (no reason given) by the lawyers; 6) swearing in the jurors who survive this process.

Impeach

1) To discredit. To impeach a witness’ credibility, for example, is to show that the witness is not believable. A witness may be impeached by showing that he has made statements that are inconsistent with his present testimony, or that he has a reputation for not being a truthful person. 2) The process of charging a public official, such as the President or a federal judge, with a crime or misconduct and removing the official from office.

Impeachment

n. 1) discrediting a witness by showing that he/she is not telling the truth or does not have the knowledge to testify as he/she did. 2) the trying of a public official for charges of illegal acts committed in the performance of public duty. It is not the conviction for the alleged crime nor the removal from office. It is only the trial itself.

Impleader

n. a procedural device before trial in which a party brings a third party into the lawsuit because that third party is the one who owes money to an original defendant, which money will be available to pay the original plaintiff. The theory is that two cases may be decided together and justice may be done more efficiently than having two suits in a series.

Implied

adj., adv. referring to circumstances, conduct or statements of one or both parties which substitute for explicit language to prove authority to act, warranty, promise, trust, agreement, consent or easement, among other things. Thus circumstances “imply” something rather than spell it out.

Implied consent

n. consent when surrounding circumstances exist which would lead a reasonable person to believe that this consent had been given, although no direct, express or explicit words of agreement had been uttered.

Implied contract

n. an agreement which is found to exist based on the circumstances when to deny a contract would be unfair and/or result in unjust enrichment to one of the parties. An implied contract is distinguished from an “express contract.”

Implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing

n. a general assumption of the law of contracts, that people will act in good faith and deal fairly without breaking their word, using shifty means to avoid obligations or denying what the other party obviously understood. A lawsuit (or one of the causes of action in a lawsuit) based on the breach of this covenant is often brought when the other party has been claiming technical excuses for breaching the contract or using the specific words of the contract to refuse to perform when the surrounding circumstances or apparent understanding of the parties were to the contrary.

Implied warranty

A guarantee about the quality of goods or services purchased that is not written down or explicitly spoken. Virtually everything you buy comes with two implied warranties. One for “merchantability” and one for “fitness.” The implied warranty of merchantability is an assurance that a new item will work for its specified purpose. The item doesn’t have to work wonderfully, and if you use it for something it wasn’t designed for, say trimming shrubs with an electric carving knife, the warranty doesn’t apply. The implied warranty of fitness applies when you buy an item for a specific purpose. If you notified the seller of your specific needs, the item is guaranteed to meet them. For example, if you buy new tires for your bicycle after telling the store clerk that you plan to use them for mountain cycling and the tires puncture when you pass over a small rock, the tires don’t conform to the warranty of fitness.

Implied warranty of habitability

A legal doctrine that requires landlords to offer and maintain livable premises for their tenants. If a landlord fails to provide habitable housing, tenants in most states may legally withhold rent or take other measures, including hiring someone to fix the problem or moving out. See constructive eviction.

Impossibility

n. when an act cannot be performed due to nature, physical impediments or unforeseen events. It can be a legitimate basis to rescind (mutually cancel) a contract.

Impound

v. 1) to collect funds, in addition to installment payments, from a person who owes a debt secured by property, and place them in a special account to pay property taxes and insurance when due. This protects the lender or seller from the borrower’s possible failure to keep up the insurance or a mounting tax bill which is a lien on the property. 2) to take away records, money or property, such as an automobile or building, by government action pending the outcome of a criminal prosecution. The records may be essential evidence, or the money or property may be forfeit to the state as in illegal drug cases.

Imprison

To put a person in prison or jail or otherwise confine him as punishment for committing a crime.

Improvement

n. any permanent structure on real property, or any work on the property (such as planting trees) which increases its value.

Impute

v. 1) to attach to a person responsibility (and therefore financial liability) for acts or injuries to another, because of a particular relationship, such as mother to child, guardian to ward, employer to employee or business associates. 2) to attribute knowledge and/or notice to a person only because of his/her relationship to the one actually possessing the information.

In absentia

Latin for “in absence,” or more fully, in one’s absence. Occasionally a criminal trial is conducted without the defendant being present when he/she walks out or escapes after the trial has begun, since the accused has thus waived the constitutional right to face one’s accusers.

In camera

Latin for “in chambers.” A legal proceeding is “in camera” when a hearing is held before the judge in her private chambers or when the public is excluded from the courtroom. Proceedings are often held in camera to protect victims and witnesses from public exposure, especially if the victim or witness is a child. There is still, however, a record made of the proceeding, typically by a court stenographer. The judge may decide to seal this record if the material is extremely sensitive or likely to prejudice one side or the other.

In chambers

adj. referring to discussions or hearings held in the judge’s office, called his chambers. It is also called “in camera.”

In extremis

Latin, facing imminent death.

In fee simple

adj. referring to holding clear title to real property.

In forma pauperis

Latin for “in the form of a pauper,” referring to a party to a lawsuit who gets filing fees waived by filing a declaration of lack of funds (has no money to pay). These declarations are most often found in divorces by young marrieds or poor defendants who have been sued.

In haec verba

Latin for “in these words,” which refers to stating the exact language of an agreement in a complaint or other pleading rather than attaching a copy of the agreement as an exhibit incorporated into the pleading.

In kind

adj. referring to payment, distribution or substitution of things in lieu of money, a combination of goods and money, or money instead of an article. It is an expression often found in wills and trusts, which empowers the executor or trustee to make distribution to beneficiaries “in kind” according to his/her discretion as long as the value is equivalent to the value intended to be given to each beneficiary. This is important since it allows distribution of furniture, heirlooms, stocks and bonds, automobiles or even real property (as well as money) among the beneficiaries without selling assets to get cash. The “in kind” provision may avoid the potential low value returns from estate sales and the cost of real estate commissions.

In lieu

prep. instead. “In lieu taxes” are use taxes paid instead of sales tax. A “deed in lieu of foreclosure” occurs when a debtor just deeds the property securing the loan to the lender rather than go through the foreclosure process.

In limine

Latin for “at the threshold,” referring to a motion before a trial begins. A motion to suppress illegally obtained evidence is such a motion.

In loco parentis

Latin for “instead of a parent” or “in place of a parent,” this phrase identifies a foster parent, a county custodial agency or a boarding school which is taking care of a minor, including protecting his/her rights.

In pari delicto

Latin for “in equal fault,” which means that two (or more) people are all at fault or are all guilty of a crime. In contract law, if the fault is more or less equal then neither party can claim breach of the contract by the other; in an accident, neither can collect damages, unless the fault is more on one than the other under the rule of “comparative negligence”; in defense of a criminal charge, one defendant will have a difficult time blaming the other for inducing him or her into the criminal acts if the proof is that both were involved.

In perpetuity

adj. forever, as in one’s right to keep the profits from the land in perpetuity.

In personam

Latin for “directed toward a particular person.” In a lawsuit in which the case is against a specific individual, that person must be served with a summons and complaint to give the court jurisdiction to try the case, and the judgment applies to that person and is called an “in personam judgment.” In personam is distinguished from in rem, which applies to property or “all the world” instead of a specific person. This technical distinction is important to determine where to file a lawsuit and how to serve a defendant. In personam means that a judgment can be enforceable against the person wherever he/she is. On the other hand, if the lawsuit is to determine title to property (in rem) then the action must be filed where the property exists and is only enforceable there.

In pro per

adj. short for in propria persona.

In propria persona

Latin “for one’s self,” acting on one’s own behalf, generally used to identify a person who is acting as his/her own attorney in a lawsuit. The popular abbreviation is “in pro per.” In the filed legal documents (pleadings), the party’s name, address and telephone number are written where the name, address and telephone number of the attorney would normally be stated. The words “in propria persona” or “in pro per” are typed where normally it would say “attorney for plaintiff.

In re

prep. short for “in regard to” or concerning. t is also used in naming legal actions in which there is only one party, the petitioning party, as in “In re Adoption of Marcus McGillicuddy.”

In rem

Latin “against or about a thing,” referring to a lawsuit or other legal action directed toward property, rather than toward a particular person. Thus, if title to property is the issue, the action is “in rem.” The term is important since the location of the property determines which court has jurisdiction and enforcement of a judgment must be upon the property and does not follow a person. “In rem” is different from “in personam,” which is directed toward a particular person.

In terrorem

Latin meaning “in fear.” This phrase is used to describe provisions in contracts or wills meant to scare a person into complying with the terms of the agreement. For example, a will might state that an heir will forfeit her inheritance if she challenges the validity of the will. Of course, if the will is challenged and found to be invalid, then the clause itself is also invalid and the heir takes whatever she would have inherited if there were no will.

In toto

Latin for “in its entirety” or “completely.” For example, if a judge accepts a lawyer’s argument in toto, it means that he’s bought the whole thing, hook, line & sinker.

Inadmissible

Potential immigrants who are disqualified from obtaining visas or green cards because they are judged by the U.S. government to be in some way undesirable are called “inadmissible” (formerly “excludable”). Most of these people have criminal records, certain health problems, are thought to be terrorists or subversives, or are unable to support themselves financially. In some cases, there are legal ways to overcome inadmissibility.

Inadmissible evidence

Testimony or other evidence that fails to meet state or federal court rules governing the types of evidence that can be presented to a judge or jury. The main reason why evidence is ruled inadmissible is because it falls into a category deemed so unreliable that a court should not consider it as part of a deciding a case –for example, hearsay evidence, or an expert’s opinion that is not based on facts generally accepted in the field. Evidence will also be declared inadmissible if it suffers from some other defect–for example, as compared to its value, it will take too long to present or risks enflaming the jury, as might be the case with graphic pictures of a homicide victim. In addition, in criminal cases, evidence that is gathered using illegal methods is commonly ruled inadmissible. Because the rules of evidence are so complicated (and because contesting lawyers waste so much time arguing over them) there is a strong trend towards using mediation or arbitration to resolve civil disputes. In mediation and arbitration, virtually all evidence can be considered. See evidence, admissible evidence.

Incapacity

1) A lack of physical or mental abilities that results in a person’s inability to manage his or her own personal care, property or finances.2) A lack of ability to understand one’s actions when making a will or other legal document. 3) The inability of an injured worker to perform his or her job. This may qualify the worker for disability benefits or workers’ compensation.

Inchoate

adj. or adv. referring to something which has begun but has not been completed, either an activity or some object which is incomplete. It may define a potential crime like a conspiracy which has been started but not perfected or finished (buying the explosives, but not yet blowing up the bank safe), a right contingent on an event (receiving property if one outlives the grantor of the property) or a decision or idea which has been only partially considered, such as a contract which has not been formalized.

Incidental beneficiary

n. someone who obtains a benefit as the result of the main purpose of the trust.

Incidents of ownership

Any control over property. If you give away property but keep an incident of ownership–for example, you give away an apartment building but retain the right to receive rent–then legally, no gift has been made. This distinction can be important if you’re making large gifts to reduce your eventual estate tax.

Income

n. money, goods or other economic benefit received. Under income tax laws, income can be “active” through one’s efforts or work (including management) or “passive” from rentals, stock dividends, investments and interest on deposits in which there is neither physical effort nor management. For tax purposes, income does not include gifts and inheritances received. Taxes are collected based on income by the federal government and most state governments.

Income tax

n. a tax on an individual’s net income, after deductions for various expenses and payments such as charitable gifts, calculated on a formula which takes into consideration whether it is paid jointly by a married couple, the number of dependents of the taxpayers, special breaks for ages over 65, disabilities and other factors.

Incompatibility

A conflict in personalities that makes married life together impossible. In a number of states, incompatibility is the accepted reason for a no-fault divorce. Compare irreconcilable differences; irremediable breakdown.

Incompatible

adj. 1) inconsistent. 2) unmatching. 3) unable to live together as husband and wife due to irreconcilable differences. In no-fault divorce states, if one of the spouses desires to end the marriage, that fact proves incompatibility, and a divorce (dissolution) will be granted even though the other spouse does not want a divorce. The term also has the general meaning that two people do not get along with each other.

Incompetence

The inability, as determined by a court, to handle one’s own personal or financial affairs. A court may declare that a person is incompetent after a hearing at which the person is present and/or represented by an attorney. A finding of incompetence may lead to the appointment of a conservator to manage the person’s affairs. Also known as “incompetency.”

Incompetency

n. the condition of lacking the ability to handle one’s affairs due to mental or physical incapacity. Before a condition of incompetency is officially declared by a court, a hearing must be held with the person who is involved interviewed by a court investigator; the person must be present and/or represented by an attorney.

Incompetent

adj. 1) referring to a person who is not able to manage his/her affairs due to mental deficiency (low I.Q., deterioration, illness or psychosis) or sometimes physical disability. Being incompetent can be the basis for appointment of a guardian or conservator (after a hearing in which the party who may be found to be incompetent has been interviewed by a court investigator and is present and/or represented by an attorney) to handle his/her person and/or affairs (often called “estate”). 2) in criminal law, the inability to understand the nature of a trial. In these cases the defendant is usually institutionalized until such time as he/she regains sanity and can be tried. 3) a generalized reference to evidence which cannot be introduced because it violates various rules against being allowed, particularly because it has no bearing on the case. It may be irrelevant (not sufficiently significant) or immaterial (does not matter to the issues).

Incompetent evidence

n. testimony, documents or things which one side attempts to present as evidence during trial, which the court finds (usually after objection by the opposition) are not admissible because they are irrelevant or immaterial to the issues in the lawsuit. Thus, trial lawyers often object with: “incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial,” figuring that covers the waterfront of most objections.

Incontrovertible evidence

n. evidence introduced to prove a fact in a trial which is so conclusive, that by no stretch of the imagination can there be any other truth as to that matter.

Incorporate

v. 1) to obtain an official charter or articles of incorporation from the state for an organization, which may be a profit-making business, a professional business such as a law office or medical office or a non-profit entity which operates for charitable, social, religious, civic or other public service purposes. The process includes having one or more incorporators (most states require a minimum of three for profit-making companies) choose a name not currently used by (nor confusingly similar to) any corporation, prepare articles, determine who will be responsible for accepting service of process, decide on the stock structure, adopt a set of bylaws, file the articles with the Secretary of State of the state of incorporation, and hold a first meeting of incorporators to launch the enterprise. Other steps follow such as electing a board of directors, selecting officers, issuing stock according to state laws and, if there is going to be a stock offering to the public, following the regulations of the Securities and Exchange Commission and/or the State Corporations Commissioner. If the corporation is non-profit, it will have to apply for non-profit status with the home state, and may, if desired, also apply to the Internal Revenue Service for federal non-profit recognition, both of which require detailed explanations of the intended operation of the organization. 2) to include into a unit.

Incorporate by reference

v. to include language from another document or elsewhere in a document by reference rather than repeat it.

Incorporation

n. the act of incorporating an organization.

Incorporeal

adj. referring to a thing which is not physical, such as a right. This is distinguished from tangible. Legal rights which are intangible such as copyrights or patents.

Incriminate

v. to make a statement in which one admits that he/she has committed a crime or gives information that another named person has committed a crime.

Incurable insanity

A legal reason for obtaining either a fault divorce or a no-fault divorce. It is rarely used, however, because of the difficulty of proving both the insanity of the spouse being divorced and that the insanity is incurable.

Indecent exposure

Revealing one’s genitals under circumstances likely to offend others. Exposure is indecent under the law whenever a reasonable person would or should know that his act may be seen by others–for example, in a public place or through an open window–and that it is likely to cause affront or alarm. Indecent exposure is considered a misdemeanor in most states.

Indefeasible

adj. cannot be altered or voided, usually in reference to an interest in real property.

Indemnify

v. to guarantee against any loss which another might suffer.

Indemnity

n. the act of making someone “whole” (give equal to what they have lost) or protected from (insured against) any losses which have occurred or will occur.

Indenture

1) n. a type of real property deed in which two parties agree to continuing mutual obligations. One party may agree to maintain the property, while the other agrees to make periodic payments. 2) a contract binding one person to work for another. 3) v. to bind a person to work for another.

Independent contractor

A legal category of worker defined by the Internal Revenue Service. The key to the definition is that, unlike employees, independent contractors retain control over how the work they are hired to do gets done; the person or company paying the independent contractor controls only the outcome–the product or service.

Indeterminate sentence

n. the prison term imposed after conviction for a crime which does not state a specific period of time or release date, but just a range of time, such as “five-to-ten years.” It is one side of a continuing debate as to whether it is better to make sentences absolute (subject to reduction for good behavior) without reference to potential rehabilitation, modification or review in the future.

Indicia

Latin for “signs,” circumstances which tend to show or indicate that something is probable. It is used in the form of “indicia of title,” or “indicia of partnership,” particularly when the “signs” are items like letters, certificates or other things that one would not have unless the facts were as the possessor claimed.

Indictable offense

n. a crime (offense) for which a Grand Jury rules that there is enough evidence to charge a defendant with a felony (a crime punishable by death or a term in the state penitentiary). These crimes include murder, manslaughter, rape, kidnapping, grand theft, robbery, burglary, arson, conspiracy, fraud and other major crimes, as well as attempts to commit them.

Indictment

n. a charge of a felony (serious crime) voted by a Grand Jury based upon a proposed charge, witnesses’ testimony and other evidence presented by the public prosecutor (District Attorney). To bring an indictment the Grand Jury will not find guilt, but only the probability that a crime was committed, that the accused person did it and that he/she should be tried. District Attorneys often only introduce key facts sufficient to show the probability, both to save time and to avoid revealing all the evidence. “No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on presentment of a Grand Jury….” However, while grand juries are common in charging federal crimes, many states use grand juries sparingly and use the criminal complaint, followed by a “preliminary hearing” held by a lower court judge or other magistrate, who will determine whether or not the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence that the accused has committed a felony. If the judge finds there is enough evidence, he/she will order the case sent to the appropriate court for trial.

Indigent

1) n. a person so poor and needy that he/she cannot provide the necessities of life (food, clothing, decent shelter) for himself/herself. 2) n. one without sufficient income to afford a lawyer for defense in a criminal case. If the court finds a person is an indigent, the court must appoint a public defender or other attorney to represent him/her. 3) adj. referring to a person who is very poor and needy.

Indispensable party

A person or entity (such as a corporation) that must be included in a lawsuit in order for the court to render a final judgment that will be just to everyone concerned. For example, if a person sues his neighbors to force them to prune a tree that poses a danger to his house, he must name all owners of the neighboring property in the suit.

Infancy

n. although the popular use of the word means the early years of age up to seven, in law, it is under-age or minority. Historically this meant under 21 years, but statutes adopted in almost all states end minority and infancy at 18. An “infant” cannot file a lawsuit without a “guardian ad litem” (one-purpose guardian) acting for him/her, in most states cannot marry without parental permission, and cannot enter into a contract that is enforceable during his/her minority.

Inference

n. a rule of logic applied to evidence in a trial, in which a fact is “proved” by presenting other “facts” which lead to only one reasonable conclusion-that if A and B are true, then C is. The process is called “deduction” or “deductive reasoning” and is a persuasive form of circumstantial evidence.

Information

The name of the document, sometimes called a criminal complaint or petition in which a prosecutor charges a criminal defendant with a crime, either a felony or a misdemeanor. The information tells the defendant what crime he is charged with, against whom and when the offense allegedly occurred, but the prosecutor is not obliged to go into great detail. If the defendant wants more specifics, he must ask for it by way of a discovery request. Compare indictment.

Information and belief

n. a phrase often used in legal pleadings (complaints and answers in a lawsuit), declarations under penalty of perjury, and affidavits under oath, in which the person making the statement or allegation qualifies it. In effect, he/she says: “I am only stating what I have been told, and I believe it.” This makes clear about which statements he/she does not have sure-fire, personal knowledge (perhaps it is just hearsay or surmise) and protects the maker of the statement from claims of outright falsehood or perjury. The typical phraseology is: “Plaintiff is informed and believes, and upon such information and belief, alleges that defendant diverted the funds to his own use.”

Informed consent

An agreement to do something or to allow something to happen, made with complete knowledge of all relevant facts, such as the risks involved or any available alternatives. For example, a patient may give informed consent to medical treatment only after the healthcare professional has disclosed all possible risks involved in accepting or rejecting the treatment. A healthcare provider or facility may be held responsible for an injury caused by an undisclosed risk. In another context, a person accused of committing a crime cannot give up his constitutional rights–for example, to remain silent or to talk with an attorney–unless and until he has been informed of those rights, usually via the well-known Miranda warnings.

Infra

Latin for “below,” this is legal shorthand to indicate that the details or citation of a case will come later on in the brief. Infra is distinguished from supra, which shows that a case has already been cited “above.” The typical language is Jones v. McLaughlin, infra, meaning the exact citation of the case, including volume and page number, will follow later in the document.

Infraction

A minor violation of the law that is punishable only by a fine–for example, a traffic or parking ticket. Not all vehicle-related violations are infractions, however–refusing to identify oneself when involved in an accident is a misdemeanor in some states.

Infringement

n. 1) a trespassing or illegal entering. 2) in the law of patents (protected inventions) and copyrights (protected writings or graphics), the improper use of a patent, writing, graphic or trademark without permission, without notice, and especially without contracting for payment of a royalty. Even though the infringement may be accidental (an inventor thinks he is the first to develop the widget although someone else has a patent), the party infringing is responsible to pay the original patent or copyright owner substantial damages, which can be the normal royalty or as much as the infringers’ accumulated gross profits.

Infringement (of copyright)

Any unauthorized use of a copyrighted work other than fair use. Uses can range from outright plagiarism to using a portion of a photograph in a CD-ROM. The copyright owner may file a lawsuit to stop the infringement and collect damages from the infringer, provided the owner has registered her copyright with the Copyright Office.

Infringement (of patent)

Violation of a patent, occurring when someone else is making, using, or selling the invention described in the patent, or a product that is functionally equivalent to the invention described in the patent, without the patent holder’s permission.

Infringement (of trademark)

Unauthorized use of a protected trademark or service mark, or use of something very similar to a protected mark. The success of a lawsuit to stop the infringement turns on whether the defendant’s use causes a likelihood of confusion in the average consumer. If a court determines that the average consumer would be confused, the owner of the original mark can prevent the other’s use of the infringing mark and sometimes collect damages.

Ingress

1) An entrance 2) n. the right to enter. 3) v. the act of entering. Often used in the combination “ingress and egress,” which means entering and leaving, to describe one’s rights to come and go under an easement over another’s property.

Inherit

To receive property from someone who has died. Traditionally, the word “inherit” applied only when one received property from a relative who died without a will. Currently, however, the word is used whenever someone receives property from the estate of a deceased person.

Inheritance

n. whatever one receives upon the death of a relative due to the laws of descent and distribution, when there is no will. However, inheritance has come to mean anything received from the estate of a person who has died, whether by the laws of descent or as a beneficiary of a will or trust.

Inheritance taxes

Taxes some states impose on people or organizations who inherit property from a deceased person’s estate. The taxes are based on the value of the inherited property.

Inheritors

Persons or organizations who receive property from someone who dies.

Injunction

A court decision that is intended to prevent harm–often irreparable harm–as distinguished from most court decisions, which are designed to provide a remedy for harm that has already occurred. Injunctions are orders that one side refrain from or stop certain actions, such as an order that an abusive spouse stay away from the other spouse or that a logging company not cut down first-growth trees. Injunctions can be temporary, pending a consideration of the issue later at trial (these are called interlocutory decrees or preliminary injunctions). Judges can also issue permanent injunctions at the end of trials, in which a party may be permanently prohibited from engaging in some conduct–for example, infringing a copyright or trademark or making use of illegally obtained trade secrets. Although most injunctions order a party not to do something, occasionally a court will issue a “mandatory injunction” to order a party to carry out a positive act–for example, return stolen computer code.

Injunctive relief

A situation in which a court grants an order, called an injunction, telling a party to refrain from doing something–or in the case of a mandatory injunction, to carry out a particular action. Usually injunctive relief is granted only after a hearing at which both sides have an opportunity to present testimony and legal arguments.

Injury

n. any harm done to a person by the acts or omissions of another. Injury may include physical hurt as well as damage to reputation or dignity, loss of a legal right or breach of contract. If the party causing the injury was either willful (intentionally causing harm) or negligent then he/she is responsible (liable) for payment of damages for the harm caused. Theoretically, potential or continuing injury may be prevented by an order of the court upon a petition for an injunction.

Inlining

The act of displaying a graphic file from another company’s website. For example, inlining occurs if a user at site A can, without leaving site A, view a “cartoon of the day” featured on site B.

Innocent

adj. without guilt (not guilty). Usually the plea which an accused criminal defendant gives to the court at the time of his/her first appearance (or after a continued appearance). Such pleas often disturb the public in cases in which guilt seems obvious from the start. However, everyone is entitled to a fair trial, and the innocent plea gives defense lawyers an opportunity to investigate, find extenuating circumstances, develop reasons punishment should be lenient, bargain with the District Attorney, and let the memories of witnesses fade.

Innuendo

Latin innuere, “to nod toward.” In law it means “an indirect hint.” “Innuendo” is used in lawsuits for defamation (libel or slander), usually to show that the party suing was the person about whom the nasty statements were made or why the comments were defamatory.

Inquest

n. 1) an investigation and/or a hearing held by the coroner (a county official) when there is a violent death either by accident or homicide, the cause of death is not immediately clear, there are mysterious circumstances surrounding the death, or the deceased was a prisoner. Usually an autopsy by a qualified medical examiner from the coroner’s office is a key part of the inquest. In rare cases a jury may be used to determine the cause of death. 2) a term used in New York for a hearing on the validity of a will by a surrogate judge.

Insanity

n. mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality, cannot conduct her/his affairs due to psychosis, or is subject to uncontrollable impulsive behavior. Insanity is distinguished from low intelligence or mental deficiency due to age or injury. If a complaint is made to law enforcement, to the District Attorney or to medical personnel that a person is evidencing psychotic behavior, he/she may be confined to a medical facility long enough (typically 72 hours) to be examined by psychiatrists who submit written reports to the local superior/county/district court. A hearing is then held before a judge, with the person in question entitled to legal representation, to determine if she/he should be placed in an institution or special facility. The person ordered institutionalized at the hearing may request a trial to determine sanity. Particularly since the original hearings are often routine with the psychiatric findings accepted by the judge. In criminal cases, a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity” will require a trial on the issue of the defendant’s insanity (or sanity) at the time the crime was committed. In these cases the defendant usually claims “temporary insanity” (crazy then, but okay now). The traditional test of insanity in criminal cases is whether the accused knew “the difference between right and wrong,” following the “M’Naughten rule” from 19th century England. Most states require more sophisticated tests based on psychiatric and/or psychological testimony evaluated by a jury of laypersons or a judge without psychiatric training. A claim by a criminal defendant of his/her insanity at the time of trial requires a separate hearing to determine if a defendant is sufficiently sane to understand the nature of a trial and participate in his/her own defense. If found to be insane, the defendant will be ordered to a mental facility, and the trial will be held only if sanity returns. Sex offenders may be found to be sane for all purposes except the compulsive dangerous and/or antisocial behavior. They are usually sentenced to special facilities for sex offenders, supposedly with counseling available. However, there are often maximum terms related to the type of crime, so that parole and release may occur with no proof of cure of the compulsive desire to commit sex crimes.

Insanity defense

n. the claim of a defendant in a criminal prosecution that he/she was insane when the crime was committed, usually only temporarily.

Insertion

n. the addition of language at a place within an existing typed or written document, which is always suspect unless initialled by all parties.

Insider

n. someone who has a position in a business or stock brokerage, which allows him/her to be privy to confidential information (such as future changes in management, upcoming profit and loss reports, secret sales figures and merger negotiations) which will affect the value of stocks or bonds.

Insider trading

n. the use of confidential information about a business gained through employment in a company or a stock brokerage, to buy and/or sell stocks and bonds based on the private knowledge that the value will go up or down.

Insolvency

n. 1) the condition of having more debts (liabilities) than total assets which might be available to pay them, even if the assets were mortgaged or sold. 2) a determination by a bankruptcy court that a person or business cannot raise the funds to pay all of his/her debts. The court will then “discharge” (forgive) some or all of the debts, leaving those creditors holding the bag and not getting what is owed them. The supposedly insolvent individual debtor, even though found to be bankrupt, is allowed certain exemptions, which permit him/her to retain a car, business equipment, personal property and often a home as long as he/she continues to make payments on a loan secured by the property.

Inspection of documents

n. the right to examine and copy the opposing party’s papers in a lawsuit which are relevant to the case. A demand (legal request) may be made, but the categories of documents must be stated so that the other party can know what he/she must produce. If the opposition either refuses to produce some documents or appears to hold back, the party wanting to see the documents can bring a “motion to produce” requesting a court order to produce and a penalty (sanctions) to be paid for failure to honor the demand. A party may also use a subpena duces tecum to obtain specific documents if they are known to exist. All of these procedures are part of the discovery process, intended to give both sides extensive pre-trial information. Such exchanges of documents can lead to settlement, minimize surprises at trial and keep one side from hiding material, thus preventing the other from being able to introduce relevant material at trial. However, it is well known that many law firms obfuscate, delay, pretend to misunderstand requests and fail to be forthcoming.

Installment contract

n. an agreement in which payments of money, delivery of goods or performance of services are to be made in a series of payments, deliveries or performances, usually on specific dates or upon certain happenings. One significance is that failure to pay an installment when due is a breach in which damages can be assessed based on the portion which has not been paid, and is an excuse for the other party not to perform further. In many installment contracts, failure to make a payment gives the seller of an article the right to repossess (take it back).

Instruction

n. an explanation of the law governing a case which the judge gives orally to the jury after the attorneys have presented all the evidence and have made final arguments, but before the jury begins deliberations.

Instrument

n. 1) a written legal document such as a contract, lease, deed, will or bond. 2) an object used to perform some task or action, ranging from a surgeon’s scalpel to any hard thing used in an assault (a blunt instrument).

Insufficient evidence

n. a finding (decision) by a trial judge or an appeals court that the prosecution in a criminal case or a plaintiff in a lawsuit has not proved the case because the attorney did not present enough convincing evidence. Insufficient evidence usually results in dismissal of the case after the prosecution or the plaintiff has completed his/her introduction of evidence or, if on appeal, reversal of the judgment by the trial court.

Insurance

n. a contract (insurance policy) in which the insurer (insurance company) agrees for a fee (insurance premiums) to pay the insured party all or a portion of any loss suffered by accident or death. The losses covered by the policy may include property damage or loss from accident, fire, theft or intentional harm; medical costs and/or lost earnings due to physical injury; long-term or permanent loss of physical capacity; claims by others due to the insured’s alleged negligence (e.g. public liability auto insurance); loss of a ship and/or cargo; finding a defect in title to real property; dishonest employees; or the loss of someone’s life. Life insurance may be on the life of a spouse, a child, one of several business partners or an especially important manager (“key man” insurance), all of which is intended to provide for survivors or to ease the burden created by the loss of a financial contributor. So-called “mortgage” insurance is life insurance which will pay off the remaining amount due on a home loan on the death of the husband or wife. Life insurance proceeds are usually not included in the probate of a dead person’s estate, but the funds may be counted by the Internal Revenue Service in calculating estate tax. Insurance companies may refuse to pay a claim by a third party against an insured, but at the same time may be required to assume the legal defense (pay attorney’s fees or provide an attorney) under the doctrine of “reservation of rights.”

Insured

n. 1) the person or entity who will be compensated for loss by an insurer under the terms of a contract called an insurance policy. 2) the person whose life is insured by life insurance, after whose death the benefits go to others.

Insurer

n. an insurance company which agrees to pay someone who pays them for insurance for losses suffered pursuant to the terms of an insurance policy. For this benefit the customer pays the company a fee, called a premium.

Intangible property

Personal property that has no physical existence, such as stocks, bonds, bank notes, trade secrets, patents, copyrights and trademarks. Such “untouchable” items may be represented by a certificate or license that fixes or approximates the value, but others (such as the goodwill or reputation of a business) are not easily valued or embodied in any instrument. Compare tangible property.

Integrated pension plan

A pension plan that is integrated with Social Security retirement benefits. In such plans, the monthly or yearly pension benefit is reduced by all, or some percentage of, the retiree’s Social Security check–although since 1988, the law has required that the plan leave at least half of the pension amount. These integrated plans work in one of two ways, either establishing a benefit goal for combined Social Security and pension benefits, or reducing your pension by a set percentage of your Social Security benefits.

Integration

n. 1) adopting a writing as part of an agreement, e.g. “the parties agree that Robert’s Rules of Order shall be the procedural rules employed during negotiations.” 2) removing barriers to schooling, housing and employment which formerly segregated races, particularly blacks and sometimes Hispanics, from the general society, dominated by whites in the United States. Integration includes encouragement of free and equal association, equal access to public facilities and housing in any neighborhood, equitable employment, promotions and pay levels, as well as racial mix in schools.

Intellectual property (IP) law

The area of law that regulates the ownership and use of creative works, including patent, copyright and trademark law.

Intent

n. mental desire and will to act in a particular way, including wishing not to participate. Intent is a crucial element in determining if certain acts were criminal. Occasionally a judge or jury may find that “there was no criminal intent.” Example: lack of intent may reduce a charge of manslaughter to a finding of reckless homicide or other lesser crime.

Intent-to-use application

A term used in trademark law. The Lanham Act permits a mark not yet used in commerce to be reserved for later registration by filing an intent-to-use application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO). The initial reservation lasts for six months and can be extended for up to five additional six-month periods (for a total of 3 years) for good cause.

Intentional tort

A deliberate act that causes harm to another, for which the victim may sue the wrongdoer for damages. Acts of domestic violence, such as assault and battery, are intentional torts (as well as crimes).

Inter alia

Latin for “among other things.” This phrase is often found in legal pleadings and writings to specify one example out of many possibilities. Example: “The judge said, inter alia, that the time to file the action had passed.”

Inter se

Latin for “among themselves,” meaning that, for instance, certain corporate rights are limited only to the shareholders or only to the trustees as a group.

Inter vivos

Latin for “among the living,” usually referring to the transfer of property by agreement between living persons and not by a gift through a will. It can also refer to a trust (inter vivos trust) which commences during the lifetime of the person (trustor or settlor) creating the trust as distinguished from a trust created by a will (testamentary trust), which comes into existence upon the death of the writer of the will.

Inter vivos trust

Latin for “between the living.”

Interest

A commission you pay a bank or other creditor for lending you money or extending you credit. An interest rate represents the annual percentage that is added to your balance. This means that if your loan or credit line has an interest rate of 8%, the holder adds 8% to the balance each year. More specifically, interest is calculated and added to your loan or credit line through a process called compounding. If interest is compounded daily, the balance will rise by 1/365th of 8% each day. If interest is compounded monthly, the balance will rise 1/12th of 8% at the start of each month.

Interference

In patent law, a procedure to resolve a conflict that occurs when two or more patent applications have been filed on the same invention. When this happens, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) examines a number of factors in order to determine who gets the patent, including who first conceived of the invention and worked on it diligently, who first built and tested the invention and who was first to file a patent application.

Interim order

n. a temporary order of the court pending a hearing, trial, a final order or while awaiting an act by one of the parties.

Interlineation

n. the act of writing between the lines of a document, usually to add something that was omitted or thought of later. The issue (debated question) is whether both parties to a document (a contract, for example) had agreed upon the addition or whether the new words were part of the document (like a will) when it was signed. Good practice is either to have all parties initial the change at the point of the writing or have the document re-typed and then signed.

Interlocutory

adj. provisional and not intended to be final. This usually refers to court orders which are temporary.

Interlocutory decree

A court judgment that is not final until the judge decides other matters in the case or until enough time has passed to see if the interim decision is working. In the past, interlocutory decrees were most often used in divorces. The terms of the divorce were set out in an interlocutory decree, which would become final only after a waiting period. The purpose of the waiting period was to allow the couple time to reconcile. They rarely did, however, so most states no longer use interlocutory decrees of divorce.

International law

n. treaties between countries; multi-lateral agreements; some commissions covering particular subjects, such as whaling or copyrights; procedures and precedents of the International Court of Justice (“World Court”) which only has jurisdiction when countries agree to appear; the United Nations Charter; and custom. However, there is no specific body of law which governs the interaction of all nations.

Internet service provider (ISP)

A business that provides access to the Internet. An ISP may also offer services such as website hosting. An ISP can sometimes be held accountable for copyright violations for material posted by subscribers and users, but is often protected by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. The Communications Decency Act usually protects ISPs from the posting of obscenities or defamation by subscribers or users.

Interpleader

n. the procedure when two parties are involved in a lawsuit over the right to collect a debt from a third party, who admits the money is owed but does not know which person to pay. The debtor deposits the funds with the court (“interpleads”), asks the court to dismiss him/her/it from the lawsuit and lets the claimants fight over it in court.

Interrogation

A term that describes vigorous questioning, usually by the police of a suspect in custody. Other than providing his name and address, the suspect is not obligated to answer the questions, and the fact that he has remained silent generally cannot be used by the prosecution to help prove that he is guilty of a crime. If the suspect has asked for a lawyer, the police must cease questioning. If they do not, they cannot use the answers against the suspect at trial.

Interrogatory

Written questions designed to discover key facts about an opposing party’s case, that a party to a lawsuit asks an opposing party (but not a witness, who can only be questioned in person at a deposition). Interrogatories are part of the pretrial discovery stage of a lawsuit, and must be answered under penalty of perjury. Court rules tightly regulate how, when and how many interrogatories can be asked. Lawyers can write their own sets of questions, or can use form interrogatories, designed to cover typical issues in common lawsuits.

Interstate commerce

n. commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another.

Intervene

v. to obtain the court’s permission to enter into a lawsuit which has already started between other parties and to file a complaint stating the basis for a claim in the existing lawsuit. Such intervention will be allowed only if the party wanting to enter into the case has some right or interest in the suit and will not unduly prejudice the ability of the original parties to the lawsuit to conduct their case.

Intervening cause

n. an event which occurs between the original improper or dangerous action and the damage itself. Thus, the “causal connection” between the wrong and damages is broken by the intervening cause. This is a “but for” situation, in which the intervention becomes the real reason harm resulted. The result is that the person who started the chain of events is no longer responsible and will not be found liable for damages to the injured person. Sometimes this is called supervening cause or superseding.

Intervention

n. the procedure under which a third party may join an on-going lawsuit, providing the facts and the law issues apply to the intervenor as much as to one of the existing contestants. The determination to allow intervention is made by a judge after a petition to intervene and a hearing on the issue. Intervention must take place fairly early in the lawsuit, shortly after a complaint and answer have been filed and not just before trial since that could prejudice one or both parties who have prepared for trial on the basis of the original litigants. Intervention is not to be confused with joinder, which involves requiring all parties who have similar claims to join in the same lawsuit to prevent needless repetitious trials based on the same facts and legal questions, called multiplicity of actions.

Intestacy

n. the condition of having died without a valid will. In such a case if the dead party has property it will be distributed according to statutes, primarily by the law of descent and distribution and others dealing with marital property and community property. In probate the administration of the estate of a person without a will is handled by an administrator (usually a close relative, the spouse, a close associate) or a public administrator if there is no one willing to act, since there is no executor named in a will. In most states an administrator must petition the court to be appointed and must post a bond from an insurance company guaranteeing that it will pay the value of the assets he/she/it may steal or misuse.

Intestate

The condition of dying without a valid will. The probate court appoints an administrator to distribute the deceased person’s property according to state law.

Intestate succession

The method by which property is distributed when a person dies without a valid will. Each state’s law provides that the property be distributed to the closest surviving relatives. In most states, the surviving spouse, children, parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, and next of kin inherit, in that order.

Intrinsic fraud

n. an intentionally false representation (lie) which is part of the fraud and can be considered in determining general and punitive damages. This is distinguished from extrinsic fraud (collateral fraud) which was a deceptive means to keeping one from enforcing his/her legal rights.

Inure

To take effect, or to benefit someone. In property law, the term means “to vest.” For example, Jim buys a beach house that includes the right to travel across the neighbor’s property to get to the water. That right of way is said, cryptically, “to inure to the benefit of Jim.”

Invasion of privacy

n. the intrusion into the personal life of another, without just cause, which can give the person whose privacy has been invaded a right to bring a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity that intruded. However, public personages are not protected in most situations, since they have placed themselves already within the public eye, and their activities (even personal and sometimes intimate) are considered newsworthy, i.e. of legitimate public interest. However, an otherwise non-public individual has a right to privacy from: a) intrusion on one’s solitude or into one’s private affairs; b) public disclosure of embarrassing private information; c) publicity which puts him/her in a false light to the public; d) appropriation of one’s name or picture for personal or commercial advantage. Lawsuits have arisen from magazine articles on obscure geniuses, use of a wife’s name on a hospital insurance form to obtain insurance payment for delivery of a mistress’s baby, unauthorized use of a girl’s photo to advertise a photographer, and “tabloid” journalism treatment of people as freaks. There are also numerous instances of governmental invasion of privacy such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation compiling files on people considered as political opponents, partially corrected by the passage of the Freedom of Information Act in 1966. The right to privacy originated with an article in the Harvard Law Review in the 1890s written by lawyers “Bull” Warren and future Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis.

Inventory

A complete listing of all property owned by a deceased person at the time of death. The inventory is filed with the court during probate. The executor or administrator of the estate is responsible for making and filing the inventory.

Inverse condemnation

n. the taking of property by a government agency which so greatly damages the use of a parcel of real property that it is the equivalent of condemnation of the entire property. Thus the owner claims he/she is entitled to payment for the loss of the property (in whole or in part) under the constitutional right to compensation for condemnation of property under the government’s eminent domain right.

Invest

1) To formally grant power or authority to someone. For example, when the President of the United States is inaugurated, he is invested with all the powers of that office. 2) To contribute money to a business venture, or to buy property or securities, with the intention and expectation of making a profit.

Investment

n. the money put into use for profit, or the property or business interest purchased for profit.

Investor

A person who makes investments. An investor may act either for herself or on behalf of others. A stock broker or mutual fund manager, for instance, makes investments for others who have entrusted her with their money.

Invitee

A business guest, or someone who enters property held open to members of the public, such as a visitor to a museum. Property owners must protect invitees from dangers on the property. In an example of the perversion of legalese, social guests that you invite into your home are called “licensees.”

Involuntary

adj. or adv. without intent, will or choice. Participation in a crime is involuntary if forced by immediate threat to life or health of oneself or one’s loved ones and will result in dismissal or acquittal.

Ipse dixit

Latin for “he himself said it.” The term labels something that is asserted but unproved.

Ipso facto

Latin for “by the fact itself.” This term is used by Latin-addicted lawyers when something is so obvious that it needs no elaboration or further explanation. For example, it might be said that a blind person, ipso facto, is not qualified to obtain to a driver’s license.

Irreconcilable differences

Differences between spouses that are considered sufficiently severe to make married life together more or less impossible. In a number of states, irreconcilable differences is the accepted ground for a no-fault divorce. As a practical matter, courts seldom, if ever, inquire into what the differences actually are, and routinely grant a divorce as long as the party seeking the divorce says the couple has irreconcilable differences. Compare incompatibility; irremediable breakdown.

Irrelevant

adj. not important, pertinent, or germane to the matter at hand or to any issue before the court. This is the most common objection raised by attorneys to questions asked or to answers given during testimony in a trial. The objection is made as soon as an alert attorney believes the opposition is going into matters which are not concerned with the facts or outside the issues of the lawsuit. It is often stated in the trio: “Irrelevant, immaterial and incompetent” to cover the bases. The judge must then rule on the relevancy of the question. If the question has been answered before the lawyer could say “objection,” the judge may order that answer stricken from the record. Blotting it from a jury’s memory or conscience, though, is impossible.

Irremediable or irretrievable breakdown

The situation that occurs in a marriage when one spouse refuses to live with the other and will not work toward reconciliation. In a number of states, irremediable breakdown is the accepted ground for a no-fault divorce. As a practical matter, courts seldom, if ever, inquire into whether the marriage has actually broken down, and routinely grant a divorce as long as the party seeking the divorce says the marriage has fallen apart. Compare incompatibility; irreconcilable differences.

Irreparable damage or injury

n. the type of harm which no monetary compensation can cure or put conditions back the way they were, such as cutting down shade trees, polluting a stream, not giving a child needed medication, not supporting an excavation which may cause collapse of a building, tearing down a structure, or a host of other actions or omissions. The phrase must be used to claim that a judge should order an injunction, writ, temporary restraining order or other judicial assistance, generally known as equitable relief. Such relief is a court order of positive action, such as prohibiting pollution or requiring the shoring up of a defective wall.

Irresistible impulse test

A seldom-used test for criminal insanity that labels the person insane if he could not control his actions when committing the crime, even though he knew his actions were wrong.

Irrevocable trust

A permanent trust. Once you create it, it cannot be revoked, amended or changed in any way.

Issue

1) A term generally meaning all your children and their children down through the generations, including grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on. Also called “lineal descendants.” 2) n. any matter of dispute in a legal controversy or lawsuit, very commonly used in such phrases as “the legal issues are,” “the factual issues are,” “this is an issue which the judge must decide,” or “please, counsel, let us know what issues you have agreed upon.” 3) v. to send out, promulgate, publish or make the original distribution, such as a corporation selling and distributing shares of stock to its initial investors. 4) n. the shares of stock or bonds of a corporation which have been sold and distributed.

J

n. abbreviation for Judge, as in the Hon. William B. Boone, J.

Jane Doe

n. 1) a fictitious name used for a possible female defendant who is unknown at the time a complaint is filed to start a lawsuit. 2) the temporary fictitious name given to an unidentified hospitalized or dead woman.

Jaywalking

n. walking across a street outside of marked cross-walks, and not at a corner, and/or against a signal light. If there is vehicle traffic or clear markings of a place to cross, this is a traffic misdemeanor subject to fine, and may be (but not conclusively) contributory negligence in the event of injury to the jaywalker by a vehicle.

JD

n. short for Juris Doctor, identifying the holder as having re-ceived that law degree. n. the law degree granted upon graduation by many university law schools with accepted high standards of admission and grading. This often supersedes the Bachelor of Laws in recognition that the law curriculum entitles a person to a graduate degree.

Jeopardy

n. peril, particularly danger of being charged with or convicted of a particular crime.

Jobber

n. a merchant who buys products (usually in bulk or lots) and then sells them to various retailers. This middleman generally specializes in specific types of products, such as auto parts, electrical and plumbing materials, or petroleum. A jobber differs from a broker or agent, who buys and acts for specific clients.

John Doe

n. 1) a fictitious name used for a possible male defendant who is unknown at the time a complaint is filed to start a lawsuit. 2) the temporary fictitious name given to an unidentified hospitalized or dead man.

Joinder

n. the joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided that the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants. Joinder requires a) that one of the parties to one of the lawsuits make a motion to join the suits and the parties in a single case; b) notice must be made to all parties; c) there must be a hearing before a judge to show why joinder will not cause prejudice (hurt) to any of the parties to the existing lawsuits; and d) an order of the judge permitting joinder. Joinder may be mandatory if a person necessary to a fair result was not included in the original lawsuit, or it may be permissive if joining the cases together is only a matter of convenience or economy.

Joinder of issue

n. that point in a lawsuit when the defendant has challenged (denied) some or all of plaintiff’s allegations of facts, and/or when it is known which legal questions are in dispute. This is stated in the expression: “the issue is joined,” in the same manner as a military man would say: “the battle has been joined,” meaning the fight is underway. Thus, the pre-trial legal underbrush has been cleared away, the motions made, and the pre-trial discovery (depositions, requests for documents, written questions and answers, and other demands for information) sufficiently completed, all of which makes clear what matters are to be decided by trial.

Joint

adj., adv. referring to property, rights or obligations which are united, undivided and shared by two or more persons or entities. Thus, a joint property held by both cannot be effectively transferred unless all owners join in the transaction. If a creditor sues to collect a joint debt, he/she must include all the debtors in the lawsuit, unless the debt is specifically “joint and several,” meaning any one of the debtors may be individually liable. Therefore, care must be taken in drafting deeds, sales agreements, promissory notes, joint venture agreements and other documents. A joint tenancy is treated specially, since it includes the right of the survivor to get the entire property when the other dies (right of survivorship).

Joint and several

adj. referring to a debt or a judgment for negligence, in which each debtor (one who owes) or each judgment defendant (one who has a judgment against him/her) is responsible (liable) for the entire amount of the debt or judgment. Thus, in drafting a promissory note for a debt, it is important to state that if there is more than one person owing the funds to be paid, the debt is joint and several, since then the person owed money (creditor, promisee) can collect the entire amount from any of the joint signers of the note, and not be limited to a share from each debtor. If a party injured in an accident sues several parties for causing his/her damages, the court may find that several people were “jointly” negligent and contributed to the damages. The entire judgment may be collected from any of the defendants found responsible, unless the court finds different amounts of negligence of each defendant contributed to the injury. Defense attorneys should require the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) to break down the amount of negligence of each defendant and the plaintiff if there is contributory negligence. Often the court will refuse to do so, allowing the plaintiff to collect from whichever defendant has the “deep pocket” (lots of money), and letting the defendant who pays demand contributions from the other defendants.

Joint custody

An arrangement by which parents who do not live together share the upbringing of a child. Joint custody can be joint legal custody (in which both parents have a say in decisions affecting the child) joint physical custody (in which the child spends a significant amount of time with both parents) or, very rarely, both.

Joint enterprise

n. a generic term for an activity of two or more people, usually (but not necessarily) for profit, which may include partnership, joint venture or any business in which more than one person invests, works, has equal management control and/or is otherwise involved for an agreed upon goal or purpose. One significant factor is that if a court finds that two or more people are involved in a joint enterprise and there is negligent damage to an outside party by any one of the enterprisers, or breach of a contract made by the joint enterprise, each of those who are part of the enterprise will be liable for all the damages to the party. However, not all joint enterprises are partnerships or joint ventures, although the terms are often used improperly as if they were synonymous.

Joint liability

n. when two or more persons are both responsible for a debt, claim or judgment. It can be important to the person making the claim, as well as to a person who is sued, who can demand that anyone with joint liability for the alleged debt or claim for damages be joined in (brought into) the lawsuit.

Joint powers agreement

n. a contract between a city, a county and/or a special district in which the city or county agrees to perform services, cooperate with, or lend its powers to the special district or other government entity.

Joint tenancy

A way for two or more people to share ownership of real estate or other property. When two or more people own property as joint tenants and one owner dies, the other owners automatically own the deceased owner’s share. For example, if a parent and child own a house as joint tenants and the parent dies, the child automatically becomes full owner. Because of this right of survivorship, no will is required to transfer the property; it goes directly to the surviving joint tenants without the delay and costs of probate.

Joint tortfeasors

n. two or more persons whose negligence in a single accident or event causes damages to another person. In many cases the joint tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable for the damages, meaning that any of them can be responsible to pay the entire amount, no matter how unequal the negligence of each party was. Example: Harry Hotrod is doing 90 miles an hour along a two-lane road in the early evening, Adele Aimster has stopped her car to study a map with her car sticking out into the lane by six inches. Hotrod swings out a couple of feet to miss Aimster’s vehicle, never touches the brake, and hits Victor Victim, driving from the other direction, killing him. While Hotrod is grossly negligent for the high speed and failure to slow down, Aimster is also negligent for her car’s slight intrusion into the lane. As a joint tortfeasor she may have to pay all the damages, particularly if Hotrod has no money or insurance. However, comparative negligence rules by statute or case law in most jurisdictions will apportion the liability by percentages of negligence among the tortfeasors (wrongdoers) and the injured parties.

Joint venture

n. an enterprise entered into by two or more people for profit, for a limited purpose, such as purchase, improvement and sale or leasing of real estate. A joint venture has most of the elements of a partnership, such as shared management, the power of each venturer to bind the others in the business, division of profits and joint responsibility for losses. However, unlike a partnership, a joint venture anticipates a specific area of activity and/or period of operation, so after the purpose is completed, bills are paid, profits (or losses) are divided, and the joint venture is terminated.

Joint work

For copyright purposes, a collaboration between two or more authors in which their contributions are joined into a single cohesive work. Each author of a joint work has equal rights to register and enforce the copyright, regardless of how their shares in the work are divided.

Jones Act

n., adj. a federal law which covers injuries to crewmen at sea, gives jurisdiction to the federal courts and sets up various rules for conduct of these cases under maritime law. A claim for recompense (payment) for damages at sea is called a “Jones Act case.”

Judge

1) n. an official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings. Judges are almost always attorneys. In some states, “justices of the peace” may need only to pass a test, and federal and state “administrative law judges” are often lawyer or non-lawyer hearing officers specializing in the subject matter upon which they are asked to rule. The word “court” often refers to the judge, as in the phrase “the court found the defendant at fault,” or “may it please the court,” when addressing the judge. The word “bench” also refers to the judge or judges in general. Judges on appeals courts are usually called “justices.” Judges of courts established by a state at the county, district, city or township level, gain office by election, by appointment by the Governor or by some judicial selection process in case of a vacancy. Federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States with confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A senator of the same party as the President has considerable clout in recommending Federal judges from his/her home state. 2) v. to rule on a legal matter, including determining the result in a trial if there is no jury.

Judge advocate

n. a military officer with legal training who has the mixed duties of giving advice on legal matters to the group of officers sitting as a court-martial (both judge and jury) and acting as the prosecutor of the accused serviceman or woman. A judge advocate holds responsibility to protect the accused from procedural improprieties such as questions from the members of the court which might incriminate the accused in violation of the Constitution. The accused person also has a military officer as counsel, who may not be an attorney.

Judge advocate general

(J.A.G.) n. a military officer who advises the government on courts-martial and administers the conduct of courts-martial. The officers who are judge advocates and counsel assigned to the accused come from the office of the judge advocate general or are appointed by it to work on certain courts-martial.

Judgment

A final court ruling resolving the key questions in a lawsuit and determining the rights and obligations of the opposing parties. For example, after a trial involving a vehicle accident, a court will issue a judgment determining which party was at fault and how much money that party must pay the other.

Judgment creditor

n. the winning plaintiff in a lawsuit to whom the court decides the defendant owes money. A judgment creditor can use various means to collect the judgment. The judgment is good for a specified number of years and then may be renewed by a filed request. If the defendant debtor files for bankruptcy, the judgment creditor will have priority (the right to share in assets) ahead of general creditors who are not secured by mortgages or deeds of trust and do not have judgments. However, if the bankrupt person has no assets, this becomes an empty advantage.

Judgment debt

n. the amount of money in a judgment award to the winning party, which is owed to the winner by the losing party.

Judgment debtor

n. the losing defendant in a lawsuit who owes the amount of the judgment to the winner.

Judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV)

Reversal of a jury’s verdict by a judge when the judge believes that there were insufficient facts on which to base the jury’s verdict, or that the verdict did not correctly apply the law. This procedure is similar to a situation in which a judge orders a jury to arrive at a particular verdict, called a directed verdict. In fact, a judgment notwithstanding the verdict is occasionally made when a jury refuses to follow a judge’s instruction to arrive at a certain verdict. Incidentally, for those of a scholarly bent, this term has its roots in the Latin “non obstante verdicto,” meaning notwithstanding the verdict.

Judicial

adj., adv. 1) referring to a judge, court or the court system. 2) fair.

Judicial discretion

n. the power of the judge to make decisions on some matters without being bound by precedent or strict rules established by statutes. On appeal a higher court will usually accept and confirm decisions of trial judges when exercising permitted discretion, unless capricious, showing a pattern of bias, or exercising discretion beyond his/her authority.

Judicial foreclosure

n. a judgment by a court in favor of foreclosure of a mortgage or deed of trust, which orders that the real property which secured the debt be sold under foreclosure proceedings to pay the debt. The party suing probably has chosen to seek a judicial foreclosure rather than use the foreclosure provisions of the mortgage or deed of trust. Usually this move is made to get a “deficiency judgment” for any amount still owed after the foreclosure sale. In many states (such as California) a foreclosure on the deed of trust limits the recovery to the amount of sale proceeds (sales price minus other debts), so a lawsuit for judicial foreclosure may help the party recover the total money owed to him/her if it was secured by the debtor’s real property.

Judicial notice

n. the authority of a judge to accept as facts certain matters which are of common knowledge from sources which guarantee accuracy or are a matter of official record, without the need for evidence establishing the fact. Examples of matters given judicial notice are public and court records, tides, times of sunset and sunrise, government rainfall and temperature records, known historic events or the fact that ice melts in the sun.

Judicial proceedings

n. any action by a judge re: trials, hearings, petitions or other matters formally before the court.

Judicial sale

n. a sale of goods by an official (keeper, trustee or sheriff) appointed by the court and ordered by a court, usually to satisfy a judgment or implement another order of the court. Such sales require public notice of time, place and a description of the goods to be sold.

Jump bail

v. to fail to appear for a court appearance after depositing (posting) bail with the intention of avoiding prosecution, sentencing or going to jail. Posting bail guarantees that the accused person will give up the money if he/she does not show up in court. It allows the accused person to remain free pending the final decision on his/her criminal case. In some circumstances a criminal defendant can be declared to have jumped bail even before missing an appearance in court, if it is discovered he/she has left the state, the country, disappeared or made plans to flee. At that point the court can revoke the bail and issue a warrant for the defendant’s arrest. It is also called “skipping” bail.

Jurat

Latin for “been sworn,” the portion of an affidavit in which a person has sworn that the contents of his/her written statement are true, filled in by the notary public with the date, name of the person swearing, sometimes the place where sworn, and the name of the person before whom the oath was made. A jurat is not to be confused with an “acknowledgment” in which the signer of a document such as a deed to real property has sworn to the notary public that he/she executed the document, and the notary signs and seals the document to that effect.

Jurisdiction

The authority of a court to hear and decide a case. To make a legally valid decision in a case, a court must have both “subject matter jurisdiction” (power to hear the type of case in question, which is granted by the state legislatures and Congress) and “personal jurisdiction” (power to make a decision affecting the parties involved in the lawsuit, which a court gets as a result of the parties’ actions). For example, state court’s subject matter jurisdiction includes the civil and criminal laws that the state legislature has passed, but does not include the right to hear patent disputes or immigration violations, which Congress has decided may only be heard in federal courts. And no court can entertain a case unless the parties agree to be there or live in the state (or federal district) where the court sits, or have enough contacts with the state or district that it’s fair to make them answer to that court. (Doing business in a state, owning property there or driving on its highways will usually be enough to allow the court to hear the case.) The term jurisdiction is also commonly used to define the amount of money a court has the power to award. For example, small claims courts have jurisdiction only to hear cases up to a relatively low monetary amount–depending on the state, typically in the range of $2,000-$10,000. If a court doesn’t have personal jurisdiction over all the parties and the subject matter involved, it “lacks jurisdiction,” which means it doesn’t have the power to render a decision. Refers to a court’s authority to judge over a situation usually acquired in one of three ways: over acts committed in a defined territory (eg. the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Australia is limited to acts committed or originating in Australia), ov.

Jurisdictional amount

The monetary amount that determines whether or not a particular court can hear a case. For example, under the law of a particular state, the jurisdictional amount of a justice, municipal or city court might be limited to cases involving less than $25,000. In federal court, cases involving citizens from different states must concern a dispute involving at least $75,000.

Jurisprudence

n. the entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions.Thus, jurisprudence has come to refer to case law, or the legal decisions which have developed and which accompany statutes in applying the law against situations of fact.

Jurist

n. although it means any attorney or legal scholar, jurist popularly refers to a judge.

Juror

A person who serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are obtained from sources such as voter registration rolls and department of motor vehicles’ lists. In most states, employers are prohibited from discriminating against employees who are called for jury duty–that is, they cannot demote or fire an employee for serving. And a few states require that the employer continue to pay the absent employee. Individuals who are selected to serve on a jury receive from the court a very small fee for their time and sometimes the cost of traveling from home to court.

Jury

A group of people selected to apply the law, as stated by the judge, to the facts of a case and render a decision, called the verdict. Traditionally, an American jury was made up of 12 people who had to arrive at a unanimous decision. But today, in many states, juries in civil cases may be composed of as few as six members and non-unanimous verdicts may be permitted. (Most states still require 12-person, unanimous verdicts for criminal trials.) Tracing its history back over 1,000 years, the jury system was brought to England by William the Conqueror in 1066. The philosophy behind the jury system is that–especially in a criminal case–an accused’s guilt or innocence should be judged by a group of people from her community (“a jury of her peers”). Recently, some courts have been experimenting with increasing the traditionally rather passive role of the jury by encouraging jurors to take notes and ask questions.

Jury box

n. the enclosed area in which the jury sits in assigned seats during a jury trial.

Jury fees

n. the rather minimal amount paid each day to jurors, plus payment for mileage from home to court. In criminal trials this amount is paid by the government (usually county government in state cases), but in civil lawsuits the jury fees are paid by the parties to the lawsuit in equal amounts. It is important for a party requesting a jury trial to deposit (“post”) the first day’s jury fees with the clerk of the court a set time in advance of the trial date, or the right to a jury trial may be lost on the basis that he/she/it has “waived” the right to a jury. The winner of the lawsuit (prevailing party) is usually entitled to reimbursement (payment by the loser) of jury fees as a court cost.

Jury nullification

A decision by the jury to acquit a defendant who has violated a law that the jury believes is unjust or wrong. Jury nullification has always been an option for juries in England and the United States, although judges will prevent a defense lawyer from urging the jury to acquit on this basis. Nullification was evident during the Vietnam war (when selective service protesters were acquitted by juries opposed to the war) and currently appears in criminal cases when the jury disagrees with the punishment–for example, in “three strikes” cases when the jury realizes that conviction of a relatively minor offense will result in lifetime imprisonment.

Jury of one’s peers

n. a guaranteed right of criminal defendants, in which “peer” means an “equal.” This has been interpreted by courts to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender. Jury selection may include no process which excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. It does not mean that women are to be tried by women, Asians by Asians, or African Americans by African Americans.

Jury panel

n. the list from which jurors for a particular trial may be chosen.

Jury selection

n. the means by which a jury is chosen, with a panel of potential jurors called, questioning of the jury by the judge and attorneys (voir dire), dismissal for cause, peremptory challenges by the attorneys without stating a cause and finally impaneling of the jury.

Jury stress

n. a form of mental, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual tension found to affect juries in long trials due to exhaustion, sequestration, the mountain of evidence and the desire to do the right thing.

Jury tampering

n. the crime of attempting to influence a jury through any means other than presenting evidence and argument in court, including conversations about the case outside the court, offering bribes, making threats or asking acquaintances to intercede with a juror.

Jury trial

n. a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the case is presented to a jury and the factual questions and the final judgment are determined by a jury. This is distinguished from a “court trial” in which the judge decides factual as well as legal questions, and makes the final judgment.

Jus cogens

Latin. Principles of international law so fundamental that no nation may ignore them or attempt to contract out of them through treaties. For example, genocide and participating in a slave trade are thought to be jus cogens.

Jus naturale

Latin for “natural law.” This is a system of legal principles ostensibly derived from universal divine truths.

Just compensation

n. 1) in general a fair and reasonable amount of money to be paid for work performed or to make one “whole” after loss due to damages. 2) the full value to be paid for property taken by the government for public purposes, which states: “…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation.” If the amount offered by the governmental agency taking the property is not considered sufficient, the property owner may demand a trial to determine just compensation.

Justice

n. 1) fairness. 2) moral rightness. 3) a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/ her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal. One problem is that attorneys, judges and legislatures often get caught up more in procedure than in achieving justice for all. Example: the adage “justice delayed is justice denied,” applies to the burdensome procedures, lack of sufficient courts, the clogging of the system with meritless cases and the use of the courts to settle matters which could be resolved by negotiation. The imbalance between court privileges obtained by attorneys for the wealthy and for the person of modest means, the use of delay and “blizzards” of unnecessary paper by large law firms, and judges who fail to cut through the underbrush of procedure all erode justice. 4) an appellate judge, the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, a member of a Federal Court of Appeal and judges of any of the various state appellate courts.

Justice of the peace

(JP) n. a judge who handles minor legal matters such as misdemeanors, small claims actions and traffic matters in “justice courts.” Dating back to early English common law, “JPs” were very common up to the 1950s, but they now exist primarily in rural “justice districts” from which it is unreasonable for the public to travel to the county seat for trials of minor matters. A justice of the peace is usually an attorney, but some states still allow laypersons to qualify by taking a test.

Justice system

A term lawyers use to describe the courts and other bureaucracies that handle American’s criminal legal business, including offices of various state and federal prosecutors and public defenders. Many people caught up in this system refer to it by less flattering names.

Justiciable

n. referring to a matter which is capable of being decided by a court. Usually it is combined in such terms as: “justiciable issue,” “justiciable cause of action” or “justiciable case.”

Justifiable homicide

n. a killing without evil or criminal intent, for which there can be no blame, such as self-defense to protect oneself or to protect another or the shooting by a law enforcement officer in fulfilling his/her duties. This is not to be confused with a crime of passion or claim of diminished capacity, which refer to defenses aimed at reducing the penalty or degree of crime.

Juvenile court

n. a special court or department of a trial court which deals with under-age defendants charged with crimes or who are neglected or out of the control of their parents. The normal age of these defendants is under 18, but juvenile court does not have jurisdiction in cases in which minors are charged as adults. The procedure in juvenile court is not always adversarial (although the minor is entitled to legal representation by a lawyer). It can be an attempt to involve parents or social workers and probation officers in the process to achieve positive results and save the minor from involvement in future crimes. However, serious crimes and repeated offenses can result in sentencing juvenile offenders to prison, with transfer to state prison upon reaching adulthood with limited maximum sentences. Where parental neglect or loss of control is a problem, the juvenile court may seek out foster homes for the juvenile, treating the child as a ward of the court.

Juvenile delinquent

n. a person who is under age (usually below 18), who is found to have committed a crime in states which have declared by law that a minor lacks responsibility and thus may not be sentenced as an adult. However, the legislatures of several states have reduced the age of criminal responsibility for serious crimes or for repeat offenders to as low as 14.

K

n. the shorthand symbol for “contract” used almost universally by lawyers and law students.

Kangaroo court

n. 1) a mock court set up without legal basis, such as a fraternity, sports team or army squad might set up to punish minor violations of organizational decorum. 2) slang for a court of law in which the violations of procedure, precedents, and due process are so gross that fundamental justice is denied. It usually means that the judge is incompetent or obviously biased.

Kidnap

(also spelled kidnaping) n. the taking of a person against his/her will (or from the control of a parent or guardian) from one place to another under circumstances in which the person so taken does not have freedom of movement, will, or decision through violence, force, threat or intimidation. Although it is not necessary that the purpose be criminal (since all kidnapping is a criminal felony) the capture usually involves some related criminal act such as holding the person for ransom, sexual and/or sadistic abuse, or rape. It includes taking due to irresistible impulse and a parent taking and hiding a child in violation of court order. An included crime is false imprisonment. Any harm to the victim coupled with kidnapping can raise the degree of felony for the injury and can result in a capital (death penalty) offense in some states, even though the victim survives. Originally it meant the stealing of children, since “kid” is child in Scandinavian languages, but now applies to adults as well. Every person commits an offence who kidnaps a person with intent to cause the person to be confined or imprisoned against the person’s will to cause the person to be unlawfully sent or transported out of Canada against the person’s will; or to hold the person.

Kin

n. blood relative. A blood or marriage relative; as in ‘next of kin’ refers to the closest relative

Kindred

Under some state’s probate codes, all relatives of a deceased person.

Labor and materials

(time and materials) n. what some builders or repair people contract to provide and be paid for, rather than a fixed price or a percentage of the costs. In many states, if the person performing the work is not a licensed contractor, he/she is limited to labor and materials in any lawsuit for contract payment, and may not receive a profit above that amount. Consumers who believe they will get a better deal from someone working for labor or time and materials should beware and watch receipts and keep track of actual labor hours worked.

Labor certification

A required procedure for many foreign nationals who have a job offer from a U.S. employer. In many cases, a job offer alone is not enough to qualify a potential immigrant for a green card. First, the employer must prove that there are no qualified U.S. workers available and willing to take the job. To do so, the employer must turn to the U.S. Department of Labor for a labor certification.

Laches

n. the legal doctrine that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party (hurt the opponent) as a sort of “legal ambush.” Examples: a) knowing the correct property line, Oliver Owner fails to bring a lawsuit to establish title to a portion of real estate until Nat Neighbor has built a house which encroaches on the property in which Owner has title; b) Tommy Traveler learns that his father has died, but waits four years to come forward until the entire estate has been distributed on the belief that Tommy was dead; c) Susan Smart has a legitimate claim against her old firm for sexual harassment, but waits three years to come forward and file a lawsuit, after the employee who caused the problem has died, and the witnesses have all left the company and scattered around the country. The defense of laches is often raised in the list of “affirmative defenses” in answers filed by defendants, but is seldom applied by the courts. Laches is not to be confused with the “statute of limitations,” which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc.).A legal doctrine whereby those who take too long to assert a legal right, lose their entitlement to compensation.

Land

n. real property, real estate (and all that grows thereon), and the right to minerals underneath and the airspace over it. It may include improvements like buildings, but not necessarily. The owner of the land may give a long-term (like 99 years) lease to another with the right to build on it. The improvement is a “leasehold” for ownership of the right to use-without ownership of-the underlying land. The right to use the air above a parcel of land is subject to height limitations by local ordinance, state or federal law.

Landlady

n. female of landlord or owner of real property from whom one rents or leases.

Landlocked

adj. referring to a parcel of real property which has no access or egress (entry or exit) to a public street and cannot be reached except by crossing another’s property. In such a case there is an “implied easement” over the adjoining lot from which it was created (carved out).

Landlord

The owner of any real estate, such as a house, apartment building or land, that is leased or rented to another person, called the tenant.

Landlord and tenant

n. the name for the area of law concerning renting and leasing property and the rights of both the owner and the renter or lessee.

Landlord’s lien

n. the right of a landlord to sell abandoned personal property left on rented or leased premises by a former tenant to cover unpaid rent or damages to the property. However, to exercise this lien the landlord must carefully follow procedures which differ in each state, but generally require written notice to the ex-tenant and a public sale.

Lanham Act

The main federal statute governing trademarks, service marks and unfair competition. Its two basic purposes are to eliminate deception and unfair competition in the marketing of goods and services, and to protect marks against the use of confusingly similar marks by others.

Lapse

Under a will, the failure of a gift of property. A gift lapses when the beneficiary dies before the person who made the will, and no alternate has been named. Some states have anti-lapse statutes, which prevent gifts to relatives of the deceased person from lapsing unless the relative has no heirs of his or her own. A lapsed gift becomes part of the residuary estate.

Larceny

Another term for theft. Although the definition of this term differs from state to state, it typically means taking property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive the owner of the property. If the taking is non forceful, it is larceny; if it is accompanied by force or fear directed against a person, it is robbery, a much more serious offense.

Last antecedent rule

n. a doctrine of interpretation (construction) of statutes that any qualifying words or phrases refer to the language immediately preceding the qualifier, unless common sense shows that it was meant to apply to something more distant or less obvious. Example: “The commercial vehicular license shall not apply to boats, tractors, and trucks, with only four wheels and under three tons…,” the qualifier “only four wheels and under three tons” applies only to trucks and not boats or tractors.

Last clear chance

n. a rule of law in determining responsibility for damages caused by negligence, which provides that if the plaintiff (the party suing for damages) is negligent, that will not matter if the defendant (the party being sued for damages caused by his/her negligence) could have still avoided the accident by reasonable care in the final moments (no matter how slight) before the accident. The theory is that although the plaintiff may have been negligent, his/her negligence no longer was the cause of the accident because the defendant could have prevented the accident. Most commonly applied to auto accidents, a typical case of last clear chance would be when one driver drifts over the center line, and this action was noted by an oncoming driver who proceeds without taking simple evasive action, crashes into the first driver and is thus liable for the injuries to the first driver who was over the line. In the few states which apply the strict “contributory negligence” rule which keeps a negligent plaintiff from recovering damages from a negligent defendant, “last clear chance” can save the careless plaintiff’s lawsuit.

Last will and testament

n. a fancy and redundant way of saying “will.” Lawyers and clients like the formal resonance of the language. Will and testament mean the same thing. A document will be the “last” will if the maker of it dies before writing another one.

Latent defect

n. a hidden flaw, weakness or imperfection in an article which a seller knows about, but the buyer cannot discover by reasonable inspection. It includes a hidden defect in the title to land, such as an incorrect property description. Generally, this entitles the purchaser to get his/her money back (rescind the deal) or get a replacement without a defect on the basis of “implied” warranty of quality that a buyer could expect (“merchantability”). Even an “as is” purchase could be rescinded if it could be shown the seller knew of the flaw.

Lateral support

n. the right of a land- owner to assurance that his/her neighbor’s land will provide support against any slippage, cave-in or landslide. Should the adjoining owner excavate into the soil for any reason (foundation, basement, leveling) then there must be a retaining wall constructed (or other protective engineering) to prevent a collapse. A classic example: a developer excavated into a hill along both the western and southern lines to create a pad for an apartment building and delayed putting in the retaining wall. Cracks appeared in the buildings next to the digging site, and the owners filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction to require the developer to build a wall. The judge so ordered, but the cave-in occurred anyway, the neighboring buildings toppled into the hole, and, in the subsequent lawsuit by the owners of the neighboring fallen buildings, the developer had to pay the entire value of the buildings which were destroyed. Most lateral support problems are less dramatic.

Law

n. 1) any system of regulations to govern the conduct of the people of a community, society or nation, in response to the need for regularity, consistency and justice based upon collective human experience. Custom or conduct governed by the force of the local king were replaced by laws almost as soon as man learned to write. The earliest lawbook was written about 2100 B.C. for Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, a Middle Eastern city-state. Within three centuries Hammurabi, king of Babylonia, had enumerated laws of private conduct, business and legal precedents, of which 282 articles have survived. The term “eye for an eye” (or the equivalent value) is found there, as is drowning as punishment for adultery by a wife (while a husband could have slave concubines), and unequal treatment of the rich and the poor was codified here first. It took another thousand years before written law codes developed among the Greek city-states (particularly Athens) and Israel. China developed similar rules of conduct, as did Egypt. The first law system which has a direct influence on the American legal system was the codification of all classic law ordered by the Roman Emperor Justinian in 528 and completed by 534, becoming the law of the Roman empire. This is known as the Justinian Code, upon which most of the legal systems of most European nations are based to this day. The principal source of American law is the common law, which had its roots about the same time as Justinian, among Angles, Britons and later Saxons in Britain. William the Conqueror arrived in 1066 and combined the best of this Anglo-Saxon law with Norman law, which resulted in the English common law, much of which was by custom and precedent rather than by written code. The American colonies followed the English Common Law with minor variations, and the four-volume Commentaries on the Laws of England by Sir William Blackstone (completed in 1769) was the legal “bible” for all American frontier lawyers and influenced the development of state codes of law. To a great extent common law has been replaced by written statutes, and a gigantic body of such statutes have been enacted by federal and state legislatures supposedly in response to the greater complexity of modern life. 2) n. a statute, ordinance or regulation enacted by the legislative branch of a government and signed into law, or in some nations created by decree without any democratic process. This is distinguished from “natural law,” which is not based on statute, but on alleged common understanding of what is right and proper (often based on moral and religious precepts as well as common understanding of fairness and justice). 3) n. a generic term for any body of regulations for conduct, including specialized rules (military law), moral conduct under various religions and for organizations, usually called “bylaws.” All the rules of conduct that have been approved by the government and which are in force over a certain territory and which must be obeyed by all persons on that territory (eg. the ‘laws’ of Australia).

Law and motion calendar

n. a court calendar in which only motions and special legal arguments are heard.

Law book

n. any of numerous volumes dealing with law, including statutes, reports of cases, digests of cases, commentaries on particular topics, encyclopedias, textbooks, summaries of the law, dictionaries, legal forms and various combinations of these such as case reports with commentaries. Statutes of every state and the Federal Code are published, usually with comments, “annotations” and brief statements of decisions which contribute to the interpretations of each particular statute. The written reports of appellate cases are collected for every state, the federal government, England and many other countries. Collections of digests (brief summaries) of case decisions divided by topics are available for each state as well as federal rulings. There are books on almost every legal subject. Almost all collections of statutes, digests, form books and commentaries are regularly updated with the latest decisions, legislative enactments and recent comments, often with loose-leaf “pocket parts” added each year, and completely new volumes when numerous changes have accumulated. Many of the books are now being replaced or supplemented by computer disks or computer modem services. The earliest known law book was written in 2100 B.C. for the king of Ur.

Law of admiralty

n. statutes, customs and treaties dealing with actions on navigable waters. It is synonymous with maritime law.

Law of the case

n. once a judge has decided a legal question during the conduct of a lawsuit, he/she is unlikely to change his/her views and will respond that the ruling is the “law of the case.”

Law of the land

n. a slang term for existing laws.

Lawful issue

Formerly, statutes governing wills used this phrase to specify children born to married parents, and to exclude those born out of wedlock. Now, the phrase means the same as issue and “lineal descendant.”

Lawsuit

n. a common term for a legal action by one person or entity against another person or entity, to be decided in a court of law, sometimes just called a “suit.” The legal claims within a lawsuit are called “causes of action.”

Lay a foundation

v. in evidence, to provide to the judge the qualification of a witness (particularly an expert witness) or a document or other piece of evidence which assures the court of the talent and experience of a witness or the authenticity of the document or article. Example: a medical report cannot be introduced unless the physician who wrote it testifies that he wrote it, or a photograph must be authenticated by the photographer or by testimony that it truly reflects a particular place or event. An expert witness is qualified by testimony as to experience and training.

Leading

1) v. short for “leading the witness,” in which the attorney during a trial or deposition asks questions in a form in which he/she puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer. Leading is improper if the attorney is questioning a witness called by that attorney and presumably friendly to the attorney’s side of the case. Thus, the opposing attorney will object that a question is “leading,” and if so the judge will sustain (uphold) the objection and prohibit the question in that form. However, leading questions are permissible in cross-examination of a witness called by the other party or if the witness is found to be hostile or adverse to the position of the attorney conducting the questioning. 2) adj. referring to a question asked of a witness which suggests the answer.

Leading question

n. a question asked of a witness by an attorney during a trial or a deposition (questioning under oath outside of court), suggesting an answer or putting words in the mouth of the witness. Such a question is often objected to, usually with the simple objection: “leading.” A leading question is allowable only when directed to the opposing party to the lawsuit or to an “adverse witness” during cross-examination (the chance to question after direct testimony) on the basis that such a witness can readily deny the proposed wording. Typical improper leading question: “Didn’t the defendant appear to you to be going too fast in the limited visibility?” The proper question would be: “How fast do you estimate the defendant was going?” followed by “What was the visibility?” and “How far could you see?”

Leading the witness

n. asking a question during a trial or deposition which puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer, which is improper questioning of a witness called by that attorney, but is proper in cross-examination or allowed if a witness is declared by the judge to be a hostile or adverse witness.

Lease

An oral or written agreement (a contract) between two people concerning the use by one of the property of the other. A person can lease real estate (such as an apartment or business property) or personal property (such as a car or a boat). A lease should cover basic issues such as when the lease will begin and end, the rent or other costs, how payments should be made, and any restrictions on the use of the property. The property owner is often called the “lessor,” and the person using the property is called the “lessee.”

Lease option

A contract in which an owner leases her house (usually for one to five years) to a tenant for a specific monthly rent, and which gives the tenant the right to buy the house at the end of the lease period for a price established in advance. A lease option is often a good arrangement for a potential home buyer because it lets him move into a house he may buy without having to come up with a down payment or financing at that time.

Leasehold

n. the real estate which is the subject of a lease (a written rental agreement for an extended period of time). The term is commonly used to describe improvements on real property when the improvements are built on land owned by one party which is leased for a long term (such as 99 years) to the owner of the building. For example, the Pacific Land Company owns a lot and leases it for 99 years to the Highrise Development Corporation, which builds a 20-story apartment building and sells each apartment to individual owners as condominiums. At the end of the 99 years the building has to be moved (impossible), torn down, sold to Pacific (which need not pay much since the building is old and Highrise has no choice), or a new lease negotiated. Obviously, toward the end of the 99 years the individual condominiums will go down in value, partly from fear of lessened resale potential. This is generally theoretical (except to lending companies because the security does not include the land) since there are few buildings with less than 50 or 60 years to go on the leases or their expected lifetimes, although there are some commercial buildings which are within 20 years of termination of such leases. In most cases the buildings are obsolete by the end of the leasehold.

Legacy

An outdated legal word meaning personal property left by a will. The more common term for this type of property is bequest. Compare devise.

Legal

adj., adv. according to law, not in violation of law or anything related to the law.

Legal action

n. any lawsuit, petition or prosecution.

Legal advertising

n. 1) notices of probate sales and other documents required by law to be published in court-approved local newspapers of general circulation. 2) commercials for the legal services of lawyers and law firms, which may range from television spots with actors to garish ads in telephone books’ yellow pages. Such advertising would have been cause for disbarment for illegal solicitation of legal services until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that restrictions on advertising professional services were unconstitutional abridgments of free speech. While legal advertising may have the benefit of announcing specialties like worker’s compensation or bankruptcy, the size, frequency and message bear little relationship to the quality of the lawyers advertising.

Legal age

n. the age at which a person is responsible for his/her own actions (including the capacity to enter into a contract which is enforceable by the other party), for damages for negligence or intentional wrongs without a parent being liable and for punishment as an adult for a crime. In almost all states the basic legal age is 18, which is the universal American voting age under the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1971. The national legal age for drinking or buying alcoholic beverages is 21. Marriage with or without parental consent, driving, prosecution for crimes, the right to choose an abortion and liability for damages vary from state to state.

Legal aid society

n. an organization formed to assist persons who have limited or no financial means but need legal help, usually sponsored by the local bar association’s donations, sometimes with some local governmental financial support. Such societies examine the assets and income of the applicant, decide if the person has a legitimate need for legal services, give counselling, provide mediation, prepare simple documents, and if absolutely necessary give free legal assistance from a panel of volunteer attorneys. Originally most prevalent in larger cities, legal aid societies exist throughout the country. They do not usually provide assistance in criminal cases because indigent defendants are constitutionally entitled to representation by a public defender or appointed private counsel paid by the government. Some societies provide referral services to help a person find a suitable attorney, but normally referral is made by the local bar association.

Legal custody

The right and obligation to make decisions about a child’s upbringing, including schooling and medical care. Many states typically have both parents share legal custody of a child.

Legal duty

n. the responsibility to others to act according to the law. Proving the duty (such as not to be negligent, to keep premises safe, or to drive within the speed limit) and then showing that the duty was breached are required elements of any lawsuit for damages due to negligence or intentional injuries.

Legal fiction

n. a presumption of fact assumed by a court for convenience, consistency or to achieve justice. There is an old adage: “Fictions arise from the law, and not law from fictions.”

Legal papers

Documents containing a statement of legal status, identity, authority or ownership, or providing evidence of some type of obligation. Such documents include wills, deeds, leases, titles, birth certificates , and contracts. Legal papers may also refer to documents, such as a complaint or summons, prepared in order to pursue a legal cause of action.

Legal risk placement

A type of adoption used by agencies to keep a child out of foster care during the adoption process. The child is placed with the adopting parents before the birthmother has legally given up her rights to raise the child. If she then decides not to relinquish her rights, the adopting parents must give the child back. This is a risk for the adopting parents, who may lose a child to whom they’ve become attached.

Legal separation

n. a court-decreed right to live apart, with the rights and obligations of divorced persons, but without divorce. The parties are still married and cannot remarry. A spouse may petition for a legal separation usually on the same basis as for a divorce, and include requests for child custody, alimony, child support and division of property. For people who want to avoid the supposed stigma of divorce, who hold strong religious objections to divorce or who hope to save a marriage, legal separation is an apparent solution. With more states allowing no-fault divorce, the use of separation agreements and informal separation, legal separation is rarely used.

Legal services

n. the work performed by a lawyer for a client.

Legal tender

n. all money issued by the government.

Legatee

n. a person or organization receiving a gift of an object or money under the terms of the will of a person who has died. Although technically a legatee does not receive real property (a devisee), “legatee” is often used to designate a person who takes anything pursuant (according) to the terms of a will. The best generic term is beneficiary, which avoids the old-fashioned distinctions between legatees taking legacies (personal property) and devisees taking devises (real property), terms which date from the Middle Ages.

Legislative immunity

A legal doctrine that prevents legislators from being sued for actions performed and decisions made in the course of serving in government. This doctrine does not protect legislators from criminal prosecution, nor does it relieve them from responsibility for actions outside the scope of their office.

Legitimate

adj., adv1) legal, proper, real. 2) referring to a child born to parents who are married. A baby born to parents who are not married is illegitimate, but can be made legitimate (legitimatized) by the subsequent marriage of the parents. 3) v. to make proper and/or legal.

Lemon law

n. statutes adopted in some states to make it easier for a buyer of a new vehicle to sue for damages or replacement if the dealer or manufacturer cannot make it run properly after a reasonable number of attempts to fix the car. Without a “lemon law” auto makers have often demanded the buyer come back a dozen times and give up use of the car for lengthy periods while they test it, claiming they are “still trying” to make it run right.

Lessee

n. the person renting property under a written lease from the owner (lessor). He/she/it is the tenant and the lessor is the landlord.

Lesser-included offense

n. in criminal law, a crime which is proved by the same facts as a more serious crime. Example: Ignatz “Itchy” Fingers is charged with armed robbery, but the prosecution fails to prove Itchy used his pistol since the victims do not recall the gun, but does prove he took the jewels. Thus, he is convicted of larceny, which is a lesser form of theft and he will receive a lighter sentence. A common example is the so-called “wet reckless,” which is the crime of driving recklessly after some drinking, but not necessarily while drunk. In plea bargains for first offenders in close cases the driver may plead guilty or “no contest” to this lesser-included offense instead of drunk driving, which carries a more severe penalty, including jail time.

Lessor

n. the owner of real property who rents it to a lessee pursuant to a written lease. Thus, he/she/it is the landlord and the lessee is the tenant.

Let

v. 1) to allow or permit. This is distinguished from “against one’s will.” The word can be very important legally, as in the statement “Lucy let Johnny have sexual relations with her,” which can make a huge difference in a claim of rape. 2) to lease or rent real property, particularly a room or apartment, to another person.

Letter of credit

n. a document issued by a bank guaranteeing to provide a customer a line of credit (automatic loan up to a certain amount) for money or security for a loan. Such a letter is used primarily to facilitate long-distance business transactions.

Letters

n. shorthand for letters testamentary or letters of administration.

Letters of administration

n. a document issued by the court clerk which states the authority of the administrator of an estate of a person who has died, when there is no will or no available executor named by a will and an administrator has been appointed by the court. It is issued during probate of the estate as soon as the court approves the appointment of the administrator, who files a security bond if one is required. Certified copies of the letters are often required by banks and other financial institutions, the federal government, stock transfer agents or other courts before transfer of money or assets to the administrator of the estate.

Letters testamentary

The document given to an executor by the probate court, authorizing the executor to settle the estate according to either a will or the state’s intestate succession laws.

Leverage

1) n. the use of borrowed money to purchase real estate or business assets, usually involving money equaling a high percentage of the value of the purchased property. 2) v. to borrow most of the funds necessary as a loan against real estate to buy other real estate or business assets. The dangers of high leverage are over-appraisal of the property to satisfy a lender, a decline in the value of the property (which may have been purchased during a period of high inflation), high carrying costs (interest, insurance, taxes, maintenance) which exceed income, vacancies and/or inability to finance improvements to increase profits. Too often the result is the collapse of “paper” real estate empires which have been created by risky leveraging.

Levy

1) v. to seize (take) property upon a writ of execution (an order to seize property) issued by the court to pay a money judgment granted in a lawsuit. The levy is actually made by a sheriff or other official at the request of the holder of the judgment (the winner in the lawsuit), and the property will be sold at a sheriff’s sale to provide money to satisfy the unpaid judgment. 2) v. the act of a governmental legislative body, such as a board of supervisors or commissioners assessing a tax on all property, all sales, business licenses or any thing or transaction which may be taxed. Thus, the county “levies” a tax on businesses. 3) n. the seizure of property to satisfy a judgment.

Lewd

Any conduct that is considered indecent or offensive. Today the term is often used when referring to pornography, prostitution and indecent exposure.

Lewd and lascivious

adj., adv. references to conduct which includes people living together who are known not to be married, entertainment which aims at arousing the libido or primarily sexual sensation, open solicitation for prostitution or indecent exposure of genitalia (which is itself a crime). Due to the tendency of judges to be overly careful in writing about moral and/or sexual matters the definitions have been cloaked in old-fashioned modesty. Today the term usually applies to pornography, prostitution and indecent acts.

Lex loci

Latin for the “law of the place.” It means local law.

Liability

1) The state of being liable–that is, legally responsible for an act or omission. 2) Something for which a person is liable. For example, a debt is often called a liability.

Liability insurance coverage

Compensation to third parties who are injured or whose property is damaged due to the fault of the insurance holder. You may have liability insurance for your car or your home, or to cover actions you take in the course of your profession. Liability polices are sometimes called “third-party policies.”

Liable

Legally responsible. For example, a person may be liable for a debt, liable for an accident due to careless behavior, liable for failing do something required by a contract or liable for the commission of a crime. Someone who is found liable for an act or ommission must usually pay damages or, if the act was a criminal one, face punishment. See also liability.

Libel

An untruthful statement about a person, published in writing or through broadcast media, that injures the person’s reputation or standing in the community. Because libel is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. Libel is a form of defamation , as is slander (an untruthful statement that is spoken, but not published in writing or broadcast through the media).

Libel per se

n. broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease (like syphilis) or dishonesty in business. Such claims are considered so obviously harmful that malice need not be proved to obtain a judgment for “general damages,” and not just specific losses.

Liberty

n. freedom from restraint and the power to follow one’s own will to choose a course of conduct. Liberty, like freedom, has its inherent restraint to act without harm to others and within the accepted rules of conduct for the benefit of the general public.

License (of invention, copyright or trademark)

A contract giving written permission to use an invention, creative work or trademark. A license provides a way to make money from your invention or creative work without having to manufacture and sell copies yourself. By licensing an invention or work to a company, you get money (often in the form of royalties) in return for allowing the company to use, produce and sell copies of your invention or work in the marketplace.

Licensee

n. a person given a license by the government or under private agreement.

Licensor

n. a person who gives another a license, particularly a private party doing so, such as a business giving someone a license to sell its product.

Lie detector test

n. a popular name for a polygraph which tests the physiological reaction of a person to questions asked by a testing expert. A potential or actual criminal defendant or possible witness cannot be forced or ordered to take a lie detector test. Some habitual liars pass lie detector tests, and innocent, honest people fail them due to nervousness and other factors. However, law enforcement authorities usually believe the results, which occasionally exonerate (clear) a suspect. Since the results are sometimes unreliable, they are not admissible in a trial and may not be referred to.

Lien

The right of a secured creditor to grab a specific item of property if you don’t pay a debt. Liens you agree to are called security interests, and include mortgages, home equity loans, car loans and personal loans for which you pledge property to guarantee repayment. Liens created without your consent are called nonconsensual liens, and include judgment liens (liens filed by a creditor who has sued you and obtained a judgment), tax liens and mechanics liens (liens filed by a contractor who worked on your house but wasn’t paid).

Lienor

n. a person who holds a lien on another’s property or funds.

Life beneficiary

A person who receives benefits, under a trust or by will, for his or her lifetime.

Life estate

n. the right to use or occupy real property for one’s life. Often this is given to a person (such as a family member) by deed or as a gift under a will with the idea that a younger person would then take the property upon the death of the one who receives the life estate. Title may also return to the person giving or deeding the property or to his/her surviving children or descendants upon the death of the life tenant-this is called “reversion.”

Life insurance

A contract in which an insurance company agrees to pay money to a designated beneficiary upon the death of the policy holder. In exchange, the policyholder pays a regularly scheduled fee, known as the insurance premiums. The purpose of life insurance is to provide financial support to those who survive the policyholder, such as family members or business partners. When the policyholder dies, the insurance proceeds pass to the beneficiaries free of probate, though they are counted for federal estate tax purposes.

Life tenant

One who has a life estate in real property.

Life without possibility of parole

n. a sentence sometimes given for particularly vicious criminals in murder cases or to repeat felons, particularly if the crime is committed in a state which has no death penalty, the jury chooses not to impose the death penalty, or the judge feels it is simpler to lock the prisoner up and “throw away the key” rather than invite years of appeals while the prisoner languishes on death row. Opponents of capital punishment often advocate this penalty as a substitute for execution. It guarantees the criminal will not endanger the public, and the prospect of never being outside prison is severe punishment. Contrary arguments are that this penalty does not deter murderers, there is always the possibility of escape or killing a guard or fellow prisoner, or some soft-hearted Governor may someday reduce the sentence.

Life-prolonging procedures

Medical procedures used to extend the life of someone who is terminally ill or permanently comatose. These procedures may include the administration of blood or blood products, cardio-pulmonary resuscitation (CPR), diagnostic tests, dialysis, antibiotics, surgery or a respirator. Also called life-sustaining procedures.

Limitation of actions

n. the period of time in which a person has to file with the clerk of the court or appropriate agency what he/she believes is a valid lawsuit or claim. The period varies greatly depending on what type of case is involved, whether the suit is against the government, whether it is by a minor, and most importantly, in what state or federal jurisdiction the right to sue arose. This is more commonly called the statute of limitations, which are specific periods for various claims in each state.

Limited equity housing

An arrangement designed to encourage low-and moderate-income families to purchase housing, in which the housing is offered at an extremely favorable price with a low down payment. The catch is that when the owner sells, she gets none of the profit if the market value of the unit has gone up. Any profit returns to the organization that built the home, which then resells the unit at an affordable price.

Limited jurisdiction

n. courts’ authority over certain types of cases such as bankruptcy, claims against the government, probate, family matters, immigration and customs or limitations on courts’ authority to try cases involving maximum amounts of money or value.

Limited liability

The maximum amount a business owner can lose if the business is subject to debts, claims or other liabilities. An owner of a limited liability company (LLC) or a person who invests in a corporation (a shareholder) generally stands to lose only the amount of money invested in the business. This means that if the business folds, creditors cannot seize or sell an owner’s home, car, or other personal assets.

Limited liability company (LLC)

A business ownership structure that offers its owners the advantage of limited liability (like corporations) and partnership-like taxation, in which profits are passed through to the owners and taxed on their personal income tax returns.

Limited liability partnership (LLP)

A type of partnership recognized in a majority of states that protects a partner from personal liability for negligent acts committed by other partners or by employees not under his or her direct control. Many states restrict this type partnership to professionals, such as lawyers, accountants, architects and healthcare providers

Limited partnership

A business structure that allows one or more partners (called limited partners) to enjoy limited personal liability for partnership debts while another partner or partners (called general partners) have unlimited personal liability. The key difference between a general and limited partner concerns management decision making–general partners run the business, and limited partners, who are usually passive investors, are not allowed to make day-to-day business decisions. If they do, they risk being treated as general partners with unlimited personal liability.

Lineal descendant

n. a person who is in direct line to an ancestor, such as child, grandchild, great-grandchild and on forever. A lineal descendant is distinguished from a “collateral” descendant, which would be from the line of a brother, sister, aunt or uncle.

Lineup

A procedure in which the police place a suspect in a line with a group of other people and ask an eyewitness to the crime to identify the person he saw at the crime scene. The police are supposed to choose similar-looking people to appear with the suspect. If the suspect alone matches the physical description of the perpetrator, evidence of the identification can be attacked at trial. For example, if the robber is described as a Latino male, and the suspect, a Latino male, is placed in a lineup with ten white males, a witness’ identification of him as the robber will be challenged by the defense attorney.

Link

Any component of a web page that connects to another web page or another portion of the same web page. Clicking on underlined text or a graphic image activates most links. For example, if a user clicks on the words Financial Calculator or an image of a calculator, the user will be transported to a page that contains a calculator. Links are sometimes called “hyperlinks.”

Liquid assets

Business property that can be quickly and easily converted into cash, such as stock, bank accounts and accounts receivable.

Liquidate

v. to sell the assets of a business, paying bills and dividing the remainder among shareholders, partners or other investors.

Liquidated damages

n. an amount of money agreed upon by both parties to a contract which one will pay to the other upon breaching (breaking or backing out of) the agreement or if a lawsuit arises due to the breach. Sometimes the liquidated damages are the amount of a deposit or a down payment, or are based on a formula (such as 10% of the contract amount). The non-defaulting party may obtain a judgment for the amount of liquidated damages, often based on a stipulation (clear statement) contained in the contract, unless the party who has breached the contract can make a strong showing that the amount of liquidated damages was so “unconscionable” (far too high under the circumstances) that it appears there was fraud, misunderstanding or basic unfairness.

Liquidating partner

The member of an insolvent or dissolving partnership responsible for paying the debts and settling the accounts of the partnership.

Lis pendens

1) Latin for “a suit pending.” The term may refer to any pending lawsuit. 2) A written notice that a lawsuit has been filed concerning real estate, involving either the title to the property or a claimed ownership interest in it. The notice is usually filed in the county land records office. Recording a lis pendens against a piece of property alerts a potential purchaser or lender that the property’s title is in question, which makes the property less attractive to a buyer or lender. After the notice is filed, anyone who nevertheless purchases the land or property described in the notice takes subject to the ultimate decision of the lawsuit.

Literary property

n. the writings of an author which entitles him/her to the use of the work, including publication, and sale or license for a profit to others who will then have the right to publish it. Literary property includes books, articles, poetry, movie scripts, computer programs and any writing which lends itself to publication or use. A close question can arise when a professional writer sends letters to others: are they literary property? Probably not if they were intended to be just personal communications. J. D. Salinger, author of The Catcher in the Rye, thought otherwise and sued to prevent use of his letters sent to another writer. The case was compromised and settled. To protect any literary work and profits from it, the writer should mark it as copyrighted.

Litigant

n. any party to a lawsuit. This means plaintiff, defendant, petitioner, respondent, cross-complainant and cross-defendant, but not a witness or attorney.

Litigation

The process of bringing and pursuing (litigating) a lawsuit.

Litigious

adj. referring to a person who constantly brings or prolongs legal actions, particularly when the legal maneuvers are unnecessary or unfounded. Such persons often enjoy legal battles, controversy, the courtroom, the spotlight, use the courts to punish enemies, seek profit, and pursue minor matters which do not deserve judicial attention. Some of these people are called “professional plaintiffs.”

Living will

A legal document in which you state your wishes about certain kinds of medical treatments and life-prolonging procedures. The document takes effect if you can’t communicate your own health care decisions. A living will may also be called a health care directive, advance directive, declaration or directive to physicians.

Llicense

1) n. governmental permission to perform a particular act (like getting married), conduct a particular business or occupation, operate machinery or vehicles after proving ability to do so safely or use property for a certain purpose. 2) n. the certificate that proves one has been granted authority to do something under governmental license. 3) n. a private grant of right to use real property for a particular purpose, such as putting on a concert. 4) n. a private grant of the right to use some intellectual property such as a patent or musical composition. 5) v. to grant permission by governmental authority or private agreement.

Loan broker

A person who specializes in matching home buyers with appropriate mortgage lenders. For a fee–often paid by the lender–a loan broker provides any easy and effective way to find the cheapest mortgage rates.

Loan consolidation

The combining of a number of loans into a single new loan. Consolidation typically extends your repayment period and lowers your monthly payments, thereby greatly increasing the amount of interest you pay over the life of your loan.

Locus

Latin for “place,” it means “place which” this or that occurred.

Loiter

v. to linger or hang around in a public place or business where one has no particular or legal purpose. In many states, cities and towns there are statutes or ordinances against loitering by which the police can arrest someone who refuses to “move along.” There is a question as to whether such laws are constitutional. However, there is often another criminal statute or ordinance which can be applied specifically to control aggressive begging, soliciting prostitution, drug dealing, blocking entries to stores, public drunkenness or being a public nuisance.

Long cause

n. a lawsuit in which it is estimated that a trial will take more than one day. In many courts the so-called “short cause” cases will be scheduled more quickly than long cause cases, since “short cause” cases are easier to fit into busy court calendars. If a trial estimated as a “short cause” turns out to take longer than one day, the judge may declare a mistrial and force the parties to try the case over again from scratch at a later date as a “long cause.”

Long-arm statute

n. law which gives a local state court jurisdiction over an out-of-state company or individual whose actions caused damage locally or to a local resident. The legal test is whether the out-of-state defendant has contacts within the state which are “sufficiently substantial.” An accident or injury within the state usually shows such a substantial contact. This is particularly important when a driver from one state is sued in another state for damages caused by his/her negligence there. It also can be employed if a product shipped from out-of-state fails, explodes or causes damage to a local person who sues in the state where he/she resides. The long-arm statute allows him/her to get local court jurisdiction over the defendant.

Loss

n. 1) the value placed on injury or damages due to an accident caused by another’s negligence, a breach of contract or other wrongdoing. The amount of monetary damages can be determined in a lawsuit. 2) when expenses are greater than profits, the difference between the amount of money spent and the income.

Loss damage waiver (LDW)

Rental car insurance that makes the rental car company responsible for damage to or theft of a rental car. This insurance is a major consumer ripoff, as it often duplicates coverage provided by the renter’s regular car insurance and/or the credit card she uses to rent the car. Nevertheless, hard-sell practices by rental car agents often dupe people into buying LDWs they don’t really need. LDW is also called “collision damage waiver.”

Loss of bargain

n. the inability to complete a sale or other business deal, caused by another’s breach of contract, intentional interference with one’s business, negligence or some other wrongdoing. The amount of monetary damages resulting from this loss can be determined in a lawsuit.

Loss of consortium

n. the inability of one’s spouse to have normal marital relations, which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Such loss arises as a claim for damages when a spouse has been injured and cannot participate in sexual relations for a period of time or permanently due to the injury, or suffers from mental distress, due to a defendant’s wrongdoing, which interferes with usual sexual activity. Thus, the uninjured spouse can join in the injured mate’s lawsuit on a claim of loss of consortium, the value of which is speculative, but can be awarded if the jury (or judge sitting as trier of fact) is sufficiently impressed by the deprivation.

Loss of use

n. the inability to use an automobile, premises or some equipment due to damage to the vehicle, premises or articles caused by the negligence or other wrongdoing of another. Examples: compensation for each day a car is out of commission during repairs or for the period of non-occupancy while a burned building is restored. A common standard of compensation (payment) is rental value of the automobile or premises, but the period of loss must be “reasonable,” meaning the damages will be limited to a period in which a person would normally and promptly proceed to have the vehicle repaired or arrange reconstruction of the building or premises.

Lower court

n. 1) any court of lesser rank, such as municipal or justice court below a superior or county court, a superior or county court below an appeals court, or a federal District Court of Appeals below the U.S. Supreme Court. 2) a reference in an appeal to the trial court which originally heard the case. Typical language in an appeals decision: “In the lower court, the judge ruled Defendant had no basis for….”

Lving trust

A trust you can set up during your life. Living trusts are an excellent way to avoid the cost and hassle of probate because the property you transfer into the trust during your life passes directly to the trust beneficiaries after you die, without court involvement. The successor trustee–the person you appoint to handle the trust after your death–simply transfers ownership to the beneficiaries you named in the trust. Living trusts are also called “inter vivos trusts.”

Magistrate

n. 1) a generic term for any judge of a court, or anyone officially performing a judge’s functions. 2) in a few states, an officer of the court at the lowest level who hears small claims lawsuits, serves as a judge for charges of minor crimes and/or conducts preliminary hearings in criminal cases to determine if there is enough evidence presented by the prosecution to hold the accused for trial. 3) in federal courts, an official who conducts routine hearings assigned by the federal judges, including preliminary hearings in criminal cases.

Magna Carta

Latin for “Great Charter,” it was a document delineating a series of laws establishing the rights of English barons and major landowners and limiting the absolute authority of the King of England. It became the basis for the rights of English citizens. It was signed reluctantly by King John on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, at a table set up in a field under a canopy surrounded by the armed gentry. The Magna Carta was confirmed by John’s son, Henry III, and in turn by Henry’s son, Edward I. As John Cowell would write four centuries later: “although this charter consists of not above thirty seven Charters or Lawes yet it is of such extent, as all the Law wee have, is thought in some form to depend on it.” Essentially a document for the nobility, it became the basis of individual rights as a part of the English Constitution, which is generally more custom than written documents. Charter to which subscribed King John of England on June 12, 1215 in which a basic set of limits were set on the King’s powers.

Mail or Telephone Order Rule

A Federal Trade Commission rule that requires a seller to ship goods ordered by mail, phone, computer or fax to you within the time promised or, if no time was stated, within 30 days. If the seller cannot ship within that period, the seller must send you a notice with a new shipping date and give you the option of canceling your order and getting a refund.

Maim

v. to inflict a serious bodily injury, including mutilation or any harm which limits the victim’s ability to function physically. Originally, in English common law it meant to cut off or permanently cripple a body part like an arm, leg, hand or foot. In criminal law, such serious harm becomes an “aggravated” assault, which is a felony subject to a prison term.

Maintenance

Refers to the obligation of one person to contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of living of another person.

Majority

1) More than half of something, such as the votes cast in an election. 2) The age at which a person can exercise the legal rights of an adult, such as entering into contracts or voting.

Make

v. 1) to create something. 2) to sign a check, promissory note, bill of exchange or some other note which guarantees, promises or orders payment of money.

Make one whole

v. to pay or award damages sufficient to put the party who was damaged back into the position he/she would have been in without the fault of another.

Maker

n. 1) the person who signs a check or promissory note, which makes him/her responsible for payment. 2) a person who endorses a check or note over to another person before it is delivered, making the endorser obligated to pay until it is delivered.

Malfeasance

Doing something that is illegal. This term is often used when a professional or public official commits an illegal act that interferes with the performance of his or her duties. For example, an elected official who accepts a bribe in exchange for political favors has committed malfeasance.

Malice

n. a conscious, intentional wrongdoing either of a civil wrong like libel (false written statement about another) or a criminal act like assault or murder, with the intention of doing harm to the victim. This intention includes ill-will, hatred or total disregard for the other’s well-being. Often the mean nature of the act itself implies malice, without the party saying “I did it because I was mad at him, and I hated him,” which would be express malice. Malice is an element in first degree murder. In a lawsuit for defamation (libel and slander) the existence of malice may increase the judgment to include general damages. Proof of malice is absolutely necessary for a “public figure” to win a lawsuit for defamation.

Malice aforethought

n. 1) the conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before a person commits the crime. Such malice is a required element to prove first degree murder. 2) a general evil and depraved state of mind in which the person is unconcerned for the lives of others. Thus, if a person uses a gun to hold up a bank and an innocent bystander is killed in a shoot-out with police, there is malice aforethought.

Malicious prosecution

n. filing a lawsuit with the intention of creating problems for the defendant such as costs, attorneys’ fees, anguish, or distraction when there is no substantial basis for the suit. If the defendant in the lawsuit wins and has evidence that the suit was filed out of spite and without any legal or factual foundation, he/she may, in turn, sue for damages against the person who filed the original action. If malice is clearly proved against the party who brought the original suit, punitive damages may be awarded along with special and general damages. In recent cases, courts have ruled that an attorney who knowingly assists a client in filing a worthless lawsuit out of malice or spite may be liable for damages along with the client. The suit by the victim to recover damages for a malicious prosecution cannot be filed until the original lawsuit is decided in favor of the victim.

Malpractice

The delivery of substandard care or services by a lawyer, doctor, dentist, accountant or other professional. Generally, malpractice occurs when a professional fails to provide the quality of care that should reasonably be expected in the circumstances, with the result that her patient or client is harmed. In the area of legal malpractice, you need to prove two things to show that you were harmed: first, that your lawyer screwed up; and second, that if the lawyer had handled the work properly, you would have won your original case.

Malum in se

Latin referring to an act that is “wrong in itself,” in its very nature being illegal because it violates the natural, moral or public principles of a civilized society. In criminal law it is one of the collection of crimes which are traditional and not just created by statute, which are “malum prohibitum.”

Malum prohibitum

Latin meaning “wrong due to being prohibited,” which refers to crimes made so by statute, compared to crimes based on English common law and obvious violations of society’s standards which are defined as malum in se. Statutory crimes include criminal violations of regulatory acts, “white collar crimes” such as improper use of insider information, issuance of stocks without a permit which are intentionally not supported by real assets and tax avoidance.

Mandamus

Latin for “we command.” A writ of mandamus is a court order that requires another court, government official, public body, corporation or individual to perform a certain act. For example, after a hearing, a court might issue a writ of mandamus forcing a public school to admit certain students on the grounds that the school illegally discriminated against them when it denied them admission. A writ of mandamus is the opposite of an order to cease and desist, or stop doing something. Also called a “writ of mandate.”

Mandate

n. 1) any mandatory order or requirement under statute, regulation, or by a public agency. 2) order of an appeals court to a lower court (usually the original trial court in the case) to comply with an appeals court’s ruling, such as holding a new trial, dismissing the case or releasing a prisoner whose conviction has been overturned. 3) same as the writ of mandamus, which orders a public official or public body to comply with the law.

Mandatory

Required, compulsory or obligatory.

Mandatory joinder

n. the required inclusion of a party in a lawsuit whom the court finds is absolutely necessary to a resolution of all issues in the case.

Manifest

1) adj., adv. completely obvious or evident. 2) n. a written list of goods in a shipment.

Manslaughter

n. the unlawful killing of another person without premeditation or so-called “malice aforethought” (an evil intent prior to the killing). It is distinguished from murder (which brings greater penalties) by lack of any prior intention to kill anyone or create a deadly situation. There are two levels of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter includes killing in heat of passion or while committing a felony. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a death is caused by a violation of a non-felony, such as reckless driving (called “vehicular manslaughter”).

Marital deduction

A deduction allowed by the federal estate tax laws for all property passed to a surviving spouse who is a U.S. citizen. This deduction (which really functions as an exemption) allows anyone, even a billionaire, to pass his or her entire estate to a surviving spouse without any tax at all.

Marital property

Most of the property accumulated by spouses during a marriage, called community property in some states. States differ as to exactly what is included in marital property; some states include all property and earnings dring the marriage, while others exclude gifts and inheritances.

Marital rights

n. an old-fashioned expression for the rights of a husband (not rights of a wife) to sexual relations with his wife and to control her operation of the household.

Maritime law

n. Also called “admiralty law” or “the law of admiralty,” the laws and regulations, includ-ing international agreements and treaties, which exclusively govern activities at sea or in any navigable waters. In the United States, federal courts have jurisdiction over maritime law.

Mark

n. an “X” made by a person who is illiterate or too weak to sign his/her full name, used in the expression “His Mark,” or “Her Mark.” On the rare occasion that this occurs, the “X” should be within or next to a notation such as “Theresa Testator, her mark.” If the mark is intended as a signature to a will it should be formally witnessed (as signatures are) to make the will valid.

Marked for identification

adj. documents or objects presented during a trial before there has been testimony which confirms their authenticity and/or relevancy. Each item is given an exhibit identification letter or number and thus is marked for identification. The marked exhibits are actually introduced into evidence (made part of the official record) upon request of the lawyer offering the evidence and approval by the judge or by stipulation of both attorneys. Occasionally an exhibit marked for identification is rejected as evidence due to the judge agreeing (sustaining) with an opposing lawyer’s objection such as for lack of relevancy or failure to show it is genuine or best evidence.

Market value

n. the price which a seller of property would receive in an open market by negotiation, as distinguished from a “distress” price on a forced or foreclosure sale, or from an auction. Market value of real property is normally determined by a professional appraiser who makes comparisons to similar property sales in the area, which are often called “comparables.”

Marketable title

n. the title to real property which has no encumbrances (mortgage, deed of trust, lien or claim) and which is free of any reasonable objection (excluding minor mistakes in the description or typographical errors). A court will enforce a contract to buy and sell real estate if there is marketable title.

Marriage

The legal union of two people. Once a couple is married, their rights and responsibilities toward one another concerning property and support are defined by the laws of the state in which they live. A marriage can only be terminated by a court granting a divorce or annulment.

Marriage certificate

A document that provides proof of a marriage, typically issued to the newlyweds a few weeks after they file for the certificate in a county office. Most states require both spouses, the person who officiated the marriage and one or two witnesses to sign the marriage certificate; often this is done just after the ceremony.

Marriage license

A document that authorizes a couple to get married, usually available from the county clerk’s office in the state where the marriage will take place. Couples pay a small fee for a marriage license, and must often wait a few days before it is issued. In addition, a few states require a short waiting period–usually not more than a day–between the time the license is issued and the time the marriage may take place. And some states still require blood tests for couples before they will issue a marriage license, though most no longer do.

Marshal

1) n. a federal court official who may serve papers and act as a law enforcement officer in keeping order in court, protecting federal officials, making arrests or participating in court-ordered police activities. Each district court has a federal marshal and a corps of deputies. 2) n. in several states, a law enforcement officer, similar to a sheriff or constable, who serves official documents and occasionally assists in police matters. 3) v. to collect the assets of the estate of a person who has died. This is a function of an executor or administrator of an estate. Sometimes the executor or administrator may ask the court to allow the sale or division of gifts in order to achieve the distribution the testator (writer of a will) desired. This is part of the marshaling process. 4) v. in bankruptcy, to establish priorities among creditors.

Martial law

n. a system of complete control by a country’s military over all activities, including civilian, in a theoretical or actual war zone, or during a period of emergency caused by a disaster such as an earthquake or flood, with the military commander having dictatorial powers. In the United States martial law must be ordered by the President as commander-in-chief and must be limited to the duration of the warfare or emergency. It cannot result in a long-term denial of constitutional rights, such as habeas corpus, the right to a trial, and to free press. Martial law was ordered in contested areas during the Civil War (but the Supreme Court ruled President Abraham Lincoln’s suspension of the writ of habeas corpus was unconstitutional), and during the San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906 when the city was in ruins, tens of thousands were homeless, and looting and disease posed great dangers to the public. Misuse of martial law, such as destruction of the veterans’ encampment in Washington, D.C. under President Herbert Hoover, has proved unpopular in the United States. In many foreign countries martial law has become a method to establish and maintain dictatorships either by military leaders or politicians backed by the military. Martial law is not to be confused with “military law,” which governs the conduct of the military services and applies only to service men and women.

Massachusetts Trust

n. a business in which the investors give management authority to a trustee and receive “trust certificates” representing their investments. Since they own only the certificates and do not participate in management, the investors can only lose their investment and are not personally liable for any debts of the trust. This is similar to a “limited partnership.” A Massachusetts Trust is strictly a business entity and bears no relationship to a personal trust like living and testamentary trusts set up to manage and protect the assets of individuals and provide for eventual distribution.

Master

n. 1) employer, in the area of law known as “master and servant,” which more properly should be called employer and employee. 2) a person, supposedly with special expertise, appointed by a judge to investigate a problem (such as whether a parent’s home is appropriate for child visitation) and report back to the judge his/her findings and recommendations.

Master and servant

n. the body of law, including statutes and legal decisions which are precedents, which relates to the relationship of an employer and employee.

Material

adj. relevant and significant. In a lawsuit, “material evidence” is distinguished from totally irrelevant or of such minor importance that the court will either ignore it, rule it immaterial if objected to, or not allow lengthy testimony upon such a matter. A “material breach” of a contract is a valid excuse by the other party not to perform. However, an insignificant divergence from the terms of the contract is not a material breach.

Material representation

n. a convincing statement made to induce someone to enter into a contract to which the person would not have agreed without that assertion. Thus, if the material representation proves not to be true or to be misleading, the contract can be rescinded or cancelled without liability.

Material witness

n. a person who apparently has information about the subject matter of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which is significant enough to affect the outcome of the case or trial. Thus, the court must make every reasonable effort to allow such a witness to testify, including a continuance (delay in a trial) to accommodate him/her if late or temporarily unavailable.

Matter of record

n. anything, including testimony, evidence, rulings and sometimes arguments, which has been recorded by the court reporter or court clerk. It is an expression often heard in trials and legal arguments that “such and such is a matter of record” as distinguished from actions outside the court or discussions not written down or taped.

Maturity

n. 1) the date when the payment of the principal amount owed under the terms of a promissory note or bill of exchange becomes due. Quite often a note states that failure to pay interest or installment payments when due “accelerates” the note, making the “maturity date” immediate if such payments are demanded and not paid. 2) the age when one becomes an adult, which is 18 for most purposes.

Maxims

n. a collection of legal truisms which are used as “rules of thumb” by both judges and lawyers. They are listed in the codified statutes of most states, and include: “When the reason of a rule ceases, so should the rule itself.” “He who consents to an act is not wronged by it.” “No one can take advantage of his own wrong.” “No one should suffer by the act of another.” “He who takes the benefit must bear the burden.” “For every wrong there is a remedy.” “Between rights otherwise equal, the earliest is preferred.” “No man is responsible for that which no man can control.” “The law helps the vigilant, before those who sleep on their rights.” “The law respects form less than substance.” “The law never requires impossibilities.” “The law neither does nor requires idle acts.” “The law disregards trifles.” “Particular expressions qualify those which are general.” “That is certain which can be made certain.” “Time does not confirm a void act.” “An interpretation which gives effect is preferred to one which makes void.” “Interpretation must be reasonable.” “Things happen according to the ordinary course of nature and the ordinary habits of life.”

May

v. a choice to act or not, or a promise of a possibility, as distinguished from “shall,” which makes it imperative. 2) in statutes, and sometimes in contracts, the word “may” must be read in context to determine if it means an act is optional or mandatory, for it may be an imperative. The same careful analysis must be made of the word “shall.” Non-lawyers tend to see the word “may” and think they have a choice or are excused from complying with some statutory provision or regulation.

Mayhem

1) n. the criminal act of disabling, disfiguring or cutting off or making useless one of the members (leg, arm, hand, foot, eye) of another either intentionally or in a fight, called maiming. The serious nature of the injury makes mayhem a felony, which is called “aggravated assault” in most states. 2) v. to commit mayhem is to cause gross harm in an uncontrolled fashion.

Means test

A formula that uses predefined income and expense categories to determine whether a debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income for his or her state.

Mechanic’s lien

A legal claim placed on real estate by someone who is owed money for labor, services or supplies contributed to the property for the purpose of improving it. Typical lien claimants are general contractors, subcontractors and suppliers of building materials. A mechanics’ lien claimant can sue to have the real estate sold at auction and recover the debt from the proceeds. Because property with a lien on it cannot be easily sold until the lien is satisfied (paid off), owners have a great incentive to pay their bills.

Median family income

An annual income figure for which there are as many families with incomes below that level as there are above that level. The Census Bureau publishes median family income figures for each state and for different family sizes. A debtor whose current monthly income is higher than the median family income in his or her state must pass the means test and must commit all disposable income to a five-year repayment plan.

Mediation

A dispute resolution method designed to help warring parties resolve their own dispute without going to court. In mediation, a neutral third party (the mediator) meets with the opposing sides to help them find a mutually satisfactory solution. Unlike a judge in her courtroom or an arbitrator conducting a binding arbitration, the mediator has no power to impose a solution. No formal rules of evidence or procedure control mediation; the mediator and the parties usually agree on their own informal ways to proceed.

Mediator

n. a person who conducts mediation. A mediator is usually a lawyer or retired judge but can be a non-attorney specialist in the subject matter (like child custody) who tries to bring people and their disputes to early resolution through a conference. The mediator is an active participant in the discussions and attempts to work out a solution, unlike an arbitrator, who sits as a judge.

Medicaid

A program established by the federal government and administered by the states to help pay medical costs for financially needy people. Need is defined by the program of the state in which the applicant resides. Medicaid operates in addition to Medicare to help pay for some of the medical costs that Medicare does not cover.

Medicare

A federal government program that assists older and some disabled people in paying their medical costs. The program is divided into two parts. Part A is called hospital insurance and covers most of the costs of a stay in the hospital, as well as some follow-up costs after time in the hospital. Part B, medical insurance, pays some of the cost of doctors and outpatient medical care.

Meet and confer

n. a requirement of courts that before certain types of motions and/or petitions will be heard by the judge, the lawyers (and sometimes their clients) must “meet and confer” to try to resolve the matter or at least determine the points of conflict. This has the beneficial effect of resolving many matters, reducing the time for arguments and making the lawyers and clients face up to the realities of their positions. On the other hand, it also can be a total waste of time for the parties and their attorneys. The meet and confer rule is particularly common (and useful) in domestic relations disputes over temporary support, custody, visitation and such issues which are freighted with emotion.

Meeting of creditors

A meeting held with the bankruptcy trustee about a month after you file for bankruptcy. You must attend. The trustee reviews your bankruptcy papers and asks a few questions. the meeting of creditors lasts a few minutes and rarely do any creditors show up. One or two creditors may attend, especially if they disagree with some provision of your repayment plan.

Meeting of the minds

n. when two parties to an agreement (contract) both have the same understanding of the terms of the agreement. Such mutual comprehension is essential to a valid contract. It is provable by the express provisions of a written contract, without reference to any statements or hidden thoughts outside the writing. There would not be a meeting of the minds if Bill Buyer said, “I’ll buy all your stock,” and he meant shares in a corporation, and Sam Seller said, “I’ll sell all my stock to you,” and meant his cattle.

Memorandum

1) An informal written document. A memorandum may be used in any number of circumstances, but most lawyers are best acquainted with the interoffice memorandum–a document prepared by a junior associate in a law office or a judge’s law clerk outlining the facts, procedural elements and legal arguments involved in a particular legal matter. These memos are reviewed by senior lawyers and judges who use them to decide how to proceed with the case. 2) Any written record, including a letter or note, that proves that a contract exists between two parties. This type of memo may be enough to validate an oral (spoken) contract that would otherwise be unenforceable because of the statute of frauds. (Under the statute of frauds, an oral contract is invalid if it can’t be completed within one year from the date the contract is made.)

Memorandum decision

A single, very brief paragraph setting out a court’s decision in a case. A memorandum decision does not usually include the court’s reasons for reaching its result; those details may appear later in a comprehensive written opinion.

Mens rea

Latin. The mental component of criminal liability. To be guilty of most crimes, a defendant must have committed the criminal act (the actus reus) in a certain mental state (the mens rea). The mens rea of robbery, for example, is the intent to permanently deprive the owner of his property.

Mental anguish

n. mental suffering which includes fright, feelings of distress, anxiety, depression, grief and/or psychosomatic physical symptoms. It is distinguished from physical pain due to an injury, but it may be considered in awarding damages for physical injury due to a defendant’s negligence or intentional infliction of harm. Where there is no physical injury, damages can still be awarded for mental anguish if it is reasonable to presume such would naturally flow from the incident. Examples: holding a pistol to one’s head, any threat of bodily harm when it appears it could be carried out, swinging with a scythe even though the assailant missed, or witnessing injury or death to a loved one. There are also situations in which the obvious result of the alleged wrongdoing would be mental distress due to embarrassment or damage to one’s reputation through libel, and therefore damages can be awarded to the distressed party. However, there are limits: in general, breach of contract judgments cannot include damages for mental anguish due to the loss of a deal or employment. But then there is the case of the shop which failed to deliver the bridal gown in time for the wedding-mental anguish flows naturally (along with the bride’s tears) from such a breach.

Mental cruelty

n. a term, rapidly going out of fashion and out of the statutes, which has been used to justify granting a divorce when the state laws required that some wrong had to be found in the defending spouse. In absence of actual physical cruelty (or unwillingness to discuss it) the person wanting the divorce could testify to a list of indignities (“he swore at me, he came home late, he humiliated me in front of friends, he was hateful to my mother, he read girlie magazines,” or similar tales told about the wife) which would be verified by a relative or a friend to satisfy the judge that the petitioning spouse would suffer mental harm if the marriage continued and proved that there were grounds for a divorce. As “no-fault” divorce has gained favor, such charades have faded into legal history.

Mental suffering

n. emotional pain synonymous with “mental anguish.”

Mercantile law

n. that broad area of the law (also called commercial law), statutes, cases and customs which deal with trade, sales, buying, selling, transportation, contracts and all forms of business transactions.

Merchantable

adj. a product of a high enough quality to make it fit for sale. To be merchantable an article for sale must be usable for the purpose it is made. It must be of average worth (not necessarily special) in the marketplace and must not be broken, unworkable, damaged, contaminated or flawed.

Merger

n. 1) in corporate law, the joining together of two corporations in which one corporation transfers all of its assets to the other, which continues to exist. In effect one corporation “swallows” the other, but the shareholders of the swallowed company receive shares of the surviving corporation. A merger is distinguished from a “consolidation,” in which both companies join together to create a new corporation. 2) in real property law, when an owner of an interest in property acquires a greater or lesser interest in the same property, the two interests become one. Examples: a person with a life estate is given the title to the property by inheritance, the life estate is merged with the titled interest. 3) another important form of merger occurs when a person acquires two parcels of land which were once a single lot that had been divided into two lots by a “lot split” granted by the city or county. If the minimum lot size has been increased by changes in local ordinances and the two lots are now sub-standard size, the buyer who acquires title in the two lots may find that they are “merged” into one lot and he or she has lost the right to build a house on each lot. To avoid this problem, the buyer should make sure title in each lot is obtained under a different name, i.e. husband taking one, and wife the other.

Mesne

adj. from Norman French for intermediate, the middle point between two extremes. It is seldom used, except in reference to “mesne profits.”

Mesne profits

n. profits which have accrued while there was a dispute over land ownership. If it is determined the party using the land did not have legal ownership, the true owner can sue for some or all of the profits made in the interim by the illegal tenant, which are thus called “mesne profits.”

Metes and bounds

n. a surveyor’s description of a parcel of real property, using carefully measured distances, angles and directions, which results in what is called a “legal description” of the land, as distinguished from merely a street address or parcel number. Such a metes and bounds description is required to be recorded in official county records on a subdivision map and in the deeds when the boundaries of a parcel or lot are first drawn.

Military law

n. regulations governing the conduct of men and women in the armed services in relation to their military (not civilian) activities.

Mineral rights

An ownership interest in the minerals contained in a particular parcel of land, with or without ownership of the surface of the land. The owner of mineral rights is usually entitled to either take the minerals from the land himself or receive a royalty from the party that actually extracts the minerals.

Minimum contacts

A requirement that must be satisfied before a defendant can be sued in a particular state. In order for the suit to go forward in the chosen state, the defendant must have some connections with that state. For example, advertising or having business offices within a state may provide minimum contacts between a company and the state.

Mining claim

n. a description by boundaries of real property in which metal ore and/or minerals may be located. A claim on public land must be filed with the Bureau of Land Management or other federal agency, and the claim must be “worked” by being mined or prepared for mining within a specific period of time.

Ministerial act

n. an act, particularly of a governmental employee, which is performed according to statutes, legal authority, established procedures or instructions from a superior, without exercising any individual judgment.

Minor

In most states, any person under 18 years of age. All minors must be under the care of a competent adult (parent or guardian) unless they are “emancipated”–in the military, married or living independently with court permission. Property left to a minor must be handled by an adult until the minor becomes an adult under the laws of the state where he or she lives.

Minority

n. 1) in voting, a side with less than half the votes. 2) a term for people in a predominantly Caucasian country who are not Caucasian, such as the United States where Caucasians comprise the majority and the minorities include African Americans, Hispanics, Asians, indigenous Americans (Indians) and other so-called “people of color.” This ironic term is used despite the fact that the majority of the world’s population is not Caucasian. Sometimes the term is employed to include women and homosexuals. “Minority” carries with it a certain patronizing tone even when used to assert rights of peoples who have been discriminated against, either socially or by law. 3) the period of life under legal age.

Minutes

n. 1) the written record of meetings, particularly of boards of directors and/or shareholders of corporations, kept by the secretary of the corporation or organization. 2) the record of courtroom proceedings, such as the start and recess of hearings and trials, names of attorneys, witnesses and rulings of the court, kept by the clerk of the court or the judge. Such court minutes are not a transcript of everything that is said, which is taken down by the court reporter if recorded at all.

Miranda warning

A warning that the police must give to a suspect before conducting an interrogation, including the right to remain silent, the right to have an attorney present, the right to a court appointed attorney, and the fact that any statements made by the suspect can be used against him in court.

Mirror wills

n. the wills of a husband and wife which are identical except that each leaves the same gifts to the other, and each names the other as executor.

Misadventure

n. a death due to unintentional accident without any violation of law or criminal negligence. Thus, there is no crime.

Misappropriation

n. the intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one’s own use or other unauthorized purpose, particularly by a public official, a trustee of a trust, an executor or administrator of a dead person’s estate or by any person with a responsibility to care for and protect another’s assets (a fiduciary duty). It is a felony (a crime punishable by a prison sentence).

Misdemeanor

A crime, less serious than a felony, punishable by no more than one year in jail. Petty theft (of articles worth less than a certain amount), first-time drunk driving and leaving the scene of an accident are all common misdemeanors.

Misfeasance

Performing a legal action in an improper way. This term is frequently used when a professional or public official does his job in a way that is not technically illegal, but is nevertheless mistaken or wrong. Here are some examples of misfeasance in a professional context: a lawyer who is mistaken about a deadline and files an important legal document too late, an accountant who makes unintentional errors on a client’s tax return or a doctor who writes a prescription and accidentally includes the wrong dosage.

Misjoinder

n. the inclusion of parties (plaintiffs or defendants) or causes of action (legal claims) in a single lawsuit contrary to statute. Reasons for a court ruling that there is misjoinder include: a) the parties do not have the same rights to a judgment; b) they have conflicting interests; c) the situations in each claim (cause of action) are different or contradictory; or d) the defendants are not involved (even slightly) in the same transaction. In a criminal prosecution the most common cause for misjoinder is that the defendants were involved in different alleged crimes, or the charges are based on different transactions.

Misnomer

n. the wrong name.

Misprision of a felony

n. the crime of concealing another’s felony (serious crime) from law enforcement officers.

Misrepresentation

A lie by one spouse before marriage that provides grounds for an annulment. For example, if a spouse failed to mention that he was still married or was incapable of having children, he has misrepresented himself.

Mistake

n. 1) an error in comprehending facts, meaning of words or the law, which causes one party or both parties to enter into a contract without understanding the obligations or results. Such a mistake can entitle one party or both parties to a rescission (cancellation) of the contract. A mistaken understanding of the law (as distinguished from facts) by one party only is usually no basis for rescission since “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” 2) an error discovered to be incorrect at a later time.

Mistrial

A trial that ends prematurely and without a judgment, due either to a mistake that jeopardizes a party’s right to a fair trial or to a jury that can’t agree on a verdict (a hung jury) If a judge declares a mistrial in a civil case, he or she will direct that the case be set for a new trial at a future date. Mistrials in criminal cases can result in a retrial, a plea bargain or a dismissal of the charges.

Misunderstanding

A mistake by both spouses in a marriage that can serve as grounds for an annulment. For example, if one spouse went into the marriage wanting children while the other did not, they have a misunderstanding that will be judged serious enough for a court to terminate the marriage.

Mitigation of damages

n. the requirement that someone injured by another’s negligence or breach of contract must take reasonable steps to reduce the damages, injury or cost, and to prevent them from getting worse. Thus, a person claiming to have been injured by another motorist should seek medical help and not let the problem worsen. If a tenant moves out before a lease has expired, a landlord must make reasonable attempts to re-let the property and take in some rents (which are credited against the amount remainder of the lease) to mitigate his/her loss.

Modification

n. a change in an existing court order or judgment made necessary by a change in circumstances since the order or judgment was made or to cure an error. A motion (petition) to the court for modification is common after divorce judgments because the courts “retain jurisdiction” over matters concerning the children which may need changes such as terms of child support and custody.

Modus operandi

Latin, a criminal investigation term for “way of operating,” which may prove the accused has a pattern of repeating the same criminal acts using the same method. Examples: a repeat offender always wore a blue ski mask and used a sawed-off shotgun, climbed up trellises to burglarize, pretended to be a telephone repairman to gain entrance or set up phoney companies to disguise a fraudulent scheme.

Moiety

n. half. Generally a reference to interest in real property, moiety is seldom used today.

Monopoly

n. a business or inter-related group of businesses which controls so much of the production or sale of a product or kind of product as to control the market, including prices and distribution. Business practices, combinations and/or acquisitions which tend to create a monopoly may violate various federal statutes which regulate or prohibit business trusts and monopolies or prohibit restraint of trade. However, limited monopolies granted by a manufacturer to a wholesaler in a particular area are usually legal, since they are like “licenses.” Public utilities such as electric, gas and water companies may also hold a monopoly in a particular geographic area since it is the only practical way to provide the public service, and they are regulated by state public utility commissions.

Month-to-month tenancy

A rental agreement that provides for a one-month tenancy that is automatically renewed each month unless either tenant or landlord gives the other the proper amount of written notice (usually 30 days) to terminate the agreement. Some landlords prefer to use month-to-month tenancies because it gives them the right to raise the rent after giving proper notice. This type of rental also provides a landlord with an easy way to get rid of troublesome tenants, because in most states month-to-month tenancies can be terminated for any reason.

Monument

n. 1) an established landmark which a surveyor uses as part of a legal description of real property. 2) a building or other structure of historic importance, which may be recognized formally and marked by federal, state or local agencies, and therefore may not be torn down or substantially altered.

Moot

adj. 1) unsettled, open to argument or debatable, specifically about a legal question which has not been determined by any decision of any court. 2) an issue only of academic interest.

Moot court

n. law school exercise in which students argue both sides of an appeal from a fictitious lawsuit in a mock court. There are also moot court contests between teams from different law schools.

Moot point

n. 1) a legal question which no court has decided, so it is still debatable or unsettled. 2) an issue only of academic interest.

Moral certainty

n. in a criminal trial, the reasonable belief (but falling short of absolute certainty) of the trier of the fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) that the evidence shows the defendant is guilty. Moral certainty is another way of saying “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Since there is no exact measure of certainty it is always somewhat subjective and based on “reasonable” opinions of judge and/or jury.

Moral rights

In copyright law, rights guaranteed authors by the Berne Convention that are considered personal to the author and that cannot therefore be bought, sold or transferred. Moral rights include the right to proclaim authorship of a work, disclaim authorship of a work and object to any modification or use of the work that would be injurious to the author’s reputation. Moral rights are not recognized as such by U.S. Copyright law. The U.S. Copyright Office and the courts take the position that U.S. laws adequately protect artists under individual statutes. For example, Section 106 of the Copyright Act provides that the creator of a work of visual art can control whether her name is on the art and object if the integrity of the work is threatened, two items that fall under the traditional moral rights doctrine. It can be argued, however, that U.S. laws do not entirely protect authors from violations of moral rights. For instance, colorization of films is not addressed by U.S. law, nor is the removal or alteration of certain murals.

Moral turpitude

n. gross violation of standards of moral conduct, vileness. An act involving moral turpitude is considered intentionally evil, making the act a crime. The existence of moral turpitude can bring a more severe criminal charge or penalty for a criminal defendant.

Moratorium

n. 1) any suspension of activity, particularly voluntary suspension of collections of debts by a private enterprise or by government or pursuant to court order. 2) in bankruptcy, a halt to the right to collect a debt. In times of economic crisis or a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, there may be a moratorium on foreclosures or mortgage payments until the public can get back to normal activities and earnings.

Mortality charge

A monthly deduction from a universal life insurance policy that increases as the policyholder ages.

Mortgage

A loan in which the borrower puts up the title to real estate as security (collateral) for a loan. If the borrower doesn’t pay back the debt on time, the lender can foreclose on the real estate and have it sold to pay off the loan. A document in which the owner pledges his/her/its title to real property to a lender as security for a loan described in a promissory note. Mortgage is an old English term derived from two French words “mort” and “gage” meaning “dead pledge.” To be enforceable the mortgage must be signed by the owner (borrower), acknowledged before a notary public, and recorded with the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds. If the owner (mortgagor) fails to make payments on the promissory note (becomes delinquent) then the lender (mortgagee) can foreclose on the mortgage to force a sale of the real property to obtain payment from the proceeds, or obtain the property itself at a sheriff’s sale upon foreclosure. However, catching up on delinquent payments and paying costs of foreclosure (“curing the default”) can save the property. In some states the property can be redeemed by such payment even after foreclosure. Upon payment in full the mortgagee (lender) is required to execute a “satisfaction of mortgage” (sometimes called a “discharge of mortgage”) and record it to clear the title to the property. A purchase-money mortgage is one given by a purchaser to a seller of real property as partial payment. A mortgagor may sell the property either “subject to a mortgage” in which the property is still security and the seller is still liable for payment, or the buyer “assumes the mortgage” and becomes personally responsible for payment of the loan. Under English common law a mortgage was an actual transfer of title to the lender, with the borrower having the right to occupy the property while it was in effect, but non-payment ended the right of occupation. Today only Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Rhode Island and Vermont cling to the common law, and other states using mortgages treat them as liens on the property. More significantly, 14 states use a “deed of trust” (or “trust deed”) as a mortgage. These states include: California, Illinois, Texas, Virginia, Colorado, Georgia, Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, North Carolina and West Virginia. Under the deed of trust system title is technically given to a trustee to hold for the lender, who is called a beneficiary.

Mortgagee

n. the person or business making a loan that is secured by the real property of the person (mortgagor) who owes him/her/it money.

Mortgagor

n. the person who has borrowed money and pledged his/her real property as security for the money provided by the lender (mortgagee).

Motion

During a lawsuit, a request to the judge for a decision–called an order or ruling–to resolve procedural or other issues that come up during litigation. For example, after receiving hundreds of irrelevant interrogatories, a party might file a motion asking that the other side be ordered to stop engaging in unduly burdensome discovery. A motion can be made before, during or after trial. Typically, one party submits a written motion to the court, at which point the other party has the opportunity to file a written response. The court then often schedules a hearing at which each side delivers a short oral argument. The court then approves or denies the motion. Most motions cannot be appealed until the case is over.

Motion for a new trial

n. a request made by the loser for the case to be tried again on the basis that there were significant legal errors in the way the trial was conducted and/or the jury or the judge sitting without a jury obviously came to an incorrect result. This motion must be made within a few days after the judgment is formally entered and is usually heard by the same judge who presided at the trial. Such a motion is seldom granted (particularly if the judge heard the case without a jury) unless there is some very clear error which any judge would recognize. Some lawyers feel the motion helps add to the record of argument leading to an appeal of the case to an appeals court.

Motion for a summary judgment

n. a written request for a judgment in the moving party’s favor before a lawsuit goes to trial and based on testimony recorded outside court, affidavits (declarations under penalty of perjury), depositions, admissions of fact and/or answers to written interrogatories, claiming that all factual and legal issues can be decided in the moving party’s favor. These alleged facts are accompanied by a written legal brief (points and authorities) in support of the motion. The opposing party needs to show by affidavits, written declarations or points and authorities (written legal argument in support of the motion) that there are “triable issues of fact” and/or of law by points and authorities. If there are any triable issues the motion must be denied and the case can go to trial. Sometimes, if there are several claims (causes of action) such a motion may cause the judge to find (decide) that some causes of action can be decided under the motion, leaving fewer matters actually to be tried. The paper- work on both sides is complex, burdensome and in many states, based on strict procedures.

Motion for dismissal

n. application by a defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution asking the judge to rule that the plaintiff (the party who filed the lawsuit) or the prosecution has not and cannot prove its case. Attorneys most often make this motion after the plaintiff or prosecutor has presented all the evidence they have, but they can make it at the end of the evidence presentation but before judgment or upon evidence being presented that proves to the judge that the defendant cannot lose. Quite often this is an oral motion, and arguments are made in the judge’s chambers where the jury cannot hear. It is also sometimes called a motion for nonsuit.

Motion in limine

Latin. A request submitted to the court before trial in an attempt to exclude evidence from the proceedings. A motion in limine is usually made by a party when simply the mention of the evidence would prejudice the jury against that party, even if the judge later instructed the jury to disregard the evidence. For example, if a defendant in a criminal trial were questioned and confessed to the crime without having been read his Miranda rights, his lawyer would file a motion in limine to keep evidence of the confession out of the trial.

Motion to strike

n. a request for a judge’s order to eliminate all or a portion of the legal pleading (complaint, answer) of the opposition on any one of several grounds. It is often used in an attempt to have an entire cause of action removed (“stricken”) from the court record. A motion to strike is also made orally during trial to ask the judge to order “stricken” answers by a witness in violation of rules of evidence (laws covering what is admissible in trial). Even though the jury is admonished to ignore such an answer or some comment, the jury has heard it, and “a bell once rung, cannot be unrung.”

Motion to suppress

n. a motion (usually on behalf of a criminal defendant) to disallow certain evidence in an upcoming trial. Example: a confession which the defendant alleges was signed while he was drunk or without the reading of his Miranda rights. Since the motion is made at the threshold of the trial, it is a motion in limine, which is Latin for “at the threshold.”

Motive

n. in criminal investigation the probable reason a person committed a crime, such as jealousy, greed, revenge or part of a theft. While evidence of a motive may be admissible at trial, proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime.

Movant

n. the party in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who makes a motion (application for a court order or judgment).

Move

v. to make a motion in court applying for a court order or judgment.

Multifarious

adj., adv. reference to a lawsuit in which either party or various causes of action (claims based on different legal theories) are improperly joined together in the same suit. This is more commonly called misjoinder.

Multiple listing service (MLS)

A computer-based service that provides real estate professionals with detailed listings of most homes currently on the market. Much of the information can now be obtained by the public through websites like www.realtor.com.

Multiplicity of suits

n. several actual or potential lawsuits which should be joined together in one suit and one trial. It is a basic principle of law that multiplicity is to be avoided when possible, practical and fair. Example: several suits are filed by different people against the same person or entity, based on the same set of facts and the same legal issues. On motion of either party or by the judge’s own determination, the judge can order the cases consolidated.

Municipal

adj. referring to an incorporated or chartered city or town.

Municipal court

n. a lower court which usually tries criminal misdemeanors and civil lawsuits involving lesser amounts of money than superior, district or county courts. The authority, importance and geographical area covered differ from state to state. In California, municipal courts have county-wide jurisdiction, try misdemeanor criminal cases, conduct preliminary hearings of felonies and try cases up to $25,000, while in many states they only handle cases arising out of violations of city ordinances, traffic and/or small claims.

Muniment of title

n. documentary evidence of title to real property. A muniment could be a deed, a decree of distribution proving inheritance, or a contract of sale.

Murder

n. the killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority. In those clear circumstances, this is first degree murder. By statute, many states consider a killing in which there is torture, movement of the person before the killing (kidnapping) or the death of a police officer or prison guard, or it was as an incident to another crime (as during a hold-up or rape), to be first degree murder, with or without premeditation and with malice presumed. Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others (such as firing a gun into a crowd or bashing someone with any deadly weapon). Depending on the circumstances and state laws, murder in the first or second degree may be chargeable to a person who did not actually kill, but was involved in a crime with a partner who actually did the killing or someone died as the result of the crime. Example: In a liquor store stick-up in which the clerk shoots back at the hold-up man and kills a bystander, the armed robber can be convicted of at least second degree murder. A charge of murder requires that the victim must die within a year of the attack. Death of an unborn child who is “quick” (fetus is moving) can be murder, provided there was premeditation, malice and no legal authority. Thus, abortion is not murder under the law.

Mutual

adj., adv. referring to anything in which both parties have reciprocal rights, understanding or agreement.

Mutual wills

n. wills made by two people (usually spouses, but could be “partners”) in which each gives his/her estate to the other, or with dispositions they both agree upon. A later change by either is not invalid unless it can be proved that there was a contract in which each makes the will in the consideration for the other person making the will.

Naked option

An opportunity to buy stock at a fixed price, offered by a seller who does not own the stock to back up the promise. If the buyer wants to exercise the option, the seller must purchase the stock at market price to make good on the offer.

National Labor Relations Board

n. an independent regulatory commission created in 1935 by the National Labor Relations Act (Wagner Act), with five members appointed by the President subject to confirmation by the Senate. The NLRB is intended to protect employees’ rights to unionize, prevent abuses by employers or unions, and oversee union and organizing elections.

Natural law

n. 1) standards of conduct derived from traditional moral principles (first mentioned by Roman jurists in the first century A.D.) and/or God’s law and will. The biblical ten commandments, such as “thou shall not kill,” are often included in those principles. Natural law assumes that all people believe in the same Judeo-Christian God and thus share an understanding of natural law premises. 2) the body of laws derived from nature and reason, embodied in the Declaration of Independence assertion that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 3) the opposite of “positive law,” which is created by mankind through the state.

Natural person

n. a real human being, as distinguished from a corporation, which is often treated at law as a fictitious person.

Naturalization

The process by which a foreign person becomes a citizen.

Necessary

adj., adv. 1) essential. 2) less forcefully, it can mean convenient, useful or making good sense.

Necessary inference

n. 1) a conclusion militated by reason and logic applied to known facts. 2) unavoidable meaning.

Necessary party

n. a person or entity whose interests will be affected by the outcome of a lawsuit, whose absence as a party in the suit prevents a judgment on all issues, but who cannot be joined in the lawsuit because that would deny jurisdiction to the particular court (such as shifting jurisdiction from a state to federal court). In this rare technical situation, a necessary party who is not in the suit differs from an “indispensable party,” who must be joined if the lawsuit is to proceed, and from a “proper party,” who could be joined but is not essential.

Negative declaration

n. a finding by a city council or other local government that a proposed development or project would have no effect on the environment and therefore the developer need not prepare and file an “environmental impact report.”

Negative pregnant

A denial of wrongdoing in which a person actually admits more than she denies. For example, if a defendant who is accused of embezzling $2 million in 1996 denies that she embezzled $2 million during that year, the denial is pregnant with the possibility that she might have embezzled a different sum of money during a different time period.

Negligence

n. failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. Negligence is accidental as distinguished from “intentional torts” (assault or trespass, for example) or from crimes, but a crime can also constitute negligence, such as reckless driving. Negligence can result in all types of accidents causing physical and/or property damage, but can also include business errors and miscalculations, such as a sloppy land survey. In making a claim for damages based on an allegation of another’s negligence, the injured party (plaintiff) must prove: a) that the party alleged to be negligent had a duty to the injured party-specifically to the one injured or to the general public, b) that the defendant’s action (or failure to act) was negligent-not what a reasonably prudent person would have done, c) that the damages were caused (“proximately caused”) by the negligence. An added factor in the formula for determining negligence is whether the damages were “reasonably foreseeable” at the time of the alleged carelessness. If the injury is caused by something owned or controlled by the supposedly negligent party, but how the accident actually occurred is not known (like a ton of bricks falls from a construction job), negligence can be found based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor (Latin for “the thing speaks for itself”). Furthermore, in six states (Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland) and the District of Columbia, an injured party will be denied any judgment (payment) if found to have been guilty of even slight “contributory negligence” in the accident. This archaic and unfair rule has been replaced by “comparative negligence” in the other 44 states, in which the negligence of the claimant is balanced with the percentage of blame placed on the other party or parties (“joint tortfeasors”) causing the accident. In automobile accident cases in 16 states the head of the household is held liable for damages caused by any member of the family using the car under what is called the “family purpose” doctrine. Nine states (California, New York, Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Minnesota, Nevada, Rhode Island) make the owner of the vehicle responsible for all damages caused by a driver given permission to use the car, whether or not the negligent driver has assets or insurance to pay a judgment. Eight states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia) allow the owner to rebut a presumption that the driver was authorized to use the car. Negligence is one of the greatest sources of litigation (along with contract and business disputes) in the United States. Not only are people responsible for the intentional harm they cause, but their failure to act as a reasonable person would be expected to act in similar circumstances (i.e. negligence) will also give rise to compensation.

Negligence per se

n. negligence due to the violation of a public duty, such as high speed driving.

Negligent

adj., adv. careless in not fulfilling responsibility.

Negociate

To communicate on a matter of disagreement between two parties, with a view to first listen to the other party’s perspective and to then attempt to arrive at a resolution by consensus.

Negotiable instrument

A written document that represents an unconditional promise to pay a specified amount of money upon the demand of its owner. Examples include checks and promissory notes. Negotiable instruments can be transferred from one person to another, as when you write “pay to the order of” on the back of a check and turn it over to someone else.

Negotiation

n. 1) the transfer of a check, promissory note, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument to another for money, goods, services or other benefit. 2) give-and-take discussion or conference in an attempt to reach an agreement or settle a dispute.

Net

n., adj. the amount of money or value remaining after all costs, losses, taxes, depreciation of value and other expenses and deductions have been paid and/or subtracted. Thus the term is used in net profit, net income, net loss, net worth or net estate.

Net earnings

Earnings that remain after an employer subtracts mandatory deductions (such as income tax, union dues and Social Security contributions) from an employee’s gross income.

Net estate

The value of all property owned at death less liabilities or debts.

Net lease

A commercial real estate lease in which the tenant regularly pays not only for the space (as he does with a gross lease) but for a portion of the landlord’s operating costs as well. When all three of the usual costs–taxes, maintenance and insurance–are passed on, the arrangement is known as a “triple net lease.” Because these costs are variable and almost never decrease, a net lease favors the landlord. Accordingly, it may be possible for a tenant to bargain for a net lease with caps or ceilings, which limits the amount of rent the tenant must pay. For example, a net lease with caps may specify that an increase in taxes beyond a certain point (or any new taxes) will be paid by the landlord. The same kind of protection can be designed to cover increased insurance premiums and maintenance expenses.

New matter

n. newly claimed facts or legal issues raised (brought up) by a defendant (the party being sued) to defend himself/herself/itself beyond just denying the allegations in the complaint filed by the person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff). Such new matters are called “affirmative defenses.”

Next friend

A person, usually a relative, who appears in court on behalf of a minor or incompetent plaintiff, but who is not a party to the lawsuit. For example, children are often represented in court by their parents as “next friends.”

Next of kin

The closest relatives, as defined by state law, of a deceased person. Most states recognize the spouse and the nearest blood relatives as next of kin.

Nihil

Latin for nothing.

Nil

n. from Latin nihil, nothing or zero.

Nisi prius

Latin for “unless first,” in some jurisdictions it means the original trial court which heard a case as distinguished from a court of appeals, as in court nisi prius. “Court of original jurisdiction” is often substituted for the term nisi prius.

No contest

n. in criminal law, a defendant’s plea in court that he/she will not contest the charge of a particular crime, also called nolo contendere. While technically not an admission of guilt for commission of the crime, the judge will treat a plea of “no contest” as such an admission and proceed to find the defendant guilty as charged. A “no contest” plea is often made in cases in which there is also a possible lawsuit for damages by a person injured by the criminal conduct (such as reckless driving, assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault), because it cannot be used in the civil lawsuit as an admission of fault. “No contest” is also used where there has been a “plea bargain” in which the defendant does not want to say he/she is guilty but accepts the sentence recommended by the prosecutor in exchange for not contesting the charge (which is often reduced to a lesser crime). It is standard practice for the judge to ask either the attorneys or the defendant, “Is there a factual basis for the plea?” before accepting it and finding the defendant guilty.

No-fault divorce

Any divorce in which the spouse who wants to split up does not have to accuse the other of wrongdoing, but can simply state that the couple no longer gets along. Until no-fault divorce arrived in the 1970s, the only way a person could get a divorce was to prove that the other spouse was at fault for the marriage not working. No-fault divorces are usually granted for reasons such as incompatibility, irreconcilable differences, or irretrievable or irremediable breakdown of the marriage. Also, some states allow incurable insanity as a basis for a no-fault divorce.

No-fault insurance

Car insurance laws that require the insurance companies of each person in an accident to pay for medical bills and lost wages of their insured, up to a certain amount, regardless of who was at fault. The effect of no-fault insurance laws is to eliminate lawsuits in small accidents. The advantage is the prompt payment of medical bills and expenses. The downsides are that the amounts paid by no-fault policies are often not enough to fully cover a person’s losses and that no-fault does not compensate for pain and suffering.

No-par stock

n. shares in a corporation which are issued without a price per share stated on the stock certificate.

Nolle prosequi

Latin for “we shall no longer prosecute.” At trial, this is an entry made on the record by a prosecutor in a criminal case stating that he will no longer pursue the matter. An entry of nolle prosequi may be made at any time after charges are brought and before a verdict is returned or a plea entered. Essentially, it is an admission on the part of the prosecution that some aspect of its case against the defendant has fallen apart. Most of the time, prosecutors need a judge’s permission to “nol-pros” a case.

Nolo

Latin for “I choose not to.”

Nolo contendere

Latin. A plea entered by the defendant in response to being charged with a crime. If a defendant pleads nolo contendere, she neither admits nor denies that she committed the crime, but agrees to a punishment (usually a fine or jail time) as if guilty. Usually, this type of plea is entered because it can’t be used as an admission of guilt if a civil case is held after the criminal trial.

Nominal damages

n. a small amount of money awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit to show he/she was right but suffered no substantial harm.

Nominal party

n. a defendant or a plaintiff included in a lawsuit because of a technical connection with the matter in dispute, and necessary for the court to decide all issues and make a proper judgment, but with no responsibility, no fault and no right to recovery. Example: suing an escrow holder or trustee who is holding a title to real property or deposited funds but has no interest in the property, funds or the lawsuit. Thus the court can order the nominal defendant to transfer title or pay out the funds when the rights of the real parties are decided.

Nominee

n. 1) a person or entity who is requested or named to act for another, such as an agent or trustee. 2) a potential successor to another’s rights under a contract. 3) the executor proposed by a person in a will is a nominee until officially appointed by the judge after the testator (will writer) has died, and the will is submitted for probate (administration of the estate). 4) a person chosen by convention, petition or primary election to be a candidate for public office.

Non compos mentis

Latin. adj. referring to someone who is insane or not mentally competent to conduct one’s affairs.

Non sequitur

Latin for “it does not follow.” The term usually means that a conclusion does not logically follow from the facts or law, stated: “That’s a non sequitur.”

Non-conforming use

n. the existing use (residential, commercial, agricultural, light industrial, etc.) of a parcel of real property which is zoned for a more limited or other use in the city or county’s general plan. Usually such use is permitted only if the property was being so used before the adoption of the zoning ordinance which it violates.

Non-contestability clause

n. an insurance policy provision which requires the insurance company to challenge any statement in the application for the insurance within a specific time. This prevents the company from denying coverage on the basis of fraud or error in the application when a claim is made by the policyholder.

Non-contiguous

adj. referring to two or more parcels of real property which are not connected.

Non-discretionary trust

n. a trust in which the trustee is directed to invest only in specifically named securities and to diversify the investments among certain types of securities. The trustee has no discretion or personal decision-making power in the matter.

Non-feasance

n. the failure of an agent (employee) to perform a task he/she has agreed to do for his/her principal (employer), as distinguished from “misfeasance” (performing poorly) or “malfeasance” (performing illegally or wrongly).

Non-suit

n. a ruling by the judge in a lawsuit either when the plaintiff (the party who filed the suit) does not proceed to trial at the appointed time or has presented all his/her/its evidence and, in the judge’s opinion, there is no evidence which could prove the plaintiff’s case. A non-suit terminates the trial at that point and results in a dismissal of the plaintiff’s case and judgment for the defendant.

Noncompetition agreement

An agreement, generally included in an employment contract or a contract for the sale of a business, where one party agrees not to compete with the other party for a specific period of time and within a particular area. Salespeople, for example, often sign noncompetition agreements that prevent them from using the contacts gained by one employer to benefit another employer. Or a salesperson may sign what is known as a “noncompete,” agreeing not to sell within a particular area, or even work in the same type of business. In some states, such as California, courts view noncompetition agreements with disfavor and will not enforce them unless the restrictions are very narrow. In other states, courts routinely uphold them.

Nondischargeable debts

Debts that cannot be erased by filing for bankruptcy. If you file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, these debts will remain when your case is over. If you file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy, the nondischargeable debts will have to be paid in full during your plan or you will have a balance at the end of your case. Examples of nondischargeable debts include alimony and child support, most income tax debts, many student loans and debts for personal injury or death caused by drunk driving. Compare dischargeable debts.

Nondisclosure agreement

A legally binding contract in which a person or business promises to treat specific information as a trade secret and not disclose it to others without proper authorization. Nondisclosure agreements are often used when a business discloses a trade secret to another person or business for such purposes as development, marketing, evaluation or securing financial backing. Although nondisclosure agreements are usually in the form of written contracts, they may also be implied if the context of a business relationship suggests that the parties intended to make an agreement. For example, a business that conducts patent searches for inventors is expected to keep information about the invention secret, even if no written agreement is signed, because the nature of the business is to deal in confidential information.

Nonexempt property

The property you risk losing to your creditors when you file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy or when a creditor sues you and wins a judgment. Nonexempt property typically includes valuable clothing (furs) and electronic equipment, an expensive car that’s been paid off and most of the equity in your house.

Nonobviousness

A requirement for obtaining a patent. An invention is nonobvious if it would be viewed as an unexpected or surprising development by someone skilled in the technology of the particular field. For example, Babe Ruth III invents an electronic device that can signal whether a pitch is a ball or a strike. Babe’s patent application is rejected on the ground that similar technology has been developed for television commentators and that Babe’s invention extending these prior art developments to the game itself is obvious (in patent-speak, it “lacks nonobviousness”) and is therefore not patentable.

Nonprobate

The distribution of a deceased person’s property by any means other than probate. Many types of property pass free of probate, including property left to a surviving spouse and property left outside of a will through probate-avoidance methods such as pay-on-death designations, joint tenancy ownership, living trusts and life insurance. Property that avoids probate is sometimes described as the “nonprobate estate.” Nonprobate distribution may also occur if the deceased person leaves an invalid will. In that case, property will pass according to the particular state’s laws of intestate succession.

Nonprofit corporation

A legal structure authorized by state law allowing people to come together to either benefit members of an organization (a club, or mutual benefit society) or for some public purpose (such as a hospital, environmental organization or literary society). Nonprofit corporations, despite the name, can make a profit, but the business cannot be designed primarily for profit-making purposes, and the profits must be used for the benefit of the organization or purpose the corporation was created to help. When a nonprofit corporation dissolves, any remaining assets must be distributed to another nonprofit, not to board members. As with for-profit corporations, directors of nonprofit corporations are normally shielded from personal liability for the organization’s debts.

Nonrefundable ticket

An airline ticket for which you cannot get your money back if you decide not to travel. Each airline has its own policies and exceptions regarding nonrefundable tickets. For example, many airlines will allow you to apply the amount of an unused ticket towards a later flight, subject to a fee.

Nontransferable ticket

An airline ticket that can be used only by the passenger whose name appears on the ticket. All airlines require passengers to show ID when they check in, and an airline can confiscate a ticket if the names on the ID and on the ticket don’t match.

Not guilty

n. 1) plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he/she is accused, made in court when arraigned (first brought before a judge) or at a later time set by the court. The choices of what one can plea are: guilty, not guilty, no contest, not guilty by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial. 2) verdict after trial by a judge sitting without a jury or by a jury (unanimous decision in all but two states, which allow a verdict by only 10 of 12 jurors), stating that the prosecution has not proved the defendant guilty of a crime or that it believes the accused person was insane at the time the crime was committed. The accused cannot be tried again for the crime charged.

Not guilty by reason of insanity

n. plea in court of a person charged with a crime who admits the criminal act, but whose attorney claims he/she was so mentally disturbed at the time of the crime that he/she lacked the capacity to have intended to commit a crime. Such a plea requires that the court set a trial on the issue of insanity alone either by a judge sitting without a jury or by a jury. A finding of insanity will result in a verdict of “not guilty,” but, if the condition still exists, it may result in incarceration in a mental facility for the criminally insane or confinement in a mental hospital. If the insanity no longer exists (temporary insanity), the judge has the option to require some psychological therapy, but the treatment varies from state to state. This is not the same as insane at time of trial and thus incompetent to stand trial, which will postpone trial (in all likelihood forever) pending recovery while the defendant is confined to a mental facility.

Notarize

Certification by a notary public to establish the authenticity of a signature on a legal document. Many legal documents, such as deeds and powers of attorney, are commonly notarized.

Notary public

A licensed public officer who administers oaths, certifies documents and performs other specified functions. A notary public’s signature and seal is required to authenticate the signatures on many legal documents.

Note

n. a promissory note, a written statement of debt by one or more people to one or more people, with a statement of a specific amount owed or due, date it is due, interest (if any) on the amount, and other terms such as installments, penalty for late payment, full amount due if delinquent, how secured (as by real property), and attorneys’ fees and costs if required to collect on the note.

Notice

n. 1) information, usually in writing in all legal proceedings, of all documents filed, decisions, requests, motions, petitions, and upcoming dates. Notice is a vital principle of fairness and due process in legal procedure and must be given to both parties, to all those affected by a lawsuit or legal proceeding, to the opposing attorney and to the court. In short, neither a party nor the court can operate in secret, make private overtures or conceal actions. Notice of a lawsuit or petition for a court order begins with personal service on the defendants (delivery of notice to the person) of the complaint or petition, together with a summons or order to appear (or file an answer) in court. Thereafter, if a party is represented by an attorney, notice can usually be given to the attorney by mail. If there is a so-called ex parte hearing (an emergency session with a judge with only the requesting party or his/her attorney present) the party wanting the hearing must make a diligent attempt to give notice to the other party. A court may allow “constructive” notice by publication in an approved legal newspaper of a summons in a lawsuit. Examples: in a divorce action, publication gives constructive notice to a spouse known to have left the state or hiding to avoid service; in a quiet title action, notice by publication is given to alert unknown descendants of a dead person who may have had an interest in the real property which is the subject of a lawsuit. Recordation of deeds, mortgages, deeds of trust, easements, leases and other documents affecting real property title give “constructive” notice to the general public, and thus “constructive” notice to anyone interested in the property, without delivering notice to individuals. 2) a writing informing a party to a contract, promissory note, lease, rental agreement or other legal relationship of a delinquency in payment, default, intent to foreclose, notice to pay rent or quit (leave) or other notice required by the agreement, mortgage, deed of trust or statute. 3) information. 4) being informed of a fact, or should have known based on the circumstances, as “he had notice that the roof was not water-tight.”

Notice of default

n. a notice to a borrower with property as security under a mortgage or deed of trust that he/she is delinquent in payments. If the delinquency (money owed and late), plus costs of preparing the legal papers for the default, are not paid within a certain time, foreclosure proceedings may be commenced. Other people with funds secured by the same property are usually entitled to receive copies of the notice of default.

Notice to quit

n. the notice given by a landlord (owner) to a tenant to leave the premises (quit) either by a certain date (usually 30 days) or to pay overdue rent or correct some other default (having pets, having caused damage, too many roommates, using the property for illegal purposes, etc.) within a short time (usually three days). A notice to quit must contain certain information, such as: names of the persons to leave, whether their tenancy is by written or oral agreement, an amount of any financial delinquency and the period it covers, and to whom they should surrender the premises. If the tenant is month-to-month, a notice to quit without reference to default usually requires no reason. Although state laws vary, generally the notice must be served personally on the tenant or posted in a prominent place like the front door with a copy sent by certified mail. Such notice and failure of the tenant to quit (leave) is a requirement to bring a lawsuit for unlawful detainer (often referred to as “eviction”).

Notorious possession

n. occupation of real property or holding personal property in a way which anyone can observe is as if the person is the owner.

Novation

The substitution of a new contract for an old one. A novation may change one of the parties to the contract or the duties that must be performed by the original parties.

Novelty

A requirement for obtaining a patent. To be novel, an invention must be physically different in some way from all previous inventions.

Noxious

adj. harmful to health, often referring to nuisances.

Nugatory

adj. of no force or effect; invalid. Example: a statute which is unconstitutional is a nugatory law.

Nuisance

Something that interferes with the use of property by being irritating, offensive, obstructive or dangerous. Nuisances include a wide range of conditions, everything from a chemical plant’s noxious odors to a neighbor’s dog barking. The former would be a “public nuisance,” one affecting many people, while the other would be a “private nuisance,” limited to making your life difficult, unless the dog was bothering others. Lawsuits may be brought to abate (remove or reduce) a nuisance.

Nuisance fees

Money charged by some credit card companies to increase their profits when you fail to use the card the way the creditor wants. Examples include late payment fees, inactivity fees and fees for not carrying a balance from month to month. It’s best to shop around and get rid of cards that have these fees attached.

Nulla bona

Latin for “no goods.” This is what the sheriff writes when she can find no property to seize in order to pay off a court judgment.

Nullity

n. something which may be treated as nothing, as if it did not exist or never happened. This can occur by court ruling or enactment of a statute. The most common example is a nullity of a marriage by a court judgment.

Nunc pro tunc

Latin for “now for then,” this refers to changing back to an earlier date of an order, judgment or filing of a document. Such a retroactive re-dating requires a court order which can be obtained by a showing that the earlier date would have been legal, and there was error, accidental omission or neglect which has caused a problem or inconvenience which can be cured. Often the judge will grant the nunc pro tunc order ex parte (with only the applicant appearing and without notice).

Oath

An attestation that one will tell the truth, or a promise to fulfill a pledge, often calling upon God as a witness. The best known oath is probably the witness’ pledge “to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” during a legal proceeding. In another context, a public official usually takes an “oath of office” before assuming her position, in which she declares that she will faithfully perform her duties. A religious or solemn affirmation to tell the truth or to take a certain action.

Obiter dicta

Latin. Remarks of a judge which are not necessary to reaching a decision, but are made as comments, illustrations or thoughts. Generally, obiter dicta is simply dicta.

Object

1) v. to ask the court not to allow a particular question asked of a witness by the opposing lawyer on the basis that it is either legally not permitted, confusing in its wording or improper in its “form.” An attorney may also object to an answer to the question on the basis that it is not “responsive” since a witness is limited to answering a question as asked and is not allowed to make unsolicited comments. The trial attorney must be alert and quick in order to object before the witness answers. This is called an “objection” and must be based on a specific list of legal restrictions on questions. 2) n. a particular thing. 3) n. an aim or purpose, as “the object of the contract…”

Objection

n. a lawyer’s protest about the legal propriety of a question which has been asked of a witness by the opposing attorney, with the purpose of making the trial judge decide if the question can be asked. A proper objection must be based on one of the specific reasons for not allowing a question. These include: irrelevant, immaterial, incompetent (often stated together, which may mean the question is not about the issues in the trial or the witness is not qualified to answer), hearsay (the answer would be what someone told the witness rather than what he/she knew first-hand), leading (putting words in the mouth of one’s own witness), calls for a conclusion (asking for opinion, not facts), compound question (two or more questions asked together), or lack of foundation (referring to a document lacking testimony as to authenticity or source). An objection must be made quickly and loudly to halt the witness before he/she answers. The judge will either “sustain” the objection (ruling out the question) or “overrule” it (allow the question). The judge may ask for an “offer of proof” in which the lawyer asking the question must explain to the court the reason the question is relevant, and what evidence his/her questions will bring out. Badly worded, confusing or compound questions are usually challenged by an objection to the form of the question, which is essentially a demand that the question be withdrawn and reworded. An attorney may “object” to a witness’s answer as “non-responsive” to the question, but the proper request should be that the answer or a comment without a question be “stricken” from the record.

Obligation

n. a legal duty to pay or do something.

Obligee

n. the person or entity to whom an obligation is owed, like the one to be paid on a promissory note.

Obligor

n. the person or entity who owes an obligation to another, as one who must pay on a promissory note. A person who is contractually or legally, committed or obliged, to providing something to another person; the recipient of the benefit being called the promisor.

Obstruction of justice

n. an attempt to interfere with the administration of the courts, the judicial system or law enforcement officers, including threatening witnesses, improper conversations with jurors, hiding evidence or interfering with an arrest. Such activity is a crime.

Occupancy

n. 1) living in or using premises, as a tenant or owner. 2) taking possession of real property or a thing which has no known owner, with the intention of gaining ownership.

Occupant

n. 1) someone living in a residence or using premises, as a tenant or owner. 2) a person who takes possession of real property or a thing which has no known owner, intending to gain ownership.

Occupation

n. 1) fairly permanent trade, profession, employment, business or means of livelihood. 2) possession of real property or use of a thing.

Occupational disease

n. an illness resulting from long-term employment in a particular type of work, such as black lung disease among miners, or cancer among asbestos installers. If the chances of being afflicted by such an illness are significantly higher than the average in the population, then a former employee may receive benefits from Social Security or worker’s compensation for a work-related disability.

Occupational hazard

n. a danger or risk inherent in certain employments or workplaces, such as deep-sea diving, cutting timber, high-rise steel construction, high-voltage electrical wiring, use of pesticides, painting bridges and many factories. The risk factor may limit insurance coverage of death or injury while at work.

Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA)

The primary federal law establishing safety standards in the workplace. Generally, OSHA requires employers to provide a safe workplace by informing employees about potential hazards, training them to deal with hazards and recording workplace injuries.

Occupy the field

v. to preempt (monopolize) an area of statutory law by a higher authority, such as federal preemption of bankruptcy or interstate commerce over state legislation, and state statutes or state constitution prevailing over laws of cities and counties on certain topics.

Of counsel

adj. reference to an attorney who is not actively involved in the day-to-day work of a law firm, but may be available in particular matters or for consultation. This designation often identifies a semi-retired partner, an attorney who occasionally uses the office for a few clients or one who only consults on a particular case or on his/her specialty. Putting the name of the attorney “of counsel” on a law firm’s stationery gives the office the prestige of the lawyer’s name and reputation, without requiring his/her full-time presence.

Off calendar

adj. refers to an order of the court to take a lawsuit, petition or motion off the list of pending cases or motions which are scheduled to be heard. A case or motion will be ordered off calendar if the lawyers agree (stipulate) to drop it, if the moving party’s lawyer fails to appear, if a suit is settled pending final documentation or any number of procedural reasons for the judge to determine the case should not proceed at that time. A suit or motion can be put back “on calendar” by stipulation of the lawyers or upon motion of either party.

Offender

n. an accused defendant in a criminal case or one convicted of a crime.

Offense

n. a crime or punishable violation of law of any type or magnitude.

Offensive collateral estoppel

A doctrine that prevents a defendant from re-litigating an issue after it has been lost. For example, if your neighbor sues you for putting up a fence on his land and the court rules that your fence extends beyond your property line, you can’t later file your own lawsuit seeking a declaration that the property line is incorrectly drawn.

Offer

A proposal to enter into an agreement with another person. An offer must express the intent of the person making the offer to form a contract, must contain some essential terms–including the price and subject matter of the contract–and must be communicated by the person making the offer. A legally valid acceptance of the offer will create a binding contract.

Offer of proof

At trial, a party’s explanation to a judge as to how a proposed line of questioning, or a certain item of physical evidence, would be relevant to its case and admissible under the rules of evidence. Offers of proof arise when a party begins a line of questioning that the other side objects to as calling for irrelevant or inadmissible information. If the judge thinks that the questions might lead to proper evidence, the judge will stop the trial, ask the parties to “approach the bench,” and give the questioner a chance to show how, if allowed, the expected answers will be both relevant and admissible. This explanation is usually presented out of the jury’s hearing, but it does become part of the trial record. If the matter is later heard on appeal, the appellate court will use the record to decide whether the judge’s ruling was correct.

Offeree

n. a person or entity to whom an offer to enter into a contract is made by another (the offeror).

Offeror

n. a person or entity who makes a specific proposal to another (the offeree) to enter into a contract.

Officer

A person elected by a profit or nonprofit corporation’s board of directors, or by the manager of a limited liability company, to manage the day-to-day operations of the organization. Officers generally hold titles such as President or Treasurer. Many states and most corporate bylaws or LLC operating agreements require a corporation or LLC to have a president, secretary and treasurer. Election of a vice president may be required by state law.

Officer of the court

n. any person who has an obligation to promote justice and effective operation of the judicial system, including judges, the attorneys who appear in court, bailiffs, clerks and other personnel. As officers of the court lawyers have an absolute ethical duty to tell judges the truth, including avoiding dishonesty or evasion about reasons the attorney or his/her client is not appearing, the location of documents and other matters related to conduct of the courts.

Official

1) adj. referring to an act, document or anything sanctioned or authorized by a public official or public agency. The term can also apply to an organizational act or product which is authorized by the organization, such as an Official Boy Scout knife or emblem, an official warranty, membership card or set of rules. 2) n. a public officer or governmental employee who is empowered to exercise judgment. 3) n. an officer of a corporation or business.

Official misconduct

n. improper and/or illegal acts by a public official which violate his/her duty to follow the law and act on behalf of the public good. Often such conduct is under the guise or “color” of official authority.

Officious intermeddler

n. a volunteer who assists and/or benefits another without contractual responsibility or legal duty to do so, but nevertheless wants compensation for his/her actions. The courts generally find that the intermeddler must rely on the equally voluntary gratitude of the recipient of the alleged benefit.

Offset

1) n. also called a “setoff,” the deduction by a debtor from a claim or demand of a debt or obligation. Such an offset is based upon a counterclaim against the party making the original claim. 2) v. to counterclaim an alleged debt owed by a claimant to reduce the demand of that claimant.

Offshore corporation

n. a corporation chartered under the laws of a country other than the United States. Some countries (particularly in the Caribbean) are popular nations of incorporation since they have little corporate regulation or taxes and only moderate management fees. Professional trustees and nominal officials in the country of incorporation perform routine contacts with the local government but take no active part in management. The reasons for the use of offshore corporations are best known to the incorporators, but may include avoidance of taxes, ease of international operations, freedom from state regulation and placement of funds in accounts out of the country.

Older Workers Benefit Protection Act

A federal law that makes it illegal for an employer to use an employee’s age to discriminate in benefits or for a company to target older workers for layoffs. This law also requires employers to allow employees at least 21 days to consider waivers not to sue offered by an employer in exchange for early retirement benefits.

Omission

n. 1) failure to perform an act agreed to, where there is a duty to an individual or the public to act (including omitting to take care) or where it is required by law. Such an omission may give rise to a lawsuit in the same way as a negligent or improper act. 2) inadvertently leaving out a word, phrase or other language from a contract, deed, judgment or other document. If the parties agree that the omission was due to a mutual mistake, the document may be “reformed,” but this may require a petition for a court order making the correction if it had been relied upon by government authorities or third parties.

Omnibus clause

n. 1) an automobile insurance policy clause which provides coverage no matter who is driving the car. 2) a provision in a judgment for distribution of an estate of a deceased person, giving “all other property” to the beneficiaries named in the will.

On all fours

adj. a reference to a lawsuit in which all the legal issues are identical (or so close as to make no difference) to another case, particularly an appeals decision which is a precedent in deciding the suit before the court. Thus, an attorney will argue that the prior case of, for example, Steele v. Merritt is “on all fours” with the case before the court, and so the court must reach the same conclusion.

On demand

adj. in a promissory note, a requirement that the amount due must be paid when the person to whom the funds are owed demands payment (rather than upon a certain date or on installments). Such a note is called a “demand note.”

On file

prep. having been formally filed with the clerk of the court or the judge, such as a pleading is “on file.”

On or about

prep. a phrase referring to a date or place used in a complaint in a lawsuit or criminal charge if there is any uncertainty at all, in order to protect the person making the allegations of fact from being challenged as being inaccurate. Thus, a complaint will read “On or about July 11, 1994, Defendant drove his vehicle negligently and without due care on or about the corner of Sunset and Vine Streets….”

On or before

prep. a phrase usually found in a contract or promissory note, designating performance or payment by a particular date, but which may be done prior to that date.

On the merits

adj. referring to a judgment, decision or ruling of a court based upon the facts presented in evidence and the law applied to that evidence. A judge decides a case “on the merits” when he/she bases the decision on the fundamental issues and considers technical and procedural defenses as either inconsequential or overcome.

On the stand

prep. testifying during a trial, in which the witness almost always sits in a chair beside the judge’s bench, often raised above the floor level of the courtroom and behind a knee-high panel.

One-year rule

The rule that requires a patent application to be filed within one year of the following: any public use of the invention by the inventor, a sale of the invention, an offer to sell the invention, or any description of the invention by the inventor in a published document. Failure to file a patent application within this one-year period results in the invention’s passing into the public domain, where it is no longer eligible for a patent.

Open adoption

An adoption in which there is some degree of contact between the birthparents and the adoptive parents and sometimes with the child as well. As opposed to most adoptions in which birth and adoption records are sealed by court order, open adoptions allow the parties to decide how much contact the adoptive family and the birthparents will have.

Open court

n. the conduct of judicial proceedings (trials, hearings and routine matters such as trial settings) in which the public may be present. Some hearings and discussions are held in the judge’s chambers (“in camera”) or with the courtroom cleared of non-participants and/or the jury such as adoptions, sanity hearings, juvenile criminal charges and arguments over evidence and motions which might prejudice the jury. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution, later applied to the states under the 14th Amendment, guarantees criminal defendants a “public trial,” so all criminal proceedings are held in “open court.” This does not apply to pre-trial negotiations and procedural and motion discussions with the judge, which are usually held in chambers.

Opening statement

A statement made by an attorney or self-represented party at the beginning of a trial before evidence is introduced. The opening statement outlines the party’s legal position and previews the evidence that will be introduced later. The purpose of an opening statement is to familiarize the jury with what it will hear–and why it will hear it–not to present an argument as to why the speaker’s side should win; that comes after all evidence is presented as part of the closing argument.

Operation of law

n. a change or transfer which occurs automatically due to existing laws and not an agreement or court order. Examples: a joint tenant obtains full title to real property when the other joint tenant dies; a spouse in a community property state will take title to all community property if the spouse dies without a will that leaves some of the dead mate’s interest in the community property to another; or a guardianship of a minor ad litem (for purposes of a lawsuit) ends automatically upon the child turning 18.

Opinion

n. the explanation of a court’s judgment. When a trial court judgment is appealed to a court of appeals, the appeals judge’s opinion will be detailed, citing case precedents, analyzing the facts, the applicable law and the arguments of the attorneys for the parties. Those opinions considered by the court to be worthy of serving as a precedent or involving important legal issues will be published in the official reports available in most law libraries. Since appeals courts have anywhere from three to nine judges, there are often “dissenting opinions” which disagree with the majority opinion, and “concurring opinions” which agree with the result, but apply different emphasis, precedents or logic to reach the determination. Normally the majority opinion identifies the author, but some brief opinions are labeled “in banc” (by the bench) or “per curiam” (by the court) in which the author is not specified.

Option

n. a right to purchase property or require another to perform upon agreed-upon terms. An option is paid for as part of a contract, but must be “exercised” in order for the property to be purchased or the performance of the other party to be required. “Exercise” of an option normally requires notice and payment of the contract price. Thus, a potential buyer of a tract of land might pay $5,000 for the option which gives him/her a period of time to decide if he/she wishes to purchase, tying up the property for that period, and then pay $500,000 for the property. If the time to exercise the option expires then the option terminates. The amount paid for the option itself is not refundable since the funds bought the option whether exercised or not. Often an option is the right to renew a contract such as a lease, broadcasting a television series, the employment of an actor or athlete, or some other existing business relationship. A “lease-option” contract provides for a lease of property with the right to purchase the property during or upon expiration of the lease.

OR

n. short for “own recognizance,” meaning the judge allowed a person accused in a criminal case to go free pending trial without posting bail. A person so released is often referred to as having been “OR-ed.” A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called “personal recognizance.” Only those with strong ties to the community, such as a steady job, local family and no history of failing to appear in court, are good candidates for “OR” release. If the charge is very serious, however, OR may not be an option.

Oral contract

n. an agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract is just as valid as a written agreement. The main problem with an oral contract is proving its existence or the terms. As one wag observed: “An oral contract is as good as the paper it’s written on.” An oral contract is often provable by action taken by one or both parties which is obviously in reliance on the existence of a contract. The other significant difference between oral and written contracts is that the time to sue for breach of an oral contract (the statute of limitations) is sometimes shorter. For example, California’s limitation is two years for oral compared to four for written, Connecticut and Washington three for oral rather than six for written, and Georgia four for oral instead of 20 for written.

Order

A decision issued by a court. It can be a simple command–for example, ordering a recalcitrant witness to answer a proper question–or it can be a complicated and reasoned decision made after a hearing, directing that a party either do or refrain from some act. For example, following a hearing, the court may order that evidence gathered by the police not be introduced at trial; or a judge may issue a temporary restraining order. This term usually does not describe the final decision in a case, which most often is called a judgment.

Order to show cause

An order from a judge that directs a party to come to court and convince the judge why she shouldn’t grant an action proposed by the other side or by the judge on her own (sua sponte). For example, in a divorce, at the request of one parent a judge might issue an order directing the other parent to appear in court on a particular date and time to show cause why the first parent should not be given sole physical custody of the children. Although it would seem that the person receiving an order to show cause is at a procedural disadvantage–she, after all, is the one who is told to come up with a convincing reason why the judge shouldn’t order something–both sides normally have an equal chance to convince the judge to rule in their favor.

Ordinance

A law adopted by a town or city council, county board of supervisors or other municipal governing board. Typically, local governments issue ordinances establishing zoning and parking rules and regulating noise, garbage removal, and the operation of parks and other areas that affect people who live or do business within the locality’s borders.

Ordinary

adj. regular, customary and continuing, and not unusual or extraordinary, as in ordinary expense, ordinary handling, ordinary risks or ordinary skill.

Ordinary course of business

n. conduct of business within normal commercial customs and usages.

Original jurisdiction

n. the authority of a court to hold a trial, as distinguished from appellate jurisdiction to hear appeals from trial judgments.

Original work of authorship

Under copyright laws, any type of expression independently conceived by its creator. As long as a particular expression has been independently created, it need not be original in the sense of “new.” For example, if Thamas Dowel never heard of or read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, but somehow managed to write a play very similar to it, Dowel’s play would qualify as original, and would be protected by copyright law. Many creations qualify as works of authorship, including sheet music, movies, records, tape recordings, video disk productions, computer software, laser disk games, cartoons, designs, magazines, poems and books. The few categories that don’t qualify include titles of books, movies and songs; short phrases and slogans; printed forms; compilations of facts; and works consisting entirely of information that is public domain property–for example, lists and tables taken from public documents. Items in these categories are considered too short or too lacking in originality to qualify for copyright protection.

Orphan

n. a child, particularly a minor, whose two natural parents are dead. In some cases, such as whether a child is eligible for public financial assistance to an orphan, “orphan” can mean a child who has lost one parent.

Ostensible agent

n. a person who has been given the appearance of being an employee or acting (an agent) for another (principal), which would make anyone dealing with the ostensible agent reasonably believe he/she was an employee or agent. This could include giving the ostensible agent stationery or forms of the company, letting him/her use the company truck, telephone or desk in the company office. Businesses should be careful not to allow such situations in which an ostensible agent could bind the business on a contract or make the apparent employer responsible for damages for an accident, libel or assault by the “agent.”

Ostensible authority

n. apparent authority to do something or represent another person or entity.

Ouster

n. 1) the wrongful dispossession (putting out) of a rightful owner or tenant of real property, forcing the party pushed out of the premises to bring a lawsuit to regain possession. This often arises between partners (in a restaurant or store) or roommates, when one co-owner or co-tenant forces out the other, changes locks or makes occupancy intolerable. 2) removal of someone from a position or office against his/her expectations or will.

Out of court

adj. referring to actions, including negotiations between parties and/or their attorneys, without any direct involvement of a judge or the judicial system. Most commonly it refers to an “out-of-court settlement” in which the parties work out a settlement agreement, which they may present to the court for inclusion in a judgment approving the agreement so that the parties can request a court to enforce the settlement in case one of the parties reneges and fails to honor the terms of the settlement. Quite often a judgment approving an out-of-court settlement is held in abeyance and replaced by a dismissal if the terms are fulfilled. Some out-of-court settlements are kept confidential and the lawsuit is dismissed.

Out-of-pocket expenses

n. moneys paid directly for necessary items by a contractor, trustee, executor, administrator or any person responsible to cover expenses not detailed by agreement. They may be recoverable from a defendant in a lawsuit for breach of contract; allowable for reimbursement by trustees, executors or administrators; or deductible by a landlord from a tenant’s security deposit for damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Outbuilding

n. a structure not connected with the primary residence on a parcel of property. This may include a shed, garage, barn, cabana, pool house or cottage.

Outlaw

n. popularly, anyone who commits serious crimes and acts outside the law.

Output contract

n. an agreement in which a producer agrees to sell its entire production to the buyer, who in turn agrees to purchase the entire output, whatever that is.

Overbooking

A common practice whereby an airline, hotel or other company accepts more reservations than it has seats or rooms available, on the presumption that a certain percentage of people will not show up. Airlines have a legal right to overbook, while hotels do not. A hotel must find a room for everyone who has a reservation and shows up on time. An airline may be required to offer compensation for people involuntarily bumped from a flight, depending on several factors, including how long they must wait for another flight.

Overcharge

v. 1) to charge more than a posted or advertised price. 2) to file a criminal complaint for crimes of greater degree than the known facts support, in an effort by the prosecutor to intimidate the accused.

Overrule

v. 1) to reject an attorney’s objection to a question to a witness or admission of evidence. By overruling the objection, the trial judge allows the question or evidence in court. If the judge agrees with the objection, he/she “sustains” the objection and does not allow the question or evidence. 2) to decide (by a court of appeals) that a prior appeals decision on a legal issue was not correct and is therefore no longer a valid precedent on that legal question.

Owe

v. to have a legal duty to pay funds to another. However, to owe does not make the amount “payable” if the date for payment has not yet arrived.

Own

v. to have legal title or right to something. Mere possession is not ownership.

Own recognizance (OR)

A way the defendant can get out of jail, without paying bail, by promising to appear in court when next required to be there. Sometimes called “personal recognizance.” Only those with strong ties to the community, such as a steady job, local family and no history of failing to appear in court, are good candidates for “OR” release. If the charge is very serious, however, OR may not be an option.

Owner

n. one who has legal title or right to something. Contrary to the cynical adage: “Possession is nine-tenths of the law,” possession does not necessarily make one a legal owner.

Ownership

n. legal title coupled with exclusive legal right to possession. Co-ownership, however, means that more than one person has a legal interest in the same thing.

Paid into court

adj. referring to money deposited with the clerk of the court by a person or entity who knows that the money is owed but does not know to whom they should pay it until the outcome of a lawsuit between two other parties is decided. In short, the party handing over the money is saying: “Here is the money. You two argue over it, but spare me the trouble and cost of the suit.” Example: A contractor buys supplies from a hardware store on credit. The store is owned by two people who have dissolved their partnership and are fighting over who owns accounts receivable, including the funds owed by the contractor. The contractor knows he owes the money for his supplies, wants to meet his obligations, and wants to get rid of the debt. So the contractor gives what he thinks he owes the hardware store to the court to hold while the two former partners settle their differences.

Pain and suffering

The physical or emotional distress resulting from an injury. Though the concept is somewhat abstract, the injured plaintiff can seek compensation in the form of cold, hard cash. How much the defendant owes for pain and suffering is calculated separately from the amount owing for more direct expenses, such as medical bills or time lost from work — although sometimes these are factored in to arrive at a logical figure.

Palimony

A non-legal term coined by journalists to describe the division of property or alimony-like support given by one member of an unmarried couple to the other after they break up.

Panel

n. the list of people selected to appear for jury duty.

Par

n. 1) an equal level. 2) the face value of a stock or bond, printed on the certificate, which is the amount the original purchaser paid the issuing corporation. However, most common stocks are issued as “no-par value,” and the value reflects the current market for the stock. Preferred stocks state a par value upon which the dividends are calculated, and the par value of bonds establishes the final pay-off amount upon maturity, usually many years in the future.

Par value

The face value of a stock, assigned by a corporation at the time the stock is issued. The par value is often printed on the stock certificate, but the market value of the stock may be much more or much less than par.

Paralegal

A person who does legal work but who is not licensed to practice law or dispense legal advice. Independent paralegals (those who work directly with the public, not for lawyers) assist their customers by providing forms, helping people fill them out correctly and filing them with the proper court.

Paramount title

n. a right to real property which prevails over any other person’s claim of title.

Parcel

1) n. a defined piece of real estate, usually resulting from the division of a large area of land. It can range in size from a small lot to a gigantic ranch. 2) a package.

Pardon

1) v. to use the executive power of a Governor or President to forgive a person convicted of a crime, thus removing any remaining penalties or punishments and preventing any new prosecution of the person for the crime for which the pardon was given. A pardon strikes the conviction from the books as if it had never occurred, and the convicted person is treated as innocent. Sometimes pardons are given to an older rehabilitated person long after the sentence has been served to clear his/her record. However, a pardon can also terminate a sentence and free a prisoner when the chief executive is convinced there is doubt about the guilt or fairness of the trial, the party is rehabilitated and has performed worthy public service, or there are humanitarian rea-sons such as terminal illness. The most famous American pardon was the blanket pardon given by President Gerald Ford to ex-President Richard Nixon in the wake of the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s resignation; that pardon closed the door to any future prosecu- tion against Nixon for any crime before the pardon. A pardon is distinguished from “a commutation of sentence” which cuts short the term; “a reprieve,” which is a temporary halt to punishment, particularly the death penalty, pend- ing appeal or determination of whether the penalty should be reduced; “amnesty,” which is a blanket “forgetting” of possible criminal charges due to a change in public circumstances (such as the end of a war or the draft system); or a “reduction in sentence,” which shortens a sentence and can be granted by a judge or an executive.

Parens patriae

Latin for “father of his country,” the term for the doctrine that the government is the ultimate guardian of all people under a disability, especially children, whose care is only “entrusted” to their parents. Under this doctrine, in a divorce action or a guardianship application the court retains jurisdiction until the child is 18 years old, and a judge may change custody, child support or other rulings affecting the child’s well-being, no matter what the parents may have agreed or the court previously decided.

Parent

n. the lawful and natural father or mother of a person. The word does not mean grandparent or ancestor, but can include an adoptive parent as a replacement for a natural parent.

Parental neglect

n. a crime consisting of acts or omissions of a parent (including a stepparent, adoptive parent or someone who, in practical terms, serves in a parent’s role) which endangers the health and life of a child or fails to take steps necessary to the proper raising of a child. The neglect can include leaving a child alone when he or she needs protection; failure to provide food, clothing, medical attention or education to a child; or placing the child in dangerous or harmful circumstances, including exposing the child to a violent, abusive or sexually predatory person.

Pari delicto

Latin, equal fault.

Parish

n. 1) a geographic area served by a church (particularly Catholic) originally measured by whether people living in the area could walk to the church. 2) in Louisiana, the governmental equivalent of a county.

Parody

n. the humorous use of an existing song, play, or writing which changes the words to give farcical and ironic meaning. Parodies have been challenged as copyright infringements on the original works, particularly since some have reaped terrific profits. Recent decisions favor the parodies and say they have an originality of their own and, thus, are not infringements. There is a free speech issue involved in these decisions since parodies traditionally have social and political significance.

Parol

adj. oral.

Parol evidence rule

n. if there is evidence in writing (such as a signed contract) the terms of the contract cannot be altered by evidence of oral (parol) agreements purporting to change, explain or contradict the written document.

Parole

n. 1) the release of a convicted criminal defendant after he/she has completed part of his/her prison sentence, based on the concept that during the period of parole, the released criminal can prove he/she is rehabilitated and can “make good” in society. A parole generally has a specific period and terms such as reporting to a parole officer, not associating with other ex-convicts, and staying out of trouble. Violation of the terms may result in revocation of parole and a return to prison to complete his/her sentence. 2) a promise by a prisoner of war that if released he will not take up arms again.

Partial

adj. not complete or entire.

Partial breach

n. the failure to meet a term of a contract which is so minimal that it does not cause the contract to fail or justify breach (breaking the contract) by the other contracting party. A partial breach can be remedied (made up) by a small reduction in payment or other adjustment. Example: a landlord promises to rent an apartment furnished, and when the tenants move in some furnishings are not there. The landlord may lower the rent temporarily until he/she can bring in the missing or expected items.

Partial disability

n. the result of an injury which permanently reduces a person’s ability to function, but still permits some working or other activity. In worker’s compensation cases an injured worker is often awarded a percentage rating of permanent partial disability, which will entitle him/her to a money settlement. The percentage payoff is often based on a physician’s evaluation of what part of the person’s normal functioning is gone.

Partial verdict

n. in a criminal trial, the result when the jury finds the defendant guilty of one or more charges but not guilty (or deadlocks) on one or more other charges.

Participate

v. to invest and then receive a part or share, as in business profits, payments on a promissory note, title to land, or as one of the beneficiaries of the estate of a person who has died.

Partition

n. a lawsuit which one co-owner of real property can file to get a court order requiring the sale of the property and division of the profits, or division of the land between the co-owners, which is often a practical impossibility. Normally, a partition order provides for an appraisal of the total property, which sets the price for one of the parties to buy out the other’s half. Partition cases are common when co-owners differ on whether to sell, keep or divide the property.

Partner

n. 1) one of the co-owners and investors in a “partnership” which is an on-going business enterprise entered into for profit. A “general partner” is responsible for the debts, contracts and actions of all the partners in the business, is an equal in management decisions unless there is an agreement establishing management duties and rights, and shares in the profits and losses based on the percentage of the investment (either in money or effort) in the partnership. A “limited partner” does not share responsibility for debts beyond his/her investment, cannot share in management, and shares in profits based on a written agreement. A “silent partner” is no different from any partner except he/she is not visible to the public and has no part in day-to-day management. 2) slang for “domestic partner,” usually two people living together, either homosexual or heterosexual, sharing lives and possessions, and not married.

Partnership

When used without a qualifier such as “limited” or “limited liability,” usually refers to a legal structure called a general partnership. This is a business owned by two or more people (called partners or general partners) who are personally liable for all business debts. To form a partnership, each partner normally contributes money, valuable property or labor in exchange for a partnership share, which reflects the amount contributed. Partnerships are easy to form since no registration is required with any governmental agency to create a partnership (although tax registration and other requirements to conduct business may still apply). Although not required, it is an excellent idea to prepare a written partnership agreement between the partners to define items such as ownership percentages, how profits and losses will be divided and what happens if a partner dies or becomes disabled. Partnerships themselves do not pay federal or state income taxes; rather, profits are passed through to partners who report and pay income taxes on their personal returns. A business organization in which two or more persons carry on a business together.

Party

A person, corporation or other legal entity that files a lawsuit (the plaintiff or petitioner) or defends against one (the defendant or respondent).

Party of the first part

n. reference in a written contract to identify one of the people entering into the agreement. The agreement would read “Mary McConnell (hereinafter called The Party of the First Part).” Better practice is to identify the parties by a short form of their name (“hereinafter referred to as McConnell”) or as Buyer, Seller, Owner, Trustee or some other useful identification. Name use aids in following and understanding the contract and avoids confusion with “the party of the second part,” which identifies another party to the agreement.

Party of the second part

n. a reference to a party to a written contract, as distinguished from “the party of the first part.”

Party wall

n. a wall shared by two adjoining premises which is on the property line, such as in townhouses, condominiums, row houses or two units in a duplex. Both owners are responsible for maintaining structural integrity of the wall, even if the wall is entirely on the property of one of the parties.

Passenger

n. a rider who has paid a fare on a train, bus, airline, taxi, ship, ferry, automobile or other carrier in the business of transporting people for a fee (a common carrier). A passenger is owed a duty of care by such a carrier and has a right to sue for damages for injuries suffered while being transported without proof of negligence. One tricky issue is whether a person who has entered the depot, station or airport, but not yet purchased a ticket or has not boarded, is entitled to the rights of a passenger to recover for damages. A passenger without payment of fare who is injured must prove the driver’s negligence in a suit for damages.

Passive

adj. referring to being inactive. A “passive trustee” is one who has no responsibilities other than to hold title or wait for an event which would activate the trust. “Passive income” for tax purposes includes any income in which there is no effort or active management, and is treated differently for some purposes, such as Social Security income limitations. It may include stock dividends, trust profits, rents with no management involvement and interest on bank accounts.

Patent

A legal monopoly, granted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), for the use, manufacture and sale of an invention. Patents on useful devices, called utility patents, last for 20 years from the date the patent application was filed. Design patents last for 14 years from the date issued. And plant patents last for 17 years from the date issued.

Patent ambiguity

n. an obvious inconsistency in the language of a written document.

Patent and Trademark Office (PTO)

An administrative branch of the U.S. Department of Commerce charged with overseeing and implementing the federal laws of patent and trademark.This agency is responsible for examining and issuing all patents and trademarks in the country.

Patent claim

A statement included in a patent application that describes the structure of an invention in precise and exact terms, using a long established formal style and precise terminology. Patent claims serve as a way for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) to determine whether an invention is patentable, and as a way for a court to determine whether a patent has been infringed. In concept, a patent claim marks the boundaries of the patent in the same way as the legal description in a deed specifies the boundaries of the property.

Patent deed

The official document sent to an inventor by the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) when that office has issued a patent for the inventor’s creation.

Patent defect

n. an obvious flaw in a product or a document (such as leaving out the property description in a deed).

Patent drawing

Visual representations of an invention that are included in a patent application. Patent drawings must be included in the application unless the nature of the invention precludes such them, as would be the case with the formula for a new substance. Patent drawings should show all the features of the invention described in the application, including those features that distinguish it from prior art.

Patent infringement

n. the manufacture and/or use of an invention or improvement for which someone else owns a patent issued by the government, without obtaining permission of the owner of the patent by contract, license or waiver. The infringing party will be liable to the owner of the patent for all profits made from the use of the invention, as well as any harm which can be shown by the inventor, whether the infringement was intentional or not.

Patent pending

n. often abbreviated to “pat. pend.” or “pat. pending,” the term is printed on a product to inform others that an application for a patent has been filed with the Patent Office, but the patent has not yet been granted. The status of an invention between the time when: a utility patent application has been filed and when it is issued or rejected, or a provisional patent application has been submitted and when a subsequent patent application (filed within one year) is issued or rejected. Inventors often mark their devices “patent pending” to deter competitors from copying the idea or claim it as their own.

Patent search

A search for documents that will determine whether a particular invention was novel and nonobvious when it was invented, and hence whether it may qualify for a patent. A patent search usually begins with a database of previously issued patents, and also covers other types of documents, such as journal articles and scientific papers, that describe unpatented inventions.

Paternity suit

A lawsuit to determine the identity of the father of a child born outside of marriage, and to provide for the support of the child once the identity of the father has been determined.

Pawn

v. to pledge an item of personal property as security for a loan, with the property left with the pawnbroker. The interest rates are on the high side, the amount of the loan is well below the value of the pledged property, and the broker has the right to sell the item without further notice if the loan is not paid. Pawnbrokers are licensed by the state.

Pay

v. to deliver money owed.

Pay-on-death (POD) designation

A way to avoid probate for bank accounts, government bonds, individual retirement accounts and, in many states, securities or a car. To create a pay-on-death designation, you simply name someone on the ownership document (such as the registration card for a bank account) to inherit the property at your death. You retain complete control of your property while you are alive, and you can change the beneficiary (payee) at any time. At your death, the property is transferred directly to the beneficiary, free of probate.

Payable

1) adj. referring to a debt which is due. A debt may be owed, but not yet payable until a certain date or event. 2) n. a debt which is due. “Payables” are all the liabilities (debts) of a business.

Payable on demand

adj. a debt on a promissory note or bill of exchange which must be paid when demanded by the payee (party to whom the debt is owed).

Payee

n. the one named on a check or promissory note to receive payment.

Payment in due course

n. the giving of funds to the holder of a promissory note or bill of exchange when due, without any knowledge that the document had been acquired by fraud or that the holder did not have valid title. The true owner of the bill or note cannot also demand payment, but must look to the recipient of the funds.

Payment in full

n. the giving of all funds due to another. This language is often inserted on the back of a check above the place for endorsement to prove that the payee accepts the payment as complete.

Payor

n. the party who must make payment on a promissory note.

Peace bond

n. a bond required as part of a court order to guarantee that a person will stay away from another person he/she has threatened or bothered. The bond will be forfeit (given up) if the order is violated, but that is no consolation to a person injured, molested or murdered by the violator.

Peaceable possession

n. in real estate, holding property without any adverse claim to possession or title by another.

Peculation

n. misappropriation of public (government) funds or property.

Pecuniary

adj. relating to money, as in “pecuniary loss.”

Peer

n. an equal. A “jury of one’s peers,” to which criminal defendants are constitutionally entitled, means an impartial group of citizens from the judicial district (e.g. county) in which the defendant lives. It does not mean a jury ethnically, educationally, economically or sexually the same as the defendant, although in some jurisdictions attempts are made to meet those criteria.

Peer review

n. an examination and evaluation of the performance of a professional or technician by a board or committee made up of people in the same occupation. This may arise in determining whether a person has been legitimately discharged, denied promotion or penalized by an employer, or is found to have failed to meet minimum standards of performance and is thus liable in a lawsuit claiming damages due to negligence.

Penal

adj. referring to criminality, as in defining “penal code” (the laws specifying crimes and punishment), or “penal institution” (a state prison or penitentiary confining convicted felons).

Penalty

n. 1) in criminal law, a money fine or forfeiture of property ordered by the judge after conviction for a crime. 2) an amount agreed in advance if payment or performance is not made on time, such as a “late payment” on a promissory note or lease, or a financial penalty for each day a building contractor fails to complete a job.

Pendent jurisdiction

n. in federal procedure, the policy that allows a federal court to decide a legal question normally tried in state courts because it is based on the same facts as a lawsuit which is under federal court jurisdiction. (It also may be spelled: pendant

Pendente lite

Latin for “while the action is pending.” This phrase is used to describe matters that are contingent upon the outcome of a lawsuit. For example, money may be deposited by the defendant with the court pendente lite in order to compensate the plaintiff if the defendant loses the case. If the defendant wins, she gets her money back.

Pension

A retirement fund for employees paid for or contributed to by some employers as part of a package of compensation for the employees’ work. Pensions became widespread during the Second World War, when they were commonly used as lures because there were more jobs than workers.

Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC)

A public, nonprofit insurance fund that provides some limited coverage against bankrupt pension funds. Should a pension fund be unable to pay all its obligations to its retirees, the PBGC may pay some of the pension fund’s unfulfilled obligations. The PBGC covers only defined benefit retirement plans and only vested benefits.

Per

Latin for “by means of” or simply, “by” as in “per day” (by day) or “per capita” (by head).

Per capita

Latin for “by head,” meaning to be determined by the number of people. To find the per capita cost, the total number of persons are added up and the bill, tax or benefits are divided equally among those persons.

Per curiam

Latin for “by the court,” defining a decision of an appeals court as a whole in which no judge is identified as the specif- ic author.

Per diem

Latin for “per day,” it is short for payment of daily expenses and/or fees of an employee or an agent.

Per se

Latin for “by itself,” meaning inherently. Thus, a published writing which falsely accuses another of having a sexually transmitted disease or being a convicted felon is “libel per se,” without further explanation of the meaning of the statement.

Per stirpes

Latin for “by roots,” by representation. The term is commonly used in wills and trusts to describe the distribution when a beneficiary dies before the person whose estate is being divided. Example: “I leave $100,000 to my daughter, Eleanor, and if she shall predecease me, to her children, per stirpes.” Thus, if Eleanor dies before her parent, then the $100,000 will be divided among her children equally. A way to make this more clear is to substitute for per stirpes: “…to her children, by right of representation, share and share alike,” which is clear to the non-lawyer. If there is no provision for distribution to children of a predeceased child, then the gift will become part of the residue (what is left after specific gifts), and then the grandchildren may not share if there are surviving children of the giver.

Peremption (of suit)

Putting an end to or precluding a right of actio, debate or delay

Peremptory

adj. absolute, final and not entitled to delay or reconsideration. The term is applied to writs, juror challenges or a date set for hearing.

Peremptory challenge

During jury selection, an opportunity for a party to a lawsuit to dismiss or excuse a potential juror without having to give a valid reason, as would be the case when a juror is challenged for cause. Depending on court rules, each party typically gets to make from five to 15 peremptory challenges. Although parties may generally use their peremptory challenges as they see fit, the Constitution has been interpreted to prohibit their use to eliminate all jurors of a particular race or gender from a jury.

Peremptory writ of mandate

n. a final order of a court to any governmental body, government official or a lower court to perform an act the court finds is an official duty required by law. This is distinguished from an alternative writ of mandate (mandamus), which orders the governmental agency, court or officials to obey the order or show cause at a hearing why it should not. The usual practice is for anyone desiring such an order to file a petition for the alternative writ. If the officials do not comply with the order and fail to convince the court that the writ of mandate should be denied, then the court will issue the peremptory writ. In some emergency situations or when there is no conceivable reason for the government not to follow the law, then the peremptory writ will be issued after a notice of hearing without the alternative writ.

Perfect

1) to complete; to take all required steps to achieve a result, such as obtaining a lien or other security by legal action or completing and filing all documents to present a case to a court of appeals. A mechanic’s lien for labor and/or materials used to improve real property is “perfected” by filing a lawsuit and obtaining a judgment that the lien attaches to the property. 2) to make perfect.

Perfected

adj. having completed all necessary legal steps to achieve a result, such as perfected title to property.

Perform

v. 1) to fulfill one’s obligations under a contract. 2) to comply with requirements of a court order.

Performance

n. fulfillment of one’s obligations required by contract. Specific performance of a contract may be demanded in a lawsuit. Partial performance is short of full performance spelled out in the contract, but if the contract provided for a series of acts or deliveries with payment for each of the series, there may be partial recovery for what has been performed or delivered even if there is not full performance.

Perjurer

n. a person who intentionally lies while under an oath administered by a notary public, court clerk or other official, and thus commits the crime of perjury. A perjurer may commit perjury in oral testimony or by signing or acknowledging a written legal document (such as an affidavit, declaration under penalty of perjury, deed, license application, tax return) knowing the document contains false information.

Perjury

n. the crime of intentionally lying after being duly sworn (to tell the truth) by a notary public, court clerk or other official. This false statement may be made in testimony in court, administrative hearings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, as well as by signing or acknowledging a written legal document (such as affidavit, declaration under penalty of perjury, deed, license application, tax return) known to contain false information. Although it is a crime, prosecutions for perjury are rare, because a defendant will argue he/she merely made a mistake or misunderstood.

Permanent disability

n. an injury which impairs the physical and/or mental ability of a person to perform his/her normal work or non-occupational activities supposedly for the remainder of his/her life. Under worker’s compensation laws (covering on-the-job injuries) once the condition is stable, a degree of permanent disability is established even if the employee is able to work despite the physical problem. Permanent disability is also one basis for awarding general damages in a lawsuit for injury suffered due to the negligence or intentional attack of another.

Permanent injunction

n. a final order of a court that a person or entity refrain from certain activities permanently or take certain actions (usually to correct a nuisance) until completed. A permanent injunction is distinguished from a “preliminary” injunction which the court issues pending the outcome of a lawsuit or petition asking for the “permanent” injunction.

Permanent injury

n. physical or mental damage which will restrict the employment and/or other activities of a person for the rest of his/her life. In a lawsuit to recover damages caused by the negligence or intentional wrongful act of another, a permanent injury can be a major element in an award of general damages.

Permanent resident

A non-citizen who has been given permission to make his or her permanent home in the country. As a permanent resident, you may travel as much as you like, but your place of residence must be kept on a permanent basis.

Permissive

adj. 1) referring to any act which is allowed by court order, legal procedure, or agreement. 2) tolerant or allowing of others’ behavior, suggesting contrary to others’ standards.

Permit

1) v. to allow by silence, agreement or giving a license. 2) n. a license or other document given by an authorized public official or agency (building inspector, department of motor vehicles) to allow a person or business to perform certain acts. These can include building a structure, using a building, driving on the highway, conducting a retail business, and dozens of other activities. The purpose of permits is supposedly to guarantee that laws and regulations have been obeyed, but they also are a source of public revenue.

Perpetuity

n. forever.

Person

n. 1) a human being. 2) a corporation treated as having the rights and obligations of a person. Counties and cities can be treated as a person in the same manner as a corporation. However, corporations, counties and cities cannot have the emotions of humans such as malice, and therefore are not liable for punitive damages unless there is a statute authorizing the award of punitive damages.

Personal effects

n. things which include clothes, cosmetics and items of adornment. This is not the same as “personalty” which means all tangible property which is not real property, money or investments. The expression is often found in wills (“I leave my personal effects to my niece, Susannah”).

Personal injury

An injury not to property, but to your body, mind or emotions. For example, if you slip and fall on a banana peel in the grocery store, personal injury covers any actual physical harm (broken leg and bruises) you suffered in the fall as well as the humiliation of falling in public, but not the harm of shattering your watch.

Personal injury recovery

The amount that comes from a lawsuit or insurance settlement to compensate someone for physical and mental suffering, including injury to body, injury to reputation or both.

Personal property

All property other than land and buildings attached to land. Cars, bank accounts, wages, securities, a small business, furniture, insurance policies, jewelry, patents, pets and season baseball tickets are all examples of personal property. Personal property may also be called personal effects, movable property, goods and chattel, and personalty.

Personal service

n. delivering a summons, complaint, notice to quit tenancy or other legal document which must be served by handing it directly to the person named in the document. Personal service is distinguished from “constructive service,” which includes posting the notice and then mailing a copy or publishing a summons on a person the court has found is hiding to avoid service, and from “substituted service,” which is giving the document to someone else (another resident, a secretary or receptionist, or other responsible adult) at the address.

Personal services

n. in contract law, the talents of a person which are unusual, special or unique and cannot be performed exactly the same by another. These can include the talents of an artist, an actor, a writer or professional services. The value of personal services is greater than general labor, so woodcarving is personal service and carpentry is not. Therefore, if an actor contracts to perform in a movie and fails to show, he/she will be liable for damages based on the difficulty to replace him. An artist who contracts to paint a picture cannot send a substitute, since he/she was retained for his/her unique ability and product.

Personalty

n. movable assets (things, including animals) which are not real property, money or investments.

Petit jury

n. old-fashioned name for the jury sitting to hear a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, called “petit” (small) to distinguish it from a “grand” jury, which has other duties.

Petition

A formal written request made to a court, asking for an order or ruling on a particular matter. For example, if you want to be appointed conservator for an elderly relative, you must file a petition with a court.

Petitioner

Someone who initiates an action requesting something; for example, someone who starts a lawsuit or petitions a higher court on appeal. In immigration law, a petitioner is a resident or business who makes a formal request that a foreign national be allowed to enter the country. The foreign national is called the “beneficiary.”

Petty larceny

n. a term used in many states for theft of a small amount of money or objects of little value (such as less than $500). It is distinguished from grand larceny, which is theft of property of greater worth and a felony punishable by a term in state prison. Petty larceny is a misdemeanor with a maximum punishment of a term in the county jail. States which only use the term “larceny” often treat theft of smaller amounts as a misdemeanor in charging and sentencing.

Physical custody

The right and obligation of a parent to have his child live with him.

Physical incapacity

The inability of a spouse to engage in sexual intercourse with the other spouse. In some states, physical incapacity is a ground for an annulment or fault divorce, assuming the incapacity was not disclosed to the other spouse before the marriage.

Physician-patient privilege

n. the right and obligation of a physician to refuse to testify in a trial or other legal proceeding about any statement made to him/her by a patient on the basis that any communication between doctor and patient is confidential. A patient could sue the physician for damages if the doctor breaches the confidence by testifying. Of course, in most trials involving injuries the physician will testify with the plaintiff’s permission. Note: when the defendant’s physician examines the injured plaintiff, the plaintiff has given permission for that examination and potential testimony, so a plaintiff must be cautious in making statements.

Picketing

n. standing or parading near a business or government office usually with signs of protest or claims in labor disputes or public policy controversies (peace marches to pro- or anti-abortion advocates). Picketing is constitutionally guaranteed as free speech, but in some cases it may be limited by court order to prevent physical combat, blocking of entrances or threats to the public safety.

Piercing the veil

A judicial doctrine that allows a plaintiff to hold otherwise immune corporate officers and directors personally liable for damages caused by a corporation under their control. The veil is pierced when officers have acted intentionally and illegally, or when their actions exceeded the power given them by the company’s articles of incorporation.

Piracy

n. the crime of robbery of ships or boats on the oceans. Accusation, trial and punishment of pirates may be under international agreement applicable anywhere, or under the laws of the particular nation where the accused has been captured.

Plagiarism

Passing off someone else’s work as your own, whether word for word or merely the creative ideas. This can amount to copyright infringement if permission has not been obtained from the copyright owner for use of the expressive elements of the work. Even if permission is granted, putting your name on someone else’s work is still plagiarism and is unethical within artistic, scientific, academic and political communities.

Plain error

n. a mistake by the trial court found by a court of appeals to be very obvious and sufficient to require reversal of the trial decision.

Plain view doctrine

n. the rule that a law enforcement officer may make a search and seizure without obtaining a search warrant if evidence of criminal activity or the product of a crime can be seen without entry or search. Example: a policeman stops a motorist for a minor traffic violation and can see in the car a pistol or a marijuana plant on the back seat, giving him “reasonable cause” to enter the vehicle to make a search.

Plaintiff

The person, corporation or other legal entity that initiates a lawsuit. In certain states and for some types of lawsuits, the term petitioner is used instead of plaintiff.

Plaintiff’s attorney

n. the attorney who represents a plaintiff (the suing party) in a lawsuit. In lawyer parlance a “plaintiff’s attorney” refers to a lawyer who regularly represents persons who are suing for damages, while a lawyer who is regularly chosen by an insurance company to represent its insureds is called a “defense attorney.”

Plant patent

A patent issued for new strains of asexually reproducing plants. Plant patents last for 17 years from the date the patent issues.

Plea

The defendant’s formal answer to criminal charges. Typically defendants enter one of the following pleas: guilty, not guilty or nolo contendere. A plea is usually entered when charges are formally brought (at arraignment).

Plea bargain

A negotiation between the defense and prosecution (and sometimes the judge) that settles a criminal case. The defendant typically pleads guilty to a lesser crime (or fewer charges) than originally charged, in exchange for a guaranteed sentence that is shorter than what the defendant could face if convicted at trial. The prosecution gets the certainty of a conviction and a known sentence; the defendant avoids the risk of a higher sentence; and the judge gets to move on to other cases.

Plead

v. 1) in civil lawsuits and petitions, to file any document (pleading) including complaints, petitions, declarations, motions and memoranda of points and authorities. 2) in criminal law, to enter a plea of a defendant in response to each charge of criminal conduct.

Pleading

A statement of the plaintiff’s case or the defendant’s defense, set out in generally accepted legal language and format. Today, in many states, the need to plead a case by drafting legal jargon — or borrowing from a legal form book — and printing it on numbered legal paper has been replaced by the use of pre-printed forms. In this case, creating a proper pleading consists principally of checking the correct boxes and filling in the requested information.

Pledge

v. to deposit personal property as security for a personal loan of money. If the loan is not repaid when due, the personal property pledged shall be forfeit to the lender. The property is known as collateral. To pledge is the same as to pawn. 2) to promise to do something.

Plenary

adj. full, complete, covering all matters, usually referring to an order, hearing or trial.

Poison pill

A strategy for avoiding a hostile takeover. A company offers low-price stock to its current shareholders in order to make it more expensive for another company to buy them out.

Police court

n. in some states a type of municipal court which handles misdemeanors (minor crimes) and traffic violations, as well as conducting arraignments (first appearances) and preliminary hearings of those accused of felonies to decide if there is cause to send the defendant to a higher court for trial. Police courts only handle criminal cases-unlike those municipal courts which also have jurisdiction over some civil cases.

Political question

n. the determination by a court (particularly the Supreme Court) that an issue raised about the conduct of public business is a “political” issue to be determined by the legislature (including Congress) or the executive branch and not by the courts. Since 1960 the U.S. Supreme Court has been willing to look at some questions previously considered “political,” such as “one-man-one-vote,” as constitutional issues.

Polygraph

n. a lie detector device, from Greek for “many” (poly) “message” (graph) since numerous physiological responses are tested when questions are answered.

Positive law

n. statutory man-made law, as compared to “natural law,” which is purportedly based on universally accepted moral principles, “God’s law,” and/or derived from nature and reason.

Posse comitatus

Latin for “possible force,” the power of the sheriff to call upon any able- bodied adult men (and presumably women) in the county to assist him in apprehending a criminal. The assembled group is called a posse for short.

Possess

v. to own, have title to, occupy, physically hold or have under exclusive control. In wills there is often the phrase “of which I die possessed,” in describing the estate.

Possession

n. 1) any article, object, asset or property which one owns, occupies, holds or has under control. 2) the act of owning, occupying, holding or having under control an article, object, asset or property. “Constructive possession” involves property which is not immediately held, but which one has the right to hold and the means to get (such as a key to a storeroom or safe deposit box). “Criminal possession” is the holding of property which it is illegal to possess such as controlled narcotics, stolen goods or liquor by a juvenile. The old adage “possession is nine-tenths of the law” is a rule of force and not of law, since ownership requires the right to possess as well as actual or constructive possession.

Possession of stolen goods

n. the crime of possession of goods which one knows or which any reasonable person would realize were stolen. It is generally a felony. Innocent possession is not a crime, but the goods are generally returned to the legal owner.

Possessory interest

n. in real estate, the intent and right of a person to occupy and/or exercise control over a particular plot of land. A possessory interest is distinguished from an interest in the title to property, which may not include the right to immediately occupy the property. Example: a long-term lease.

Possibility of a reverter

n. the potential that the title to a real property interest will return to the original grantor or giver or to his/her lineal descendants. Examples of events which could cause the title to revert: A gift of property to a hospital on condition that it be used forever for health care, but if the building is no longer used for that purpose the property will revert to the family of the original grantor; the real property is given to a daughter and her children, but will revert to her brother’s descendants if her line dies out without further issue.

Post

v. 1) to place a notice on the entrance or a prominent place on real property, such as a notice to quit (leave), pay rent or of intent to conduct a sheriff’s sale, which requires mailing of a copy to the occupant to complete service of the notice. 2) to place a legal notice on a designated public place at the courthouse. 3) a commercial term for recording a payment. 4) to mail.

Post hoc

Latin phrase post hoc, ergo propter hoc, which means “after this, therefore because of this.” The phrase represents the faulty logic of assuming that one thing was caused by another merely because it followed that prior event in time.

Post mortem

Latin for “after death,” an examination of a dead body to determine cause of death, generally called an autopsy.

Postdated check

n. a check delivered now with a written date in the future, so that it cannot be cashed until that date. The danger to the recipient is that such a check is legally only a promissory note due at the later date, and if the account is closed or short when the check is presented at the bank, the payee has no rights to demand payment by the bank or claim that the delivery of a bad check was criminal.

Pot trust

A trust for children in which the trustee decides how to spend money on each child, taking money out of the trust to meet each child’s specific needs. One important advantage of a pot trust over separate trusts is that it allows the trustee to provide for one child’s unforeseen need, such as a medical emergency. But a pot trust can also make the trustee’s life difficult by requiring choices about disbursing funds to the various children. A pot trust ends when the youngest child reaches a certain age, usually 18 or 21.

Pour-over will

A will that “pours over” property into a trust when the will maker dies. Property left through the will must go through probate before it goes into the trust.

Power

n. the right, authority and ability to take some action or accomplish something, including demanding action, executing documents, contracting, taking title, transferring, exercising legal rights and many other acts.

Power of acceptance

n. the ability to accept an offer and thus create a binding contract. In real estate an acceptance can only be made for a period specified in the offer, and the power is terminated permanently by the making of a counter-offer. Thus, one cannot make a counter-offer and then decide to accept the original offer.

Power of appointment

The legal authority to decide who will receive someone else’s property, usually property held in a trust. Most trustees can distribute the income from a trust only according to the terms of the trust, but a trustee with a power of appointment can choose the beneficiaries, sometimes from a list of candidates specified by the grantor. For example, Karin creates a trust with power of appointment to benefit either the local art museum, symphony, library or park, depending on the trustee’s assessment of need.

Power of attorney

A document that gives another person legal authority to act on your behalf. If you create such a document, you are called the principal, and the person to whom you give this authority is called your attorney-in-fact. If you make a durable power of attorney, the document will continue in effect even if you become incapacitated.

Practicable

adj. when something can be done or performed.

Practice

1) n. custom or habit as shown by repeated action, as in “it is the practice in the industry to confirm orders before shipping.” 2) n. the legal business, as in “law practice,” or “the practice of the law.” 3) v. to repeat an activity in order to maintain or improve skills, as “he practices the violin every evening.” 4) v. to conduct a law business, as “she practices law in St. Louis.”

Pray

v. to formally request judicial judgment, relief and/or damages at the end of a complaint or petition.

Prayer

n. the specific request for judgment, relief and/or damages at the conclusion of a complaint or petition. A typical prayer would read: “The plaintiff prays for 1) special damages in the sum of $17,500; 2) general damages according to proof [proved in trial]; 3) reasonable attorney’s fees; 4) costs of suit; and 5) such other and further relief as the court shall deem proper.” A prayer gives the judge an idea of what is sought, and may become the basis of a judgment if the defendant defaults (fails to file an answer). Sometimes a plaintiff will inflate damages in the prayer for publicity or intimidation purposes, or because the plaintiff believes that a gigantic demand will be a better starting point in negotiations. However, the ridiculous multi-million prayers in smaller cases make plaintiffs look foolish and unrealistic.

Prayer for relief

What the plaintiff asks of the court — for example, the plaintiff may ask for an award of monetary damages, an injunction to make the defendant stop a certain activity, or both.

Precatory

adj. referring to a wish or advisory suggestion which does not have the force of a demand or a request which under the law must be obeyed. Thus “precatory words” in a will or trust would express a “hope that my daughter will keep the house in the family,” but do not absolutely prevent her from selling it.

Precedent

A legal principle or rule created by one or more decisions of a state or federal appellate court. These rules provide a point of reference or authority for judges deciding similar issues in later cases. Lower courts must apply these rules when faced with similar legal issues. For example, if the Montana Supreme Court decides that a certain type of employment contract overly restricts the right of the employee to quit and get another job, all other Montana courts must apply this same rule.

Predecease

v. to die before someone else.

Predeceased spouse

In the law of wills, a spouse who dies before the will maker while still married to him or her.

Preemption

n. the rule of law that if the federal government through Congress has enacted legislation on a subject matter it shall be controlling over state laws and/or preclude the state from enacting laws on the same subject if Congress has specifically stated it has “occupied the field.” If Congress has not clearly claimed preemption, a federal or state court may decide the issue on the basis of history of the legislation (debate in Congress) and practice.

Preemptive right

n. the right of a shareholder in a corporation to have the first opportunity to purchase a new issue of stock of that corporation in proportion to the amount of stock already owned by the shareholder.

Preference

A payment made by a debtor to a creditor within a defined period prior to filing for bankruptcy — within three months for arms-length creditors (regular commercial creditors) and within one year for insider creditors (friends, family members, and business associates). Because a preference gives the creditor who received the payment an edge over other creditors in the bankruptcy case, the trustee can recover the preference (the amount of the payment) and distribute it among all of the creditors.

Preferred dividend

n. a payment of a corporation’s profits to holders of preferred shares of stock.

Preferred stock

n. a class of shares of stock in a corporation which gives the holders priority in payment of dividends (and distribution of assets in case of dissolution of the corporation) over owners of “common” stock at a fixed rate. While the assurance of first chance at profits is a psychological and real benefit, preferred stock shareholders do not participate in higher dividends if the corporation makes large profits, and usually cannot vote for directors.

Preliminary hearing

n. in criminal law, a hearing to determine if a person charged with a felony (a serious crime punishable by a term in the state prison) should be tried for the crime charged, based on whether there is some substantial evidence that he/she committed the crime. A preliminary hearing is held in the lowest local court (municipal or police court), but only if the prosecutor has filed the charge without asking the Grand Jury for an indictment for the alleged crime. Such a hearing must be held within a few days after arraignment (presentation in court of the charges and the defendant’s right to plead guilty or not guilty). Since neither side wants to reveal its trial strategy, the prosecution normally presents only enough evidence and testimony to show the probability of guilt, and defendants often put on no evidence at all at the preliminary hearing, unless there is a strong chance of getting the charges dismissed. If the judge finds sufficient evidence to try the defendant, the case is sent to the appropriate court (variously called superior, county, district, common pleas) for trial. If there is no such convincing evidence, the judge will dismiss the charges. In the “Perry Mason” television series, the courtroom scenes were almost always of preliminary hearings.

Preliminary injunction

n. a court order made in the early stages of a lawsuit or petition which prohibits the parties from doing an act which is in dispute, thereby maintaining the status quo until there is a final judgment after trial.

Premarital agreement

An agreement made by a couple before marriage that controls certain aspects of their relationship, usually the management and ownership of property, and sometimes whether alimony will be paid if the couple later divorces. Courts usually honor premarital agreements unless one person shows that the agreement was likely to promote divorce, was written with the intention of divorcing or was entered into unfairly. A premarital agreement may also be known as a “prenuptial agreement.”

Premeditation

n. planning, plotting or deliberating before doing something. Premeditation is an element in first degree murder and shows intent to commit that crime.

Premises

n. 1) in real estate, land and the improvements on it, a building, store, shop, apartment, or other designated structure. The exact premises may be important in determining if an outbuilding (shed, cabana, detached garage) is insured or whether a person accused of burglary has actually entered a structure. 2) in legal pleading, premises means “all that has hereinabove been stated,” as in a prayer (request) at the end of a complaint asking for “any further order deemed proper in the premises” (an order based on what has been stated in the complaint).

Premium

n. 1) payment for insurance coverage either in a lump sum or by installments. 2) an extra payment for an act, option or priority.

Prenuptial agreement

See premarital agreement.

Preponderance of the evidence

n. the greater weight of the evidence required in a civil (non-criminal) lawsuit for the trier of fact (jury or judge without a jury) to decide in favor of one side or the other. This preponderance is based on the more convincing evidence and its probable truth or accuracy, and not on the amount of evidence. Thus, one clearly knowledgeable witness may provide a preponderance of evidence over a dozen witnesses with hazy testimony, or a signed agreement with definite terms may outweigh opinions or speculation about what the parties intended. Preponderance of the evidence is required in a civil case and is contrasted with “beyond a reasonable doubt,” which is the more severe test of evidence required to convict in a criminal trial. No matter what the definition stated in various legal opinions, the meaning is somewhat subjective.

Prerogative writ

n. an historic generic term for any writ (court order) directed to government agencies, public officials or another court.

Prescription

n. the method of acquiring an easement upon another’s real property by continued and regular use without permission of the property owner for a period of years required by the law of the state (commonly five years or more). Examples: Phillip Packer drives across the corner of Ralph Roundup’s ranch to reach Packer’s barn regularly for a period of ten years; for a decade Ronald Retailer uses the alley behind Marjorie Howard’s house to reach his storeroom. In each case the result is a “prescriptive easement” for that specific use. It effectively gives the user an easement for use but not ownership of the property.

Prescriptive easement

n. an easement upon another’s real property acquired by continued use without permission of the owner for a period provided by state law to establish the easement. The problems with prescriptive easements are that they do not show up on title reports, and the exact location and/or use of the easement is not always clear and occasionally moves by practice or erosion.

Presentment

n. 1) making a demand for payment of a promissory note when it is due. 2) a report to a court by a Grand Jury, made on its own initiative without a request or presentation of evidence by the local prosecutor, that a “public” crime (illegal act by public officials or affecting the public good) has been committed.

Presiding judge

n. 1) in both state and federal appeals court, the judge who chairs the panel of three or more judges during hearings and supervises the business of the court. 2) in those counties or other jurisdictions with several judges, the one is chosen to direct the management of the courts, usually on an annual or other rotating basis. The presiding judge usually makes assignments of judges to specialized courts (juvenile, probate, criminal, law and motion, family law, etc.), oversees the calendar, and chairs meetings of the judges.

Presumed abuse

In a bankruptcy, when the debtor’s current monthly income exceeds the family median income for his or her state and he or she cannot pass the means test, the court will presume that the debtor has sufficient income to fund a plan. In this situation, the debtor will not be allowed to proceed with a bankruptcy unless the debtor can prove that he or she is not abusing the bankruptcy remedy.

Presumption

n. a rule of law which permits a court to assume a fact is true until such time as there is a preponderance (greater weight) of evidence which disproves or outweighs (rebuts) the presumption. Each presumption is based upon a particular set of apparent facts paired with established laws, logic, reasoning or individual rights. A presumption is rebuttable in that it can be refuted by factual evidence. One can present facts to persuade the judge that the presumption is not true. Examples: a child born of a husband and wife living together is presumed to be the natural child of the husband unless there is conclusive proof it is not; a person who has disappeared and not been heard from for seven years is presumed to be dead, but the presumption could be rebutted if he/she is found alive; an accused person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. These are sometimes called rebuttable presumptions to distinguish them from absolute, conclusive or irrebuttable presumptions in which rules of law and logic dictate that there is no possible way the presumption can be disproved. However, if a fact is absolute it is not truly a presumption at all, but a certainty.

Presumption of innocence

One of the most sacred principles in the American criminal justice system, holding that a defendant is innocent until proven guilty. In other words, the prosecution must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, each element of the crime charged.

Pretermitted heir

A child or spouse who is not mentioned in a will and whom the court believes was accidentally overlooked by the person who made the will. For example, a child born or adopted after the will is made may be deemed a pretermitted heir. If the court determines that an heir was accidentally omitted, that heir is entitled to receive the same share of the estate as she would have if the deceased had died without a will. A pretermitted heir is sometimes called an “omitted heir.”

Prevailing party

n. the winner in a lawsuit. Many contracts, leases, mortgages, deeds of trust or promissory notes provide that the “prevailing party” shall be entitled to recovery of attorney’s fees and costs if legal action must be taken to enforce the agreement. Even if the plaintiff gets much less than the claim, he/she/it is the prevailing party entitled to include attorney’s fees in the collectable costs. Usually there is no prevailing party when a complaint is voluntarily dismissed prior to trial or settled before or after trial has begun.

Price fixing

n. a criminal violation of federal antitrust statutes in which several competing businesses reach a secret agreement (conspiracy) to set prices for their products to prevent real competition and keep the public from benefitting from price competition. Price fixing also includes secret setting of favorable prices between suppliers and favored manufacturers or distributors to beat the competition.

Prima facie

Latin for “on its face.” A prima facie case is one that at first glance presents sufficient evidence for the plaintiff to win. Such a case must be refuted in some way by the defendant for him to have a chance of prevailing at trial. For example, if you can show that someone intentionally touched you in a harmful or offensive way and caused some injury to you, you have established a prima facie case of battery. However, this does not mean that you automatically win your case. The defendant would win if he could show that you consented to the harmful or offensive touching.

Prima facie case

n. a plaintiff’s lawsuit or a criminal charge which appears at first blush to be “open and shut.”

Prime suspect

n. the one person law enforcement officers believe most probably committed a crime being investigated. Once a person is determined to be a prime suspect, the police must be careful to give the “Miranda warnings,” or take the risk that any admissions (any evidence gained from the statements) by the suspect may be excluded in trial.

Primogeniture

n. from Latin for “first born,” the ancient rule from feudal England (except in the County of Kent) that the oldest son would inherit the entire estate of his parents (or nearest ancestor), and, if there was no male heir, the daughters would take (receive the property) in equal shares. The intent was to preserve larger properties from being broken up into small holdings, which might weaken the power of nobles.

Principal

1) When creating a power of attorney or other legal document, the person who appoints an attorney-in-fact or agent to act on his or her behalf. 2) In criminal law, the main perpetrator of a crime. 3) In commercial law, the total amount of a loan, not including any capitalized fees or interest. 4) In the law of trusts, the property of the trust, as opposed to the income generated by that property. The principal is also known as the trust corpus; that’s Latin for “body.” For example, Arthur establishes a new trust with $100,000, with interest and other income payable to Merlin; the $100,000 is the trust principal or corpus.

Principal place of business

n. location of head office of a business where the books and records are kept and/or management works.

Principal Register

The list on which distinctive trademarks and service marks approved for federal regulation are placed. The benefits of getting a mark placed on the principal register include the notice to potential copiers that your mark is protected, the right to sue to stop copying, and the right to have the mark considered immune from legal challenge after five years. Registration also means that an infringer will be considered a willful infringer in case of an infringement lawsuit, which makes it a lot easier to collect large damages and possibly attorney fees.

Prior art

All previous inventions in the field of an invention for which a patent is being sought. Prior art is used by the Patent and TM Office to decide whether the invention is sufficiently unique and non-intuitive to qualify for patent protection.

Prior restraint

n. an attempt to prevent publication or broadcast of any statement, which is an unconstitutional restraint on free speech and free press (even in the guise of an anti-nuisance ordinance). Stemming from the First Amendment to the Constitution, the ban on prior restraint allows publication of libel, slander, obvious untruths, anti-government diatribes, racial and religious epithets, and almost any material, except if public security or public safety is endangered (false claim of poison in the reservoir or exhortation to commit a crime like a lynching) and some forms of pornography. The theory, articulated by the U.S. Supreme Court in Near v. Minnesota (1931) is that free speech and free press protections have priority, and lawsuits for libel and slander and prosecutions for criminal advocacy will curb the effect of defamation and untruths. Most other nations permit prior restraint by court order or police action when the material appears to be defamatory (hurtful lies), salacious (nasty), or “improper, mischievous, or illegal” (in the words of Sir William Blackstone).

Priority

n. the right to be first or ahead of the rights or claims of others. In bankruptcy law, the right to collect before other creditors is given to taxing authorities, judgment holders, secured creditors, bankruptcy trustees and attorneys. The right also can apply to mortgages, deeds of trusts or liens given priority in the order they were recorded (in the “race to the courthouse”).

Priority debt

A type of debt that is paid first if there are distributions made from the bankruptcy estate, and must be paid in full. Priority debts include alimony and child support, fees owed to the trustee and the attorney in the bankruptcy case, and wages owed to employees.

Privacy

n. the right to be free of unnecessary public scrutiny or to be let alone. Once a person is a “public figure” or involved in newsworthy events, the right to privacy may evaporate.

Private carrier

n. one who provides transportation or delivery of goods for money, just for the particular instance, and not as a regular business. It is distinguished from a “common carrier” which is in the business, such as buses, railroads, trucking companies, airlines and taxis. However, a private carrier may be liable for injuries to anyone who pays or shares the cost of transport.

Private mortgage insurance (PMI)

Insurance that reimburses a mortgage lender if the buyer defaults on the loan and the foreclosure sale price is less than the amount owed the lender (the mortgage plus the costs of the sale). A home buyer who makes less than a 20% down payment may have to purchase PMI.

Private nuisance

n. the interference with an individual’s peaceful enjoyment of one’s property, which can be the basis for a lawsuit both for damages caused by the nuisance and an order (injunction) against continuing the noxious (offensive) activity or condition.

Private property

n. land not owned by the government or dedicated to public use.

Private road

n. a road or driveway on privately owned property, limited to the use of the owner or a group of owners who share the use and maintain the road without help from a government agency. A private road has not been given to a government entity (like a county or city) and accepted by that entity for public use. Some private roads are used by the public, but should be closed off at least once a year to prove that an easement of use is not allowed and to prevent a prescriptive easement (taken by continued use) from arising.

Privilege

n. a special benefit, exemption from a duty, or immunity from penalty, given to a particular person, a group or a class of people.

Privilege against self incrimination

n. a right to refuse to testify against oneself in a criminal prosecution or in any legal proceeding which might be used against the person.

Privileged communication

n. statements and conversations made under circumstances of assured confidentiality which must not be disclosed in court. These include communications between husband and wife, attorney and client, physician or therapist and patient, and minister or priest with anyone seeing them in their religious status. In some states the privilege is extended to reporters and informants. Thus, such people cannot be forced to testify or reveal the conversations to law enforcement or courts, even under threat of contempt of court, and if one should break the confidentiality he/she can be sued by the person who had confidence in him/her. The reason for the privilege is to allow people to speak with candor to spouse or professional counsellor, even though it may hinder a criminal prosecution. The extreme case is when a priest hears an admission of murder or other serious crime in the confessional and can do nothing about it. The privilege may be lost if the one who made the admission waives the privilege, or, in the case of an attorney, if the client sues the attorney claiming negligence in conduct of the case.

Privileges and immunities

n. the fundamental rights that people enjoy in free governments.

Privity

n. contact, connection or mutual interest between parties. The term is particularly important in the law of contracts, which requires that there be “privity” if one party to a contract can enforce the contract by a lawsuit against the other party. Thus, a tenant of a buyer of real property cannot sue the former owner (seller) of the property for failure to make repairs guaranteed by the land sales contract between seller and buyer since the tenant was not “in privity” with the seller.

Pro bono

Latin for “for the public good,” legal work performed by lawyers without pay to help people with legal problems and limited or no funds, or provide legal assistance to organizations involved in social causes such as environmental, consumer, minority, youth, battered women and education organizations and charities.

Pro forma

Latin for “as a matter of form,” the phrase refers to court rulings merely intended to facilitate the legal process (to move matters along).

Pro forma

n. an accountant’s proposed financial statement for a business based on the assumption that certain events occurred, such as a 20% increase in annual sales or 6% inflation.

Pro hac vice

Latin meaning “for this one particular occasion.” The phrase usually refers to an out-of-state lawyer who has been granted special permission to participate in a particular case, even though the lawyer is not licensed to practice in the state where the case is being tried.

Pro per

A term derived from the Latin in propria, meaning “for one’s self,” used in some states to describe a person who handles her own case without a lawyer. In other states, the term pro se is used. When a nonlawyer files his own legal papers, he is expected to write “in pro per” at the bottom of the heading on the first page.

Pro rata

Latin for “in proportion,” referring to a share to be received or an amount to be paid based on the fractional share of ownership, responsibility or time used. Examples: an heir who receives one-quarter of an estate may be responsible for one-quarter of the estate taxes as his/her pro rata share. A buyer of a rental property will pay his/her pro rata share of the property taxes for that portion of the year in which he/she holds title.

Pro se

Latin phrase meaning “for himself” or “in one’s own behalf.” This term denotes a person who represents herself in court. It is used in some states in place of “in pro per” and has the same meaning.

Pro tanto

Latin for “only to that extent.” Example: a judge gives an order for payments for one year, pro tanto.

Pro tem

Latin pro tempore, temporarily or for the time being. In law, judge pro tem normally refers to a judge who is sitting temporarily for another judge or to an attorney who has been appointed to serve as a judge as a substitute for a regular judge.

Probable cause

The amount and quality of information police must have before they can arrest or search without a warrant or that a judge must have before she will sign a search warrant allowing the police to conduct a search or arrest a suspect. Reliable information must show that it’s more likely than not that a crime has occurred and the suspect is involved.

Probate

The court process following a person’s death that includes: proving the authenticity of the deceased person’s will; appointing someone to handle the deceased person’s affairs; identifying and inventorying the deceased person’s property; paying debts and taxes; identifying heirs, and distributing the deceased person’s property according to the will or, if there is no will, according to state law. Formal court-supervised probate is a costly, time-consuming process — a windfall for lawyers — which is best avoided if possible.

Probate court

A specialized court or division of a state trial court that considers only cases concerning the distribution of deceased persons’ estate. Called “surrogate court” in New York and several other states, this court normally examines the authenticity of a will — or if a person dies intestate, figures out who receives her property under state law. It then oversees a procedure to pay the deceased person’s debts and to distribute her assets to the proper inheritors.

Probation

n. a chance to remain free (or serve only a short time) given by a judge to a person convicted of a crime instead of being sent to jail or prison, provided the person can be good. Probation is only given under specific court-ordered terms, such as performing public service work, staying away from liquor, paying a fine, maintaining good behavior, getting mental therapy and reporting regularly to a probation officer. Violation of probation terms will usually result in the person being sent to jail for the normal term. Repeat criminals are normally not eligible for probation. Probation is not the same as “parole,” which is freedom under certain restrictions given to convicts at the end of their imprisonment.

Probative

adj. in evidence law, tending to prove something. Thus, testimony which is not probative (does not prove anything) is immaterial and not admissible or will be stricken from the record if objected to by opposing counsel.

Probative facts

n. evidence which tends to prove something which is relative to the issues in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution.

Probative value

n. evidence which is sufficiently useful to prove something important in a trial. However, probative value of proposed evidence must be weighed by the trial judge against prejudicing in the minds of jurors toward the opposing party or criminal defendant. A typical dispute arises when the prosecutor wishes to introduce the previous conduct of a defendant (particularly a criminal conviction) to show a tendency toward committing the crime charged, balanced against the right of the accused to be tried on the facts in the particular case and not prejudice him/her in the minds of the jury based on prior actions.

Procedure

n. the methods and mechanics of the legal process. These include filing complaints, answers and demurrers; serving documents on the opposition; setting hearings, depositions, motions, petitions, interrogatories; preparing orders; giving notice to the other parties; conduct of trials; and all the rules and laws governing that process. Every state has a set of procedural statutes (often called the Codes of Civil Procedure and Criminal Procedure), and courts have so-called “local rules,” which govern times for filing documents, conduct of the courts and other technicalities. Law practice before the federal courts operates under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure. Procedural law is distinguished from “substantive” law, which involves the statutes and legal precedents upon which cases are tried and judgments made.

Proceeding

n. any legal filing, hearing, trial and/or judgment in the ongoing conduct of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. Collectively they are called “proceedings,” as in “legal proceedings.”

Proceeds for damaged exempt property

In a bankruptcy proceeding, money collected through insurance, arbitration, mediation, settlement or a lawsuit to pay for exempt property that’s no longer exemptible because it has been damaged or destroyed.

Process

n. in law, the legal means by which a person is required to appear in court or a defendant is given notice of a legal action against him/her/it. When a complaint in a lawsuit is filed, it must be served on each defendant, together with a summons issued by the clerk of the court stating the amount of time (say, 30 days) in which the defendant has to file an answer or other legal pleading with the clerk of the court, and sent to the plaintiff. New York has an unusual system in which a summons may be served without a complaint. A subpena is similar to a summons but is a notice to a witness to appear at a deposition (testimony taken outside court), or at a trial. A subpena duces tecum is an order to deliver documents or other evidence either into court or to the attorney for a party to a lawsuit or criminal prosecution. An order to show cause is a court order to appear in court and give a reason why the court should not issue an order (such as paying temporary child support). The summons, complaint, subpena, subpena duces tecum and order to show cause must all be “served” on the defendant or person required to appear or produce, and this is called “service of process.” Service of process is usually made by an officer of the court such as a deputy sheriff or marshal, or a professional process server, but can be performed by others in most jurisdictions.

Process server

n. a person who serves (delivers) legal papers in lawsuits, either as a profession or as a government official, such as a deputy sheriff, marshal or constable.

Proctor

n. 1) in admiralty (maritime) law, an attorney. 2) person who keeps order.

Product liability

n. the responsibility of manufacturers, distributors and sellers of products to the public, to deliver products free of defects which harm an individual or numerous persons and to make good on that responsibility if their products are defective. These can include faulty auto brakes, contaminated baby food, exploding bottles of beer, flammable children’s pajamas or lack of label warnings. The key element in product liability law is that a person who suffers harm need prove only the failure of the product to make the seller, distributor and/or manufacturer reliable for damages. An injured person usually need only sue the seller and let him/her/it bring the manufacturer or distributor into the lawsuit or require contribution toward a judgment. However, all those possibly responsible should be named in the suit as defendants if they are known.

Professional corporation

A legal structure authorized by state law for a fairly narrow list of licensed professions, including lawyers, doctors, accountants, many types of higher-level health providers and often architects. Unlike a regular corporation, a professional corporation does not absolve a professional for personal liability for her own negligence or malpractice. The main reason why groups of professions choose this organizational structure is that, unlike a general partnership, owners are not personally liable for the malpractice of other owners. In some states, limited liability partnerships offer this same benefit and may be more desirable for other reasons.

Proffer

v. to offer evidence in a trial.

Prohibition

n. forbidding an act or activity. A court order forbidding an act is a writ of prohibition, an injunction or a writ of mandate (mandamus) if against a public official.

Promise

1) n. a firm agreement to perform an act, refrain from acting or make a payment or delivery. In contract law, if the parties exchange promises, each promise is “consideration” (a valuable item) for the other promise. Failure to fulfill a promise in a contract is a breach of the contract, for which the other party may sue for performance and/or damages. 2) v. to make a firm agreement to act, refrain from acting or make a payment or delivery.

Promissory estoppel

n. a false statement treated as a promise by a court when the listener had relied on what was told to him/her to his/her disadvantage. In order to see that justice is done a judge will preclude the maker of the statement from denying it. Thus, the legal inability of the person who made the false statement to deny it makes it an enforceable promise called “promissory estoppel,” or an “equitable estoppel.”

Promissory note

n. a written promise by a person (variously called maker, obligor, payor, promisor) to pay a specific amount of money (called “principal”) to another (payee, obligee, promisee), usually to include a specified amount of interest on the unpaid principal amount (what he/she owes). The specified time of payment may be written as: a) whenever there is a demand, b) on a specific date, c) in installments with or without the interest included in each installment, d) installments with a final larger amount (balloon payment). A promissory note may contain other terms such as the right of the promisee to order payment be made to another person, penalties for late payments, a provision for attorney’s fees and costs if there is a legal action to collect, the right to collect payment in full if the note is secured by real property and the property is sold (“due on sale” clause), and whether the note is secured by a mortgage or deed of trust or a financing statement (a filed security agreement for personal collateral called UCC-1). The promissory note is usually held by the party to whom the money is owed. There are legal limitations to the amount of interest which may be charged. Charging a rate in excess of the legal limit is called “usury,” and this excess is legally uncollectible. When the amount due on the note, including interest and penalties (if any), is paid, the note must be cancelled and surrendered to the person(s) who signed it. A promissory note need only be signed and does not require an acknowledgement before a notary public to be valid.

Promoter

n. a person who puts together a business, particularly a corporation, including the financing. Usually the promoter is the principal shareholder or one of the management team and has a contract with the incorporators or makes a claim for shares of stock for his/her efforts in organization. Most states limit the amount of “promotional stock” since it is supported only by effort and not by assets or cash.

Promotional stock

n. stock issued in a newly formed corporation and given to a promoter (organizer) of the corporation in payment for his/her efforts in putting the company together and locating shareholders or other funding. Most states (and the federal Securities and Exchange Act) limit promotional stock to an amount reasonable for the effort since it is not backed by assets or money.

Proof

n. confirmation of a fact by evidence. In a trial, proof is what the trier of the fact (jury or judge without a jury) needs to become satisfied that there is “a preponderance of the evidence” in civil (non-criminal) cases and the defendant is guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt” in criminal prosecutions. However, each alleged fact must be proved separately, as must all the facts necessary to reach a judgment for the plaintiff (the person filing a lawsuit) or for the prosecution (the “people” or “state” represented by the prosecutor). The defendants in both civil suits and criminal trials need not provide absolute “proof” of non-responsibility in a civil case or innocence (in a criminal case), since the burden is on the plaintiff or prosecution to prove their cases (or prove the person guilty).

Proper party

n. a person or entity who has an interest (financial or protection of some legal rights) in the subject matter of a lawsuit and, therefore, can join in the lawsuit as he/she/it wishes, or may be brought into the suit (as an unnecessary party) by one of the parties to the legal action. However, the judgment may leave some matters undecided. A proper party is distinguished from a “necessary party,” which the court will order joined in (brought into) the suit if any judgment is to be reached.

Property

n. anything that is owned by a person or entity. Property is divided into two types: “real property,” which is any interest in land, real estate, growing plants or the improvements on it, and “personal property” (sometimes called “personalty”), which is everything else. “Common property” is ownership by more than one person of the same possession. “Community property” is a form of joint ownership between husband and wife recognized in several states. “Separate property” is property owned by one spouse only in a community property state, or a married woman’s sole ownership in some states. “Public property” refers to ownership by a governmental body such as the federal, state, county or city governments or their agencies (e.g. school or redevelopment districts). The government and the courts are obligated to protect property rights and to help clarify ownership.

Property control trust

Any trust that imposes limits or controls over the rights of trust beneficiaries. These trusts include (1) special needs trusts designed to assist people who have special physical, emotional or other requirements, (2) spendthrift trusts designed to prevent a beneficiary from wasting the trust principal; and (3) sprinkling trusts that allow the trustee to decide how to distribute trust income or principal among the beneficiaries

Property damage

n. injury to real or personal property through another’s negligence, willful destruction or by some act of nature. In lawsuits for damages caused by negligence or a willful act, property damage is distinguished from personal injury. Property damage may include harm to an automobile, a fence, a tree, a home or any other possession. The amount of recovery for property damage may be established by evidence of replacement value, cost of repairs, loss of use until repaired or replaced or, in the case of heirlooms or very personal items (e.g. wedding pictures), by subjective testimony as to sentimental value.

Property tax

n. an annual governmental tax on real property or personal property based on a tax rate (so many dollars or cents per $100 value of the property). The value is usually established by an Assessor, a county official. In California the assessed value of real property is based on the amount of the last sale of the property, and the tax is limited to 1% of that figure (with a few minor exceptions) under the so-called “Proposition 13″ state constitutional provision. In addition, there are special assessments for particular public property improvements such as sidewalks, tree planting, or storm drains which are charged to each property owner on the street in which the improvements are made.

Propria persona

Latin, for oneself.

Proprietary

adj. referring to ownership.

Proprietary interest

n. a total or partial ownership.

Proprietary rights

n. those rights which go with ownership of real property or a business.

Proprietor

n. the owner of anything, but particularly the owner of a business operated by that individual.

Prosecute

When a local District Attorney, state Attorney General or federal Attorney brings a criminal case against a defendant.

Prosecution

n. 1) in criminal law, the government attorney charging and trying the case against a person accused of a crime. 2) a common term for the government’s side in a criminal case, as in “the prosecution will present five witnesses” or “the prosecution rests” (has completed its case).

Prosecutor

A lawyer who works for the local, state or federal government to bring and litigate criminal cases.

Prospectus

n. a detailed statement by a corporation required when there is an issuance of stock to the general public. A prospectus includes the financial status, the officers, the plans, contingent obligations (such as lawsuits) of the corporation, recent performance and other matters which would assist the potential investor or investment adviser to evaluate the stock and the prospects of the company for profit, loss or growth. The Federal Securities Act requires the filing of the prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission and the SEC’s approval before any major stock issue. State laws generally require similar documentation for some issuances or offers of sales of stock within the state. Every potential purchaser of shares of a new stock shares must receive a copy of the prospectus, even though they are difficult to understand. Offerings to the public of limited partnership interests may require that a prospectus be prepared and delivered to each investor.

Protective custody

n. the act of law enforcement officials in placing a person in a government facility or foster home in order to protect him/her from a dangerous person or situation. Most commonly a child who has been neglected or battered or is in danger from a violent person is taken in as a temporary ward of the state and held in probation facilities or placed in a foster home until a court can decide the future placement of the child. Protective custody is sometimes used to help women threatened by a husband, boyfriend or a stalker, and also for witnesses who have been threatened with physical harm or death if they testify.

Protest

1) v. to complain in some public way about any act already done or about to be done, such as adoption of a regulation by a county board, sending troops overseas, or use of the death penalty. 2) v. to dispute the amount of property taxes, the assessed evaluation of property for tax purposes or an import duty. 3) n. a written demand for payment of the amount owed on a promissory note which has not been paid when due or a check which has been dishonored (not paid by the bank).

Prove

v. to present evidence and/or logic that makes a fact seem certain. A party must do this to convince a trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) as to facts claimed and to win a lawsuit or criminal case.

Proving a will

Convincing a probate court that a document is truly the deceased person’s will. Usually this is a simple formality that the executor or administrator easily satisfies by showing that the will was signed and dated by the deceased person in front of two or more witnesses. When the will is holographic — that is, completely handwritten by the deceased and not witnessed, it is still valid in many states if the executor can produce relatives and friends to testify that the handwriting is that of the deceased.

Provisional patent application (PPA)

The provisional patent application is a simple, inexpensive strategy to preserve your rights while you decide whether to file for a regular patent. It establishes an official U.S. patent application filing date for the invention and is much less expensive, and much easier to prepare, than a regular patent application.

Provisional remedy

n. a generic term for any temporary order of a court to protect a party from irreparable damage while a lawsuit or petition is pending.

Proviso

n. a term or condition in a contract or title document.

Provocation

The act of inciting another person to do a particular thing. In a fault divorce, provocation may constitute a defense to the divorce, preventing it from going through. For example, if a wife suing for divorce claims that her husband abandoned her, the husband might defend the suit on the grounds that she provoked the abandonment by driving him out of the house.

Proximate cause

n. a happening which results in an event, particularly injury due to negligence or an intentional wrongful act. In order to prevail (win) in a lawsuit for damages due to negligence or some other wrong, it is essential to claim (plead) proximate cause in the complaint and to prove in trial that the negligent act of the defendant was the proximate cause (and not some other reason) of the damages to the plaintiff (person filing the lawsuit). Sometimes there is an intervening cause which comes between the original negligence of the defendant and the injured plaintiff, which will either reduce the amount of responsibility or, if this intervening cause is the substantial reason for the injury, then the defendant will not be liable at all. In criminal law, the defendant’s act must have been the proximate cause of the death of a victim to prove murder or manslaughter.

Proxy

n. 1) someone who is authorized to serve in one’s place at a meeting, particularly with the right to cast votes. 2) the written authority given to someone to act or vote in someone’s place. A proxy is commonly given to cast a stockholder’s votes at a meeting of shareholders, and by board members and convention delegates.

Prudent man rule

n. the requirement that a trustee, investment manager of pension funds, treasurer of a city or county, or any fiduciary (a trusted agent) must only invest funds entrusted to him/her as would a person of prudence, i.e. with discretion, care and intelligence. Thus solid “blue chip” securities, secured loans, federally guaranteed mortgages, treasury certificates and other conservative investments providing a reasonable return are within the prudent man rule. Some states have statutes which list the types of investments allowable under the rule. Unfortunately, the rule is subjective, and some financial managers have put funds into speculative investments to achieve higher rates of return, which has resulted in bankruptcy and disaster.

Public

1) n. the people of the nation, state, county, district or municipality which the government serves. 2) adj. referring to any agency, interest, property, or activity which is under the authority of the government or which belongs to the people. This distinguishes public from private interests as with public and private schools, public and private utilities, public and private hospitals, public and private lands and public and private roads.

Public administrator

Someone appointed by a probate court to oversee probate proceedings when a person dies without a will or heirs, and his or her property is expected to pass to the state. Some states have public administrators who are responsible for temporarily preserving the assets of an estate if there are disputes about specific provisions in the will or about who will be appointed the regular administrator.

Public benefit corporation

n. a term used in some states for a nonprofit community service corporation. Typical examples are clubs like Kiwanis, Rotary, soroptimists and Lions.

Public charge

n. a general term for an indigent, sick or severely handicapped person who must be taken care of at public expense.

Public corporation

n. a corporation created to perform a governmental function or to operate under government control, such as a municipal water company or hospital.

Public defender

A lawyer appointed by the court and paid by the county, state, or federal government to represent clients who are charged with violations of criminal law and are unable to pay for their own defense.

Public domain

A creative work, invention or logo that is available for use without permission from its owner. This typically occurs after patent, trademark or copyright protection has expired.

Public easement

n. the right of the general public to use certain streets, highways, paths or airspace. In most cases the easement came about through reservation of the right when land was deeded to individuals or by dedication of the land to the government. In some cases public easements come by prescription (use for many years) such as a pathway across private property down to the ocean. Beach access has been the source of controversy between government and private owners in many seaboard states.

Public figure

n. in the law of defamation (libel and slander), a personage of great public interest or familiarity like a government official, politician, celebrity, business leader, movie star or sports hero. Incorrect harmful statements published about a public figure cannot be the basis of a lawsuit for defamation unless there is proof that the writer or publisher intentionally defamed the person with malice (hate).

Public nuisance

n. a nuisance which affects numerous members of the public or the public at large (how many people it takes to make a public is unknown), as distinguished from a nuisance which only does harm to a neighbor or a few private individuals.

Public property

n. property owned by the government or one of its agencies, divisions, or entities. Commonly a reference to parks, playgrounds, streets, sidewalks, schools, libraries and other property regularly used by the general public.

Public record

n. any information, minutes, files, accounts or other records which a governmental body is required to maintain and which must be accessible to scrutiny by the public. This includes the files of most legal actions. A court will take “judicial notice” of a public record (including hearsay in the record) introduced as evidence. For example: a recorded deed to show transfer of title or a criminal judgment are both public records.

Public trust doctrine

n. the principle that the government holds title to submerged land under navigable waters in trust for the benefit of the public. Thus, any use or sale of the land under water must be in the public interest. Nevertheless, there has been a great deal of use for offshore oil drilling, for landfill, and marine shoreline development, in which protection of the public interest has been dubious at best.

Public use

n. the only purpose for which private property can be taken (condemned) by the government under its power of eminent domain. Public use includes: schools, streets, highways, hospitals, government buildings, parks, water reservoirs, flood control, slum clearance and redevelopment, public housing, public theaters and stadiums, safety facilities, harbors, bridges, railroads, airports, terminals, prisons, jails, public utilities, canals, and numerous other purposes designated as beneficial to the public.

Public utility

n. any organization which provides services to the general public, although it may be privately owned. Public utilities include electric, gas, telephone, water and television cable systems, as well as streetcar and bus lines. They are allowed certain monopoly rights due to the practical need to service entire geographic areas with one system, but they are regulated by state, county and/or city public utility commissions under state laws.

Publication

n. 1) anything made public by print (as in a news- paper, magazine, pamphlet, letter, telegram, computer modem or program, poster, brochure or pamphlet), orally, or by broadcast (radio, television). 2) placing a legal notice in an approved newspaper of general publication in the county or district in which the law requires such notice to be published. 3) in the law of defamation (libel and slander) publication of an untruth about another to at least one single person. Thus one letter can be the basis of a suit for libel, and telling one person is sufficient to show publication of slander.

Publish

v. to make public to at least one other person by any means.

Published work

An original work of authorship that is considered published for purposes of copyright law. A work is “published” when it is first made available to the public on an unrestricted basis. It is thus possible to display a work, or distribute it with restrictions on disclosure of its contents, without actually “publishing” it. Both published and unpublished works are entitled to copyright protection, but some of the rules differ.

Puffing

n. the exaggeration of the good points of a product, a business, real property and the prospects for future rise in value, profits and growth. Since a certain amount of “puffing” can be expected of any salesman, it cannot be the basis of a lawsuit for fraud or breach of contract unless the exaggeration exceeds the reality. However, if the puffery includes outright lies or has no basis in fact (“Sears Roebuck is building next door to your store site”) a legal action for rescission of the contract or for fraud against the seller is possible.

Punitive damages

Damages awarded in a lawsuit as a punishment and example to others for malicious, evil or particularly fraudulent acts.

Putative

adj. commonly believed, supposed or claimed. Thus a putative father is one believed to be the father unless proved otherwise, a putative marriage is one that is accepted as legal when in reality it was not lawful (e.g. due to failure to complete a prior divorce). A putative will is one that appears to be the final will but a later will is found that revokes it and shows that the putative will was not the last will of the deceased.

QTIP trust

A type of trust for wealthy married couples that allows a surviving spouse to postpone estate taxes. A QTIP trust allows the surviving spouse to make use of the trust property tax-free. Taxes are deferred until the surviving spouse dies and the trust property is received by the final trust beneficiaries, who were named by the first spouse to die.

Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO)

A court order that uses pension or retirement benefits to provide alimony or child support, or to divide marital property, at divorce.This special order is necessary to comply with federal law governing retirement pay.

Qualified Medical Child Support Order (QMSCO)

A court order that provides health benefit coverage for the child of the noncustodial parent under that parent’s group health plan.

Quantum meruit

Latin for “as much as he deserved,” the actual value of services performed. Quantum meruit determines the amount to be paid for services when no contract exists or when there is doubt as to the amount due for the work performed but done under circumstances when payment could be expected. This may include a physician’s emergency aid, legal work when there was no contract, or evaluating the amount due when outside forces cause a job to be terminated unexpectedly. If a person sues for payment for services in such circumstances the judge or jury will calculate the amount due based on time and usual rate of pay or the customary charge, based on quantum meruit by implying a contract existed.The reasonable value of services provided, which a winning party may be able to recover from an opponent who broke a contract.

Quash

v. to annul or set aside. In law, a motion to quash asks the judge for an order setting aside or nullifying an action, such as “quashing” service of a summons when the wrong person was served.

Quasi

Latin for “as if,” almost, somewhat, to a degree (always used in combination with another word). Quasi refers to things and actions which are not exactly or fully what they might appear, but have to be treated “as if” they were.

Quasi community property

n. in community property states, property acquired by a couple who have not been married, but have lived and purchased the property as if they were married. Often this includes property purchased or received by a couple shortly before marriage.

Quasi contract

n. a situation in which there is an obligation as if there was a contract, although the technical requirements of a contract have not been fulfilled.

Quasi corporation

n. a business which has operated as a corporation without completing the legal requirements, often in the period just before formal incorporation.

Quasi in rem

adj. referring to a legal action which is primarily based on property rights, but includes personal rights as well.

Quasi-criminal

adj. a reference to a court’s right to punish for actions or omissions as if they were criminal. The most common example is finding a parent who is delinquent in child support in contempt of court and penalizing him/her with a jail sentence. If a hearing is quasi-criminal the quasi-defendant is entitled to all due process protections afforded a criminal defendant.

Quasi-judicial

adj., adv. referring to the actions of an agency, boards or other government entity in which there are hearings, orders, judgments or other activities similar to those conducted by courts. Example: a public utilities hearing on setting telephone company rates is quasi-judicial.

Queen’s Bench

n. 1) the highest court in Great Britain during the reign of a Queen, so that opinions are identified as a volume of Queen’s Bench (QB). 2) in the United States, organizations of women lawyers, dating from when women were a small minority of practicing attorneys and needed to encourage each other, urge employment of women attorneys, protect against discrimination and promote the cause of equality for women lawyers. Recent bar admissions now include close to 50 percent women.

Query

n. common lawyer lingo for a question to be answered.

Question of fact

n. in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, an issue of fact in which the truth or falsity (or a mix of the two) must be determined by the “trier of fact” (the jury or the judge in a non-jury trial) in order to reach a decision in the case. A “question of fact” may also be raised in a motion for summary judgment which asks the court to determine whether there are any questions of fact to be tried, allowing the judge to rule on the case (usually to dismiss the complaint) at that point without a trial. “Questions of fact” are distinguished from “questions of law,” which can only be decided by the judge.

Question of law

n. an issue arising in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which only relates to determination of what the law is, how it is applied to the facts in the case, and other purely legal points in contention. All “questions of law” arising before, during and sometimes after a trial are to be determined solely by the judge and not by the jury. “Questions of law” are differentiated from “questions of fact,” which are decided by the jury and only by the judge if there is no jury.

Qui tam action

Latin for “who as well,” a lawsuit brought by a private citizen (popularly called a “whistle blower”) against a person or company who is believed to have violated the law in the performance of a contract with the government or in violation of a government regulation, when there is a statute which provides for a penalty for such violations. Qui tam suits are brought for “the government as well as the plaintiff.” In a qui tam action the plaintiff (the person bringing the suit) will be entitled to a percentage of the recovery of the penalty (which may include large amounts for breach of contract) as a reward for exposing the wrongdoing and recovering funds for the government. Sometimes the federal or state government will intervene and become a party to the suit in order to guarantee success and be part of any negotiations and conduct of the case. This type of action is generally based on significant violations which involve fraudulent or criminal acts, and not technical violations and/or errors.

Quid pro quo

Latin for “something for something,” to identify what each party to an agreement expects from the other, sometimes called mutual consideration. Example of its use: “What is the quid pro quo for my entering into this deal?

Quiet enjoyment

The right of a property owner or tenant to enjoy his or her property without interference. Disruption of quiet enjoyment may constitute a nuisance. Leases and rental agreements often contain a “covenant of quiet enjoyment,” expressly obligating the landlord to see that tenants have the opportunity to live undisturbed.

Quiet title action

n. a lawsuit to establish a party’s title to real property against anyone and everyone, and thus “quiet” any challenges or claims to the title. Such a suit usually arises when there is some question about clear title, there exists some recorded problem (such as an old lease or failure to clear title after payment of a mortgage), an error in description which casts doubt on the amount of property owned, or an easement used for years without a recorded description. An action for quiet title requires description of the property to be “quieted,” naming as defendants anyone who might have an interest (including descendants-known or unknown- of prior owners), and the factual and legal basis for the claim of title. Notice must be given to all potentially interested parties, including known and unknown, by publication. If the court is convinced title is in the plaintiff (the plaintiff owns the title), a quiet title judgment will be granted which can be recorded and thus provide legal “good title.” Quiet title actions are a common example of “friendly” lawsuits in which often there is no opposition.

Quit

v. to leave, used in a written notice to a tenant to leave the premises (notice to quit).

Quitclaim deed

A deed that transfers whatever ownership interest the transferor has in a particular property. The deed does not guarantee anything about what is being transferred, however. For example, a divorcing husband may quitclaim his interest in certain real estate to his ex-wife, officially giving up any legal interest in the property.

Quo warranto

n. the name for a writ (order) used to challenge another’s right to either public or corporate office or challenge the legality of a corporation to its charter (articles).

Quorum

n. the number of people required to be present before a meeting can conduct business. Unless stated differently in bylaws, articles, regulations or other rules established by the organization, a quorum is usually a majority of members. A quorum for meetings of corporate boards of directors, homeowners’ associations, clubs and shareholders meetings are usually set in the bylaws. The quorum for meetings of governmental bodies such as commissions and boards are usually set by statute.

Quotient verdict

n. an award of money damages set by a jury in a lawsuit in which each juror states in writing his/her opinion of what the amount should be. Then the amounts are totalled and divided by the number of jurors to reach a figure for the award. A quotient verdict is illegal and improper since it is based on guesses and not a rational discussion of the facts. Such a judgment will be set aside on a motion for a new trial and a mistrial will be declared by the judge.

Race to the courthouse

n. slang for the rule that the first deed, deed of trust, mortgage, lien or judgment which is recorded with the County Recorder will have priority and prevail over later recordings no matter when the documents were dated.

Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organization (RICO) statue

n. a federal law which makes it a crime for organized criminal conspiracies to operate legitimate businesses.

Racketeering

n. the federal crime of conspiring to organize to commit crimes, particularly as a regular business (“organized crime” or “the Mafia”).

Rainmaker

A lawyer who drums up a lot of business for a law firm by bringing in clients.

Ransom

1) n. money paid to a kidnapper in demand for the release of the person abducted. Ransom money can also be paid to return a valuable object such as a stolen painting. 2) v. to pay money to an abductor to return the person held captive. Money paid to have a kidnapped person released.

Ratable

adj. taxable according to value, such as an estate or property.

Ratification

n. confirmation of an action which was not pre-approved and may not have been authorized, usually by a principal (employer) who adopts the acts of his/her agent (employee).

Ratify

v. to confirm and adopt the act of another even though it was not approved beforehand. A person under the legal age who makes a contract may ratify the contract when he/she reaches majority (usually 18) or may refuse to honor it without obligation.

Rational basis

n. a test of constitutionality of a statute, asking whether the law has a reasonable connection to achieving a legitimate and constitutional objective.

Reading on

In patent law, describing literally. A patent is infringed if the patent’s claims read on all elements of the infringing device.

Ready, willing and able

adj. fully prepared to act, as in performing a contract.

Reaffirmation

An agreement that a debtor and a creditor enter into after a debtor has filed for bankruptcy, in which the debtor agrees to repay all or part of an existing debt after the bankruptcy case is over. For instance, a debtor might make a reaffirmation agreement with the holder of a car note that the debtor can keep the car and must continue to pay the debt after bankruptcy.

Real estate

Land and the property permanently attached to it, such as buildings, houses, stationary mobile homes, fences and trees. In legalese, real estate is also called real property.

Real estate agent

A foot soldier of the real estate business who shows houses and does most of the other nitty-gritty tasks associated with selling real estate. An agent must have a state license and be supervised by a real estate broker. Most agents are completely dependent upon commissions from sellers for their income, so it pays to find out which side the agent represents (buyer, seller or both) before you place too much trust in the agent’s opinion.

Real estate broker

A real estate professional one step up from a real estate agent. A broker has more training and can supervise agents, but its still worth examining his or her loyalties.

Real estate investment trust

A real estate investment organization which finds investors and buys real property and gives each investor either a percentage interest in the property itself or an interest in a loan secured by a mortgage or deed of trust on the property. Usually the loan is used to develop the property and build upon it, and then there is a division of profits upon sale-if there is a profit.

Real party in interest

n. the person or entity who will benefit from a lawsuit or petition even though the plaintiff (the person filing the suit) is someone else, often called a “nominal” plaintiff.

Real property

Another term for real estate. It includes land and things permanently attached to the land, such as trees, buildings, and stationary mobile homes. Anything that is not real property is termed personal property.

Realty

n. a short form of “real estate.”

Reasonable

adj., adv. in law, just, rational, appropriate, ordinary or usual in the circumstances. It may refer to care, cause, compensation, doubt (in a criminal trial), and a host of other actions or activities.

Reasonable care

n. the degree of caution and concern for the safety of himself/herself and others an ordinarily prudent and rational person would use in the circumstances. This is a subjective test of determining if a person is negligent, meaning he/she did not exercise reasonable care.

Reasonable doubt

n. not being sure of a criminal defendant’s guilt to a moral certainty. Thus, a juror (or judge sitting without a jury) must be convinced of guilt of a crime (or the degree of crime, as murder instead of manslaughter) “beyond a reasonable doubt,” and the jury will be told so by the judge in the jury instructions. However, it is a subjective test since each juror will have to decide if his/her doubt is reasonable. It is more difficult to convict under that test, than “preponderance of the evidence” to decide for the plaintiff (party bringing the suit) in a civil (non-criminal) trial.

Reasonable reliance

n. particularly in contracts, what a prudent person would believe and act upon if told something by another. Typically, a person is promised a profit or other benefit, and in reliance takes steps in reliance on the promise, only to find the statements or promises were not true or were exaggerated. The one who relied can recover damages for the costs of his/her actions or demand performance if the reliance was “reasonable.” If the promisor says he “owned the Brooklyn Bridge,” reliance on that statement is not reasonable. In a complaint the language would read something like: “in reasonable reliance on defendant’s statement (or promise), plaintiff did the following….”

Reasonable speed

n. the speed of an automobile determined to be lower than the posted speed limit due to the circumstances, such as rain, icy road, heavy traffic, poor condition of the vehicle or gloom of night. Exceeding reasonable speed under the circumstances can result in being cited for speeding. In the law of negligence, exceeding reasonable speed in the prevailing conditions may be found to be negligent even though below the speed limit.

Reasonable time

n. in contracts, common custom in the business or under the circumstances will define “reasonable time” to perform or pay. It is bad practice to draft a contract using such a vague term.

Reasonable wear and tear

n. commonly used in leases to limit the tenant’s responsibility (and therefore liability to repair or repaint) upon leaving. It is subjective, but the considerations include the length of time of tenancy (the longer the occupancy the more wear and tear can be expected), the lack of unusual damage such as a hole in the wall or a broken window, and the condition of the premises when the tenant moved in. This is often a source of conflict between landlord and tenant, particularly when there is a deposit for any damages “beyond reasonable wear and tear.”

Rebate

1) n. a discount or deduction on sales price. A secret rebate given by a subcontractor to a contractor in return for getting the job is illegal, since it cheats the person hiring the contractor. 2) v. to give a discount or deduction.

Rebuttable presumption

n. since a presumption is an assumption of fact accepted by the court until disproved, all presumptions are rebuttable. Thus rebuttable presumption is a redundancy.

Rebuttal

n. evidence introduced to counter, disprove or contradict the opposition’s evidence or a presumption, or responsive legal argument.

Recapture

n. in income tax, the requirement that upon sale of property the taxpayer pay the amount of tax savings from past years due to accelerated depreciation or deferred capital gains.

Receipt

n. a written and signed acknowledgment by the recipient of payment for goods, money in payment of a debt or receiving assets from the estate of someone who has died.

Receiver

n. 1) a neutral person (often a professional trustee) appointed by a judge to take charge of the property and business of one of the parties to a lawsuit and receive his/her rents and profits while the right to the moneys has not been finally decided. Appointment of a receiver must be requested by petition of the other party to the suit, and will only be authorized if there is a strong showing that the moneys would not be available when a decision is made. The funds are held for the prevailing party. 2) a person appointed to receive rents and profits coming to a debtor either while a bankruptcy is being processed or while an arrangement is being worked out to pay creditors, so that funds will be paid for debts and possibly available for distribution to creditors. 3) shorthand for one who commits the crime of receiving stolen goods knowing they were obtained illegally.

Receivership

n. the process of appointment by a court of a receiver to take custody of the property, business, rents and profits of a party to a lawsuit pending a final decision on disbursement or an agreement that a receiver control the financial receipts of a person who is deeply in debt (insolvent) for the benefit of creditors. Thus, the term “the business is in receivership.”

Recess

n. a break in a trial or other court proceedings or a legislative session until a certain date and time. Recess is not to be confused with “adjournment,” which winds up the proceedings.

Recidivist

n. a repeat criminal offender, convicted of a crime after having been previously convicted.

Reciprocal discovery

n. the exchange of documents, lists of witnesses, and other information between the two sides of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution before trial.

Reciprocity

n. mutual exchange of privileges between states, nations, businesses or individuals. In regard to lawyers, reciprocity refers to recognizing the license of an attorney from another state without the necessity of taking the local state’s bar examination. Such reciprocity is seldom granted now, since many large states refuse to give it.

Reckless

adj. in both negligence and criminal cases, careless to the point of being heedless of the consequences (“grossly” negligent). Most commonly this refers to the traffic misdemeanor “reckless driving.” It can also refer to use of firearms (shooting a gun in a public place), explosives or heavy equipment.

Reckless disregard

n. gross negligence without concern for danger to others. Actually “reckless disregard” is redundant since reckless means there is a disregard for safety.

Reckless driving

n. operation of an automobile in a dangerous manner under the circumstances, including speeding (or going too fast for the conditions, even though within the posted speed limit), driving after drinking (but not drunk), having too many passengers in the car, cutting in and out of traffic, failing to yield to other vehicles and other negligent acts. It is a misdemeanor crime. A “wet reckless” is a plea in a drunk driving prosecution allowed to lessen the penalty when the blood alcohol level is close to the legal limit.

Reconveyance

n. in those states which use deeds of trust as a mortgage on real property to secure payment of a loan or other debt, the transfer of title by the trustee (which has been holding title to the real property) back to the borrower (on the written request of the borrower) when the secured debt is fully paid. Under the deed of trust the borrower transfers title in the real property to the trustee (often a title or escrow company) which holds it for the benefit of the lender (called “beneficiary”). The lender must surrender the promissory note to the trustee who cancels it and then reconveys title to the borrower and records the reconveyance.

Record

1) v. to put a document into the official records of a county at the office of the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds. The process is that the document is taken or sent to the Recorder’s office, a recording fee paid, the document is given a number (a document number, volume or reel number and page number), stamped with the date (and usually the time) of recording and then in most modern offices, microfilmed and the document returned a short time later. Normally recorded is any document affecting title to real property such as a deed, deed of trust, mortgage, reconveyance, release, declaration of homestead, easement, judgment, lien, request for notice of default, foreclosure, satisfaction of judgment, decree of distribution of a dead person’s estates and sometimes long-term leases. These recordings provide a traceable chain of title to the property and give the public “constructive” notice of all interests in the property. In most states if there is more than one document affecting the property (such as two deeds, two mortgages, or a judgment and mortgage), the first one recorded has “seniority” and first claim on the property in what is called a “race to the courthouse.” 2) v. to write down or tape the minutes, financial transactions, discussions and other happenings at meetings. 3) n. in trials, hearings or other legal proceedings the total of the proceedings which are transcribed by a court reporter and included in the minutes of the clerk or judge, as well as all the documents filed in the case. On an appeal, the record includes everything that transpired before the appeal, upon which the written briefs (opposing legal arguments) and oral argument are based. On appeal the court can consider only the record, unless there is a claim of “newly discovered evidence.”

Recording

The process of filing a copy of a deed or other document concerning real estate with the land records office for the county in which the land is located. Recording creates a public record of changes in ownership of all property in the state.

Recording acts

n. the statutes of each state which established the keeping of official records by County Recorders or Recorders of Deeds.

Records

n. in business, particularly corporations, all the written business documents, especially about financial dealings. Thus, shareholders and partners are entitled to access to the “records” of the business.

Recoupment

n. the right of a defendant in a lawsuit to demand deduction from the amount awarded to plaintiff (party bringing the suit) of a sum due the defendant from the plaintiff in the transaction which was the subject of the lawsuit. Example: Laura Landlord sues Tillie Tenant for nonpayment of rent, Tenant is entitled to deduct a deposit made at the commencement of the lease, or an amount Landlord received from re-renting the apartment before the lease expired. A recoupment is not the same as an “offset” (setoff), which can be money owed from any matter, including outside the lawsuit.

Recourse

n. the right to demand payment to the writer of a check or bill of exchange.

Recover

v. to receive a money judgment in a lawsuit.

Recoverable

adj. referring to the amount of money to which a plaintiff (the party suing) is entitled in a lawsuit. Thus, a judge might rule “$12,500 is recoverable for lost wages, and $5,500 is recoverable for property damage to plaintiff’s vehicle.”

Recovery

n. the amount of money and any other right or property received by a plaintiff in a lawsuit.

Recusal

A situation in which a judge or prosecutor is removed or steps down from a case. This often happens when the judge or prosecutor has a conflict of interest — for example, a prior relationship with one of the parties.

Recuse

v. to refuse to be a judge (or for a judge to agree to a request by one of the parties to step aside) in a lawsuit or appeal because of a conflict of interest or other good reason (acquaintanceship with one of the parties, for example). It also applies to a judge or prosecutor being removed or voluntarily removing himself/herself from a criminal case in which he/she has a conflict of interest, such as friendship or known enmity to the defendant.

Red herring

A legal or factual issue that is irrelevant to the case at hand.

Redaction

The act of going over a document with a fine-toothed comb in order to find any ambiguities or areas that are not to your advantage.

Redeem

v. to buy back, as when an owner who had mortgaged his/her real property pays off the debt. The term also refers to paying the amount due and all charges after a foreclosure (because of failure to make payments when due) has begun. A person who has pawned a possession may redeem the item by paying the loan and interest to the pawnbroker.

Redemption

n. the act of redeeming, buying back property by paying off a loan, interest and any costs of foreclosure.

Reentry

n. taking back possession and going into real property which one owns, particularly when a tenant has failed to pay rent or has abandoned the property, or possession has been restored to the owner by judgment in an unlawful detainer lawsuit. Reentry may also be allowed when a buyer defaults on payments on a contract of sale or upon foreclosure of a mortgage or deed of trust which secured a loan on the property. The right of reentry is usually written into leases and sometimes in mortgages.

Referee

n. a person to whom a judge refers a case to take testimony or acquire other evidence such as financial records and report to the court on such findings.

Referendum

n. the process by which the repeal or approval of an existing statute or state constitutional provision is voted upon. Many states provide for referenda (plural of referendum) which are placed on the ballot by a required number of voter signatures on a petition filed.

Reformation

The act of changing a written contract when one of the parties can prove that the actual agreement was different than what’s written down. The changes are usually made by a court when both parties overlooked a mistake in the document, or when one party has deceived the other.

Refresh one’s memory

v. to use a document, exhibit or previous testimony in order to help a witness recall an event or prior statement when the witness has responded to a question that he/she could not remember. To attempt to “refresh” the memory of a forgetful or reluctant witness, the witness must have denied remembering and the attorney must have the witness identify the document, exhibit or prior statement (lay a foundation showing it is genuine).

Refugee

n the context of the immigration law, people who have been allowed to live in the country indefinitely to protect them from persecution in their home countries. Refugees get their status before coming to the country, while asylum seekers obtain their status after arrival.

Register

n. in corporations, the record of shareholders, and issuance and transfer of shares on the records of the corporation.

Registration statement

n. a detailed report to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission by a corporation making an issuance of shares to be advertised and sold to the general public in more than one state (in interstate commerce), which must be approved by the SEC before it will approve the stock issuance.

Registry of deeds

n. the records of land title documents kept by the County Recorder or Recorder of Deeds. These are usually kept on microfilm reels of copies of the original documents, which can be found by tracing the names of owners in the Grantor-Grantee index. These are public information but may require the assistance of an employee to locate.

Regulations

n. rules and administrative codes issued by governmental agencies at all levels, municipal, county, state and federal. Although they are not laws, regulations have the force of law, since they are adopted under authority granted by statutes, and often include penalties for violations. One problem is that regulations are not generally included in volumes containing state statutes or federal laws but often must be obtained from the agency or located in volumes in law libraries and not widely distributed. The regulation-making process involves hearings, publication in governmental journals which supposedly give public notice, and adoption by the agency. The process is best known to industries and special interests concerned with the subject matter, but only occasionally to the general public. Federal regulations are adopted in the manner designated in the Administrative Procedure Act (A.P.A.) and states usually have similar procedures.

Rehearing

n. conducting a hearing again based on the motion of one of the parties to a lawsuit, petition or criminal prosecution, usually by the court or agency which originally heard the matter. Rehearings are usually requested due to newly discovered evidence, an unfortunate and possibly unintended result of the original order, a change of circumstance or a simple claim that the judge or agency was just wrong.

Rejection of claim

n. in probate law (administration of an estate of a person who died), a claim for a debt of the deceased denied (rejected) in total or in part by the executor or administrator of the estate. A claim is rejected in writing filed with the court, and a judge shall approve or disapprove the rejection if the claimant protests. If a claim is not acted upon it may be presumed to be approved in most states. There are other types of claims which may be rejected by agencies or individuals, which can be protested in a lawsuit if all administrative procedures are used first (under the rule called “exhaustion of administrative remedies”).

Release

1) v. to give up a right as releasing one from his/her obligation to perform under a contract, or to relinquish a right to an interest in real property. 2) v. to give freedom, as letting out of prison. 3) n. the writing that grants a release.

Release on one’s own recognizance

v. for a judge to allow a criminal defendant pre-trial freedom without posting bail, based on the past history of the defendant, roots in the community, regular employment, the recommendation of the prosecutor, the type of crime, and in total the likelihood of making all appearances in court and the improbability that the defendant will commit another crime while awaiting trial. Often called “O.R.” or “R.O.R,” it is granted routinely in traffic matters, minor and technical crimes, and to people with no criminal record who display stability. It is called to be “ORed” in courtroom slang

Relevant

adj. having some reasonable connection with, and in regard to evidence in trial, having some value or tendency to prove a matter of fact significant to the case. Commonly, an objection to testimony or physical evidence is that it is “irrelevant.”

Reliance

n. acting upon another’s statement of alleged fact, claim or promise. In contracts, if someone takes some steps (“changes his position” is the usual legal language) in reliance on the other’s statement, claim or promise then the person upon whom the actor relied is entitled to contend there is a contract he/she can enforce. However, the reliance must be reasonable.

Reliction

n. gradual change of water line on real property which gives the owner more dry land.

Relief

n. generic term for all types of benefits which an order or judgment of court can give a party to a lawsuit, including money award, injunction, return of property, property title, alimony and dozens of other possibilities.

Remainder

n. in real property law, the interest in real property that is left after another interest in the property ends, such as full title after a life estate (the right to use the property until one dies). A remainder must be created by a deed or will.

Remainderman

Someone who will inherit property in the future. For instance, if someone dies and leaves his home “to Alma for life, and then to Barry,” Barry is a remainderman because he will inherit the home in the future, after Alma dies.

Remand

v. to send back. An appeals court may remand a case to the trial court for further action if it reverses the judgment of the lower court, or after a preliminary hearing a judge may remand into custody a person accused of a crime if the judge finds that a there is reason to hold the accused for trial.

Remedy

n. the means to achieve justice in any matter in which legal rights are involved. Remedies may be ordered by the court, granted by judgment after trial or hearing, by agreement (settlement) between the person claiming harm and the person he/she believes has caused it, and by the automatic operation of law. Some remedies require that certain acts be performed or prohibited (originally called “equity”); others involve payment of money to cover loss due to injury or breach of contract; and still others require a court’s declaration of the rights of the parties and an order to honor them. An “extraordinary remedy” is a means employed by a judge to meet particular problems, such as appointment of a referee, master or receiver to investigate, report or take charge of property. A “provisional remedy” is a temporary solution to hold matters in status quo pending a final decision or an attempt to see if the remedy will work.

Remise

v. to give up something, sometimes used in quitclaim deeds.

Remittitur

n. 1) a judge’s order reducing a judgment awarded by a jury when the award exceeds the amount asked for by the plaintiff (person who brought the suit). 2) an appeal’s transmittal of a case back to the trial court so that the case can be retried, or an order entered consistent with the appeals court’s decision (such as dismissing the plaintiff’s case or awarding costs to the winning party on appeal).

Remote

adj., adv. extremely far off or slight. Evidence may be so remote from the issues in a trial that it will not be allowed because it is “immaterial.” An act which started the events which led to an accident may be too remote to be a cause, as distinguished from the “proximate cause.” Example: While Doug Driver is passing a corner a friend calls out to him causing him to look away, and then Doug looks back and in the middle of the block is hit by a truck backing out of a driveway. The momentary inattention is not a cause of the injury, and is called a “remote cause.”

Removal

An immigration legal proceeding, also commonly known as “deportation,” that is conducted before an immigration judge to decide whether or not an immigrant will be allowed to enter or remain in the country. Generally speaking, a person who is already in the U.S. cannot be expelled without first going through a removal hearing, while someone arriving at the border or a port of entry can be removed without a hearing or ever seeing a judge (called “summary” or “expedited” removal). Those who are deported or removed are barred from returning to the United States for at least five years unless U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants a special waiver.

Renewal

n. keeping an existing arrangement in force for an additional period of time, such as a lease, a promissory note, insurance policy or any other contract. Renewal usually requires a writing or some action which evidences the new term.

Rent

1) v. to hire an object or real property for a period of time (or for an open-ended term) for specified payments. 2) n. the amount paid by the renter and received by the owner. Rent may be specified in a written lease, but also may be based on an oral agreement for either a short period or on a month-to-month basis in which the hiring may be terminated on a month’s notice.

Rent control

Laws that limit the amount of rent landlords may charge, and that state when and by how much the rent can be raised. Most rent control laws also require a landlord to provide a good reason, such as repeatedly late rent, for evicting a tenant. Rent control exists in some cities and counties in California, Maryland, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C.

Rental value

n. the amount which would be paid for rental of similar property in the same condition in the same area. Evidence of rental value becomes important in lawsuits in which loss of use of real property or equipment is an issue, and the rental value is the “measure of damages.” In divorce cases in which one of the spouses stays in the family residence, the use of the property has rental value which is considered in balancing the income of the parties, determining division of property or setting the amount of alimony to be paid.

Renunciation

n. 1) giving up a right, such as a right of inheritance, a gift under a will or abandoning the right to collect a debt on a note. 2) in criminal law, abandoning participation in a crime before it takes place, or an attempt to stop other participants from going ahead with the crime. A defendant may use renunciation as evidence of his/her innocence. Once the crime is underway, any claimed renunciation is factually too late.

Reorganization

n. the implementation of a business plan to restructure a corporation, which may include transfers of stock between shareholders of two corporations in a merger. In bankruptcy, a corporation in deep financial trouble may be given time to reorganize while being protected from creditors by the bankruptcy court. The theory is that if the business is able to get on its feet the creditors will eventually collect.

Repair

v. to restore to former condition or in some contracts to operational soundness. Contracts should spell out the repairs to be made and what the final condition will be. Example: roof repairs should be more than a half-baked patching to temporarily halt leaking.

Repeal

1) v. to annul an existing law, by passage of a repealing statute, or by public vote on a referendum. Repeal of constitutional provisions requires an amendment, as with the repeal of prohibition in which the 21st Amendment repealed the 18th Amendment. 2) n. the act of annulling a statute.

Replacement value

What it would cost to buy a particular item from a retail vendor, considering its age and condition — for instance, to buy a car from a used car dealer, furniture from a used furniture shop,or electronic equipment on eBay.

Replevin

A type of legal action where the owner of movable goods is given the right to recover them from someone who shouldn’t have them. Replevin is often used in disputes between buyers and sellers — for example a seller might bring a replevin action to reclaim goods from a buyer who failed to pay for them.

Reply brief

n. the written legal argument of the respondent (trial court winner) in answer to the “opening brief” of an appellant (a trial court loser who has appealed).

Reports

n. the published decisions of appeals courts in all states and federal courts, which are found in federal, state and regional series (called “reporters”) which are constantly updated with pamphlets called “advance sheets” which are soon followed by bound volumes. There are also reports of specialized courts and particular subject matters such as taxes, bankruptcy and federal procedure. Thus there are Massachusetts Reports, Georgia Reports, Kansas Reports, California Supreme Court Reports, California Appellate Reports and similar series for every state. Regional reporters include Northeast, Atlantic, Southeast, Southern, Northwest, Pacific and so forth, and combine several states’ decisions. For Supreme Court cases there are three major reporters, including U.S. Reports, Supreme Court Reporter, and Lawyer’s Edition Supreme Court Reports. These reports are available in almost all law libraries.

Repossess

v. to take back property through judicial processes, foreclosure, or self-help upon default in required payments.

Repossession

A creditor’s taking property that has been pledged as collateral for a loan. Lenders will most often repossess cars when the owner has missed loan payments and has not attempted to work with the lender to resolve the problem. A repossessor can’t use force to get at your car, but he can legally hot-wire it and even drive it out of your unlocked garage.

Represent

v. 1) to act as the agent for another. 2) to act as a client’s attorney. 3) to state something as a fact, such as “I tell you this horse is only four years old.” 4) to allege a fact in court, as “I represent to the court that we will present six witnesses,” “We represent that this is the final contract between the parties.”

Representation

n. 1) the act of being another’s agent. 2) acting as an attorney for a client. 3) a statement of alleged fact either in negotiations or in court.

Representative

1) n. an agent. 2) n. in probate law, a generic term for an executor or administrator of the estate of a person who has died, generally referred to as the “personal representative.” 3) adj. typical, as “these pictures are representative of the conditions at the job site.”

Reprieve

n. a temporary delay in imposition of the death penalty (a punishment which cannot be reduced afterwards) by the executive order of the Governor of the state. Reasons for reprieves include the possibility of newly discovered evidence (another’s involvement, evidence of mental impairment), awaiting the result of some last-minute appeal, or concern of the Governor that there may have been some error in the record which he/she should examine. On occasion a reprieve has saved a man found to be innocent. Upon the expiration of the reprieve the date for execution can be reset and the death penalty imposed. A reprieve is only a delay and is not a reduction of sentence, commutation of sentence or pardon.

Repudiation

n. denial of the existence of a contract and/or refusal to perform a contract obligation. Repudiation is an anticipatory breach of a contract.

Reputation

n. a person’s good name, honor or what the community thinks of him/her. The quality and value of one’s reputation is a key issue in suits for defamation (libel and slander) since the damage to one’s reputation by published untruths may determine the amount of judgment against the defamer. Sometimes a person’s favorable reputation is so great that most defamation cannot do him/her much harm.

Reputed

adj. referring to what is accepted by general public belief, whether or not correct.

Request

1) v. to ask or demand a judge to act (such as issuing a writ) or demanding something from the other party (such as production of documents), usually by a party to a lawsuit (usually the attorney). 2) n. the act of asking or demanding.

Request for admission

A discovery procedure, authorized by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the court rules of many states, in which one party asks an opposing party to admit that certain facts are true. If the opponent admits the facts or fails to respond in a timely manner, the facts will be deemed true for purposes of trial. A request for admission is called a “request to admit” in many states.

Requirements contract

n. a contract between a supplier (or manufacturer) and a buyer, in which the supplier agrees to sell all the particular products that the buyer needs, and the buyer agrees to purchase the goods exclusively from the supplier. A requirements contract differs from an “an output contract,” in which the buyer agrees to buy all the supplier produces.

Res

Latin, “thing.” In law lingo res is used in conjunction with other Latin words as “thing that.”

Res adjudicata

Latin for “the thing has been judged.” More properly res judicata.

Res gestae

Latin for “things done,” it means all circumstances surrounding and connected with a happening. Thus, the res gestae of a crime includes the immediate area and all occurrences and statements immediately after the crime. Statements made within the res gestae of a crime or accident may be admitted in court even though they are “hearsay” on the basis that spontaneous statements in those circumstances are reliable.

Res ipsa loquitur

Latin term meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” Res ipsa loquitur is a legal doctrine or rule of evidence that creates a presumption that a defendant acted negligently simply because a harmful accident occurred. The presumption arises only if 1) the thing that caused the accident was under the defendant’s control, 2) the accident could happen only as a result of a careless act and, (3) the plaintiff’s behavior did not contribute to the accident. Lawyers often refer to this doctrine as “res ips” or “res ipsa.”

Res judicata

Latin for “the thing has been judged,” meaning the issue before the court has already been decided by another court, between the same parties. Therefore, the court will dismiss the case before it as being useless. Example: an Ohio court determines that John is the father of Betty’s child. John cannot raise the issue again in another state. Sometimes called res adjudicata.

Res nova

Latin for “a new thing,” used by courts to describe an issue of law or case that has not previously been decided.

Resale

n. selling again, particularly at retail. 2) adj. referring to sales to the general public, as distinguished from wholesale, sales to retailers. In many states a “resale license” or “resale number” is required so that the state can monitor the collection of sales tax on retail sales.

Rescind

v. to cancel a contract, putting the parties back to the position as if the contract had not existed. Both parties rescind a contract by mutual agreement, since a unilateral cancellation of a contract is a “breach” of the contract and could result in a lawsuit by the non-cancelling party.

Rescission

n. the cancellation of a contract by mutual agreement of the parties.

Rescue doctrine

n. the rule of law that if a rescuer of a person hurt or put in peril due to the negligence or intentional wrongdoing of another (the tortfeasor) is injured in the process of the rescue, the original wrongdoer is responsible in damages for the rescuer’s injury. Example: Sydney Sparetire speeds on a mountain highway, and skids in front of Victor Victim, running Victim’s car off the bank, trapping Victim in the vehicle. Raymond Rightguy stops, ties a rope to the grill of his car, slides down and extricates Victim, but on the way up slips and breaks his arm, and then finds the grill is badly bent. The negligent Sparetire is liable to Rightguy for his broken arm (including medical expenses, loss of wages and general damages for pain and suffering) as well as the property damage to the car grill.

Reservation

n. a provision in a deed which keeps (reserves) to the grantor some right or portion of the property. The language might read: “Sarah Sims reserves to herself an easement of access to lots 6, 7 and 8,” or “reserves mineral rights,” or “except she reserves lot 5.”

Reserve

v. to keep for oneself a right or a portion of the real property when transferring (conveying) a parcel of real estate to anoth

Reserve fund

n. a fund of money created to take care of maintenance, repairs or unexpected expenses of a business or a multi-unit housing development (often condominiums or a housing cooperative) operated by a homeowners association or other governing body. Most states require that homeowners associations maintain such a fund.

Residence

n. 1) the place where one makes his/her home. However, a person may have his/her state of “domicile” elsewhere for tax or other purposes, especially if the residence is for convenience or not of long standing. 2) in corporation law, the state of incorporation.

Resident

n. a person who lives in a particular place. However, the term is vague depending on the permanence of the occupation.

Residuary beneficiary

A person who receives any property by a will or trust that is not specifically left to another designated beneficiary. For example, if Antonio makes a will leaving his home to Edwina and the remainder of his property to Elmo, then Elmo is the residuary beneficiary.

Residuary bequest

n. in a will, the gift of whatever is left (the residue) after specific gifts are given. It is also called a residuary legacy.

Residuary estate

The property that remains in a deceased person’s estate after all specific gifts are made, and all debts, taxes, administrative fees, probate costs, and court costs are paid. The residuary estate also includes any gifts under a will that fail or lapse. For example, Connie’s will leaves her house and all its furnishings to Andrew, her VW bug to her friend Carl, and the remainder of her property (the residuary estate) to her sister Sara. She doesn’t name any alternate beneficiaries. Carl dies before Connie. The VW bug becomes part of the residuary estate and passes to Sara, along with all of Connie’s property other than the house and furnishings. Also called the residual estate or residue.

Residue

n. in a will, the assets of the estate of a person who has died with a will (died testate) which are left after all specific gifts have been made. Typical language: “I leave the rest, residue and remainder [or just residue] of my estate to my grandchildren.” If the residue is not given to any beneficiary it will be distributed pursuant to the laws of descent and distribution.

Resisting arrest

n. the crime of using physical force (no matter how slight in the eyes of most law enforcement officers) to prevent arrest, handcuffing and/or taking the accused to jail. It is also called “resisting an officer” (but that can include interfering with a peace officer’s attempt to keep the peace) and is sometimes referred to merely as “resisting.”

Resolution

n. a determination of policy of a corporation by the vote of its board of directors. Legislative bodies also pass resolutions, but they are often statements of policy, belief or appreciation, and not always enactment of statutes or ordinances.

Respondeat superior

Latin for “let the master answer,” a key doctrine in the law of agency, which provides that a principal (employer) is responsible for the actions of his/her/its agent (employee) in the “course of employment.” Thus, an agent who signs an agreement to purchase goods for his employer in the name of the employer can create a binding contract between the seller and the employer. Another example: if a delivery truck driver negligently hits a child in the street, the company for which the driver works will be liable for the injuries.

respondent

A term used instead of defendant or appellee in some states — especially for divorce and other family law cases — to identify the party who is sued and must respond to the petitioner’s complaint.

Responsible

adj. 1) legally liable or accountable. 2) having the ability to pay or perform.

Restatement of the Law

n. a series of detailed statements of the basic law in the United States on a variety of subjects written and updated by well-known legal scholars under the auspices of the American Law Institute since the 1930s. While not having the force of statutes or of decided precedents, the Restatement (as lawyers generally call it) has the prestige of the scholars who have studied the legal questions. Topics covered include agency, contracts, property, torts and trusts.

Restitution

n. 1) returning to the proper owner property or the monetary value of loss. Sometimes restitution is made part of a judgment in negligence and/or contracts cases. 2) in criminal cases, one of the penalties imposed is requiring return of stolen goods to the victim or payment to the victim for harm caused. Restitution may be a condition of granting a defendant probation or giving him/her a shorter sentence than normal.

Restraining order

An order from a court directing one person not to do something, such as make contact with another person, enter the family home or remove a child from the state. Restraining orders are typically issued in cases in which spousal abuse or stalking is feared — or has occurred — in an attempt to ensure the victim’s safety. Restraining orders are also commonly issued to cool down ugly disputes between neighbors.

Restraint of trade

n. in antitrust law, any activity (including agreements among competitors or companies doing business with each other) which tends to limit trade, sales and transportation in interstate commerce or has a substantial impact on interstate commerce. Most of these actions are illegal under the various antitrust statutes. Some state laws also outlaw local restraints on competitive business activity.

Restraint on alienation

A provision in a deed or will that attempts to restrict ownership of the property — for example, selling your house to your daughter with the provision that it never be sold to anyone outside the family. These provisions are generally unenforceable.

Restriction

n. any limitation on activity, by statute, regulation or contract provision. In multi-unit real estate developments, condominium and cooperative housing projects managed by homeowners’ associations or similar organizations, such organizations are usually required by state law to impose restrictions on use. Thus, the restrictions are part of the “covenants, conditions and restrictions” intended to enhance the use of common facilities and property which are recorded and incorporated into the title of each owner.

Restrictive covenant

n. 1) an agreement included in a deed to real property that the buyer (grantee) will be limited as to the future use of the property. Example: no fence may be built on the property except of dark wood and not more than six feet high, no tennis court or swimming pool may be constructed within 30 feet of the property line, and no structure can be built within 20 feet of the frontage street. Commonly these covenants are written so that they can be enforced by the grantor and other owners in the subdivision, so that future owners will be bound by the covenant (called “covenant running with the land” if enforceable against future owners). All restrictive covenants based on race (“the property may be occupied only by Caucasians”) were declared unconstitutional and if they still show on deeds are null and void.

Restrictive endorsement

n. an endorsement signed on the back of a check, note or bill of exchange which restricts to whom the paper may be transferred.

Result

n. common lawyer lingo for outcome of a lawsuit.

Resulting trust

n. a trust implied by law (as determined by a court) that a person who holds title or possession was intended by agreement (implied by the circumstances) with the intended owner to hold the property for the intended owner. Thus, the holder is considered a trustee of a resulting trust for the proper owner as beneficiary. Although a legal fiction, the resulting trust forces the holder to honor the intention and prevents unjust enrichment.

Retainer

A fee paid in advance to a lawyer to secure her services. It acts as a down payment, ensuring that the lawyer won’t get stiffed and that the client will be represented.

Retire

v. 1) to stop working at one’s occupation. 2) to pay off a promissory note and thus “retire” the loan. 3) for a jury to go into the jury room to decide on a verdict after all evi-dence, argument and jury instructions have been completed.

Retirement benefits

Under the Social Security system, an amount of money available to those who reach age 62 — equivalent to a small percentage of worklife earnings. For a single person first claiming retirement benefits in 1997, the average monthly benefit was about $750; $1,250 for a couple. A single person with a high earnings record claiming retirement benefits in 1997 at age 65 would receive about $1,250 per month; $1,800 for a couple. These benefits increase yearly with the cost of living — and the amount is higher the longer a person waits to claim the benefit, up to age 70.

Retraction

n. 1) to withdraw any legal document in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding, or withdraw a promise or offer of contract. 2) in defamation, particularly libel, the correction of any untruth published in a newspaper or magazine or broadcast on radio or television, usually upon the demand of the person about whom the damaging false statement was made. A clear and complete retraction will usually end the right of the defamed party to go forward with a lawsuit for damages for libel. In most states a retraction must be demanded before the suit is filed in order to cure the problem without litigation.

Retrial

n. a new trial granted upon the motion of the losing party, based on obvious error, bias or newly discovered evidence, or after mistrial or reversed by an appeals court.

Retroactive

adj. referring to a court’s decision or a statute enacted by a legislative body which would result in application to past transactions and legal actions. In criminal law, statutes which would increase penalties or make criminal activities which had been previously legal are prohibited by the constitutional ban on ex post facto laws (Article I, Section 9). Most court decisions which change the elements necessary to prove a crime or the introduction of evidence such as confessions are usually made non-retroactive to prevent a flood of petitions of people convicted under prior rules. Nor can statutes or court decisions take away “vested” property rights or change contract rights. However, some decisions are so fundamental to justice they may have a retroactive effect, depending on the balance between stability of the law and the public good. Retroactive is also called “retrospective.”

Return of service

n. written confirmation under oath by a process server declaring that there was service of legal documents (such as a summons and complaint).

Revenue ruling

n. a published opinion of the Internal Revenue Service stating what it would rule on future tax questions based on the same circumstances. These rulings are of general use to taxpayers, tax preparers, accountants and attorneys in anticipating tax treatment by the IRS. They have the force of law until otherwise determined by the federal tax court or a new revenue ruling.

Reversal

n. the decision of a court of appeal ruling that the judgment of a lower court was incorrect and is therefore reversed. The result is that the lower court which tried the case is instructed to dismiss the original action, retry the case or change its judgment. Examples: a court which denied a petition for writ of mandate is ordered to issue the writ. A lower court which gave judgment with no evidence of damages is ordered to dismiss.

Reversible error

n. a legal mistake at the trial court level which is so significant (resulted in an improper judgment) that the judgment must be reversed by the appellate court. A reversible error is distinguished from an error which is minor or did not contribute to the judgment at the trial.

Reversion

n. in real property, the return to the grantor or his/her heirs of real property after all interests in the property given to others have terminated.

Reverter

n. synonymous with reversion.

Review

n. the judicial consideration of a lower court judgment by an appellate court, determining if there were legal errors sufficient to require reversal. The process requires notice of appeal, obtaining a transcript of the trial or hearing at the trial level, obtaining all the pleadings and other documents filed in the original trial, preparation of briefs citing precedents and arguing that there was reversible error. Then the respondent (winner at the trial court) may file a responsive brief, and the appellant (the one appealing the decision) has the chance to file a brief in response to the respondent. The next step is oral argument (if allowed) before the appellate court. Appeals on procedural issues normally do not include oral argument. If the appellate court denies the appeal a rehearing may be requested but is seldom granted.

Revival

n. 1) requesting a court to reinstate the force of an old judgment. 2) reinstating a contract or debt by a new agreement after the right to demand performance or collect has expired under the statute of limitations (the time to sue).

Revocation

n. 1) mutual cancellation of a contract by the parties to it. 2) withdrawing an offer before it is accepted (“I revoke my offer”). 3) cancelling a document before it has come into legal effect or been acted upon, as revoking a will. 4) to recall a power or authority previously given, as cancelling a power of attorney or cancelling a driver’s license due to traffic offenses.

Revoke

v. to annul or cancel an act, particularly a statement, document or promise, as if it no longer existed. Thus, a person can revoke a will or revoke an offer to enter into a contract, and a government agency can revoke a license.

Rhadamanthine

A term used to describe a hard-nosed judge, inflexible in the application of the law.

Rider

n. 1) an attachment to a document which adds to or amends it. Typical is an added provision to an insurance policy, such as additional coverage or temporary insurance to cover a public event. 2) in legislatures, an amendment tacked on to a bill which has little or no relevance to the main purpose of the legislation, but is a way to get the amendment passed if the basic bill has support. 3) passenger.

Right

1) n. an entitlement to something, whether to concepts like justice and due process or to ownership of property or some interest in property, real or personal. These rights include: various freedoms; protection against interference with enjoyment of life and property; civil rights enjoyed by citizens such as voting and access to the courts; natural rights accepted by civilized societies; human rights to protect people throughout the world from terror, torture, barbaric practices and deprivation of civil rights and profit from their labor; and such constitutional guarantees as the right to freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly and petition. 2) adj. just, fair, correct.

Right of survivorship

The right of a surviving joint tenant to take ownership of a deceased joint tenant’s share of the property.

Right of way

n. 1) a pathway or road with a specific description (e.g. “right to access and egress 20 feet wide along the northern line of Lot 7 of the Cobb subdivision in page 75 of maps”). 2) the right to cross property to go to and from another parcel. The right of way may be a specific grant of land or an “easement,” which is a right to pass across another’s land. The mere right to cross without a specific description is a “floating” easement. Some rights of way are for limited use such as repair of electric lines or for deliveries to the back door of a store. Railroads own title to a right of way upon which to build permanent tracks. 3) in traffic ordinances, a driver is entitled to the “right of way” to proceed first ahead of other vehicles or pedestrians, depending on certain rules of the road, such as the first to reach an intersection. Failure to yield the right of way to the vehicle or person entitled to it can result in a citation and fine, to say nothing of an accident. It can also be evidence of negligence in a lawsuit for injuries suffered in an accident.

Right to privacy

n. the possible right to be let alone, in absence of some “reasonable” public interest in a person’s activities, like those of celebrities or participants in newsworthy events. Invasion of the right to privacy can be the basis for a lawsuit for damages against the person or entity (such as a magazine or television show) violating the right. However, the right to privacy does not extend to prohibiting someone from taking another person’s picture on the street.

Rights

n. 1) plural of right, which is the collection of entitlements which a person may have and which are protected by the government and the courts or under an agreement (contract). 2) slang for the information which must be given by law enforcement officers to a person who is about to be arrested, is a prime suspect in a crime, or is officially accused of a crime. These “rights” are short for “Miranda rights,” which the Supreme Court, in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), required be read to suspects, including the rights to remain silent and to have an attorney (and if the suspect cannot afford a lawyer, one will be provided), and warning that anything the suspect says can be used against him/her in court. Failure to recite these rights means that a confession may not be used as evidence.

Riot

n. 1) technically a turbulent and violent disturbance of peace by three or more people acting together. 2) an assemblage of people who are out of control, causing injury or endangering the physical safety of others and/or themselves, causing or threatening damage to property and often violating various laws both individually and as a group. The common thread is that the people in a riot have the power through violence to break the public peace and safety, requiring police action. Often a riot is declared after the crowd has been informed by police officers that the people constitute an “unlawful assembly” and are ordered to “disperse” immediately (historically in England called “reading the riot act”). If the crowd does not disperse, its members become subject to arrest for the crime of rioting, disturbing the peace, resisting arrest or other separate crimes ranging from assault to unlawful possession of firearms.

Riparian

adj. referring to the banks of a river or stream.

Riparian rights

n. the right of the owner of the land forming the bank of a river or stream to use water from the waterway on the land, such as for drinking water or irrigation. State laws vary as to the extent of the rights, but controversy exists as to the extent of riparian rights for diversion of water to sell to others, for industrial purposes, to mine the land under the water for gravel or minerals or for docks and marinas. Consistent in these questions is that a riparian owner may not act to deny riparian rights to the owner of downstream properties along the waterway, meaning the water may not be dammed and channelled away from its natural course.

Ripe

adj. in constitutional law, referring to a law case appealed from a state or federal court which is ready for consideration by the Supreme Court, meaning that all other avenues for determining the case have been exhausted, there is a real controversy and the law needs to be settled on one or more issues raised by the case.

Risk

n. chances of danger or loss, particularly of property covered by an insurance policy or property being used or transported by another. Insurance companies assume the risk of loss and calculate their premiums by the value and the risk based on statistically determined chances. A trucking company assumes the risk of loss while carrying goods.

Risk of loss

n. the responsibility a carrier, borrower or user of property or goods assumes or an insurance company agrees to cover if there is damage or loss.

Roadside test

n. a preliminary test law enforcement officers use on a suspected drunk driver at the spot the driver has been pulled over. Essentially it is a test of equilibrium (balance), reflexes and mental acuity, consisting of standing on one foot and then the other, walking a straight line, touching one’s nose with the forefinger of each hand, saying the alphabet backwards or counting by twos. Some tests include writing. Although sometimes a judgment call by the officers, a suspect’s failure of the test is often obvious and may be supplemented by reports of slurred speech, bloodshot eyes, the smell of alcohol and answers to simple questions such as “How much did you have to drink?” or “Do you know where you are?” If the officer decides the driver is drunk, he/she will inform the driver he/she is being arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, read the Miranda rights, arrest the driver and transport him/her to a nearby police facility, where the suspect is asked to submit to an alcohol blood test (breathalizer, blood or urine) which is more definitive than the subjective roadside test. If the driver refuses the blood alcohol test, the officer may testify in court on the roadside test results as proof of drunkenness if there is a trial of the accused. In cases in which the inability to drive effectively is due to use of narcotics or a combination of drugs and alcohol, the roadside test may provide crucial evidence of physical symptoms and mental confusion indicating inability to drive safely even though the alcohol level is below the legally drunk level.

Robbery

n. 1) the direct taking of property (including money) from a person (victim) through force, threat or intimidation. Robbery is a felony (crime punishable by a term in state or federal prison). “Armed robbery” involves the use of a gun or other weapon which can do bodily harm, such as a knife or club, and under most state laws carries a stiffer penalty (longer possible term) than robbery by merely taking. 2) a term improperly used to describe thefts, including burglary (breaking and entering) and shoplifting (secret theft from the stock of a store), expressed: “We’ve been robbed.”

Rogatory letters

n. a written request by a judge to a judge in another state asking that a witness in the other state have his/her testimony taken in the other state’s court for use in the local court case.

Rollover

A delayed tax that allows you to apply the profit you make selling your old house to pay for the new one without paying capital gains taxes on the profit. In order to rollover the profits, the new house must be more expensive than the old and the two sales must occur within two years of each other.

Royalty

n. a percentage of gross or net profit or a fixed amount per sale to which a creator of a work is entitled which is determined by contract between the creator and the manufacturer, publisher, agent and/or distributor. Inventors, authors, movie makers, scriptwriters, music composers, musicians and other creators contract with the manufacturers, publishers, movie production companies and distributors, as well as producers and distributors for a license to manufacture and/or sell the product, who pay a royalty to the creator based on a percentage of funds received. Should someone use another person’s creation either purposely or by mistake, the user could be found liable to the creator for all profits on the basis of copyright or patent infringement, which usually is far more than a royalty. However, a creator does not have to license his/her creation to anyone.

Rule

1) v. to decide a legal question, by a court, as in: “I rule that the plaintiff is entitled to the goods and damages for delay in the sum of $10,000.” 2) v. to make a judicial command, such as: “I find that George Gonzo is the parent of Larry Gonzo and rule that he must pay support of $150 per month to the mother” for the support of Larry. 3) n. any regulation governing conduct. 4) n. one of the regulations of covering legal practice before a particular group of courts, collectively called “rules of court” adopted by local judges. 5) n. a legal principle set by the decision in an appellate case, as “the rule in the case of Murray v. Crampton is….”

Rule against perpetuities

An exceedingly complex legal doctrine that limits the amount of time that property can be controlled after death by a person’s instructions in a will. For example, a person would not be allowed to leave property to her husband for his life, then to her children for their lives, then to her grandchildren. The gift would potentially go to the grandchildren at a point too remote in time

Rule of doubt

The rule under which the Copyright Office allows object code to be deposited in connection with a computer program registration. The rule of doubt means there is an express understanding that doubt exists as to whether the code qualifies for copyright protection should litigation later occur. In essence, the Copyright Office is saying, “We will let you deposit object code, but since we can’t read or understand it, we won’t commit ourselves as to its copyrightability.” If the registration is accomplished under the rule of doubt, the copyright owner may be unable to claim the presumption of ownership — an important benefit of registration — should the issue end up in court because of an alleged copyright infringement.

Rules of court

n. a set of procedural regulations adopted by courts which are mandatory upon parties and their lawyers on matters within the jurisdiction of those courts. Most states have statewide rules of court. Federal court rules are adopted by the district courts based on the Federal Rules of Procedure, and county, district and municipal court judges adopt what are called “local rules” of court. Local rules encompass the time allowed to file papers, the format of documents (including the paper colors of appeal court briefs), the number of copies to be filed, the procedure to file motions, the basis for calculating alimony and child support, fees for filing various documents and numerous other mundane but vital matters. These rules are violated or ignored at the peril of the client and his/her/its counsel.

Ruling

Any decision a judge makes during the course of a lawsuit.

Running at large

adj. 1) referring to cattle or other animals which have escaped from an enclosure and are wandering. The owner will be liable for damage caused by such animals. 2) political campaigning by a candidate running for an office from no specific district, but from an entire city, county or state.

Running with the land

A phrase used in property law to describe a right or duty that remains with a piece of property no matter who owns it. For example, the duty to allow a public beach access path across waterfront property would most likely pass from one owner of the property to the next.

S Corporation

A term that describes a profit-making corporation organized under state law whose shareholders have applied for and received subchapter S corporation status from the Internal Revenue Service. Electing to do business as an S corporation lets shareholders enjoy limited liability status, as would be true of any corporation, but be taxed like a partnership or sole proprietor. That is, instead of being taxed as a separate entity (as would be the case with a regular or C corporation) an S corporation is a pass-through tax entity: income taxes are reported and paid by the shareholders, not the S corporation. To qualify as an S corporation a number of IRS rules must be met, such as a limit of 75 shareholders and citizenship requirements.

Said

adj. a reference back to a thing that was previously mentioned or identified, popular in legal documents, as “the said driver drove said automobile in a negligent manner.”

Sale

n. transfer of something (and title to it) in return for money (or other thing of value) on terms agreed upon between buyer and seller. The price paid may be based on a posted cost, established by negotiation between seller and buyer, or by auction with potential buyers bidding until the highest bid is accepted by the seller or his agent (auctioneer).

Salvage

1) v. to save goods. 2) n. payment to a person or group which saves cargo from a shipwreck.

Sanction

n. 1) a financial penalty imposed by a judge on a party or attorney for violation of a court rule, for receiving a special waiver of a rule, or as a fine for contempt of court. If a fine, the sanction may be paid to the court or to the opposing party to compensate the other side for inconvenience or added legal work due to the rule violation. Examples: a) under local rules Bagatelle’s attorney is required to file a brief in response to the opposition’s motion five days before the hearing, but is two days late. The judge accepts the documents, but imposes a $200 sanction on Bagatelle’s attorney for the failure to file them on time. b) Campbell’s lawyer wants to include a newly found expert in his list of witnesses, but the date for adding to the list has passed. The judge permits the added witness, but allows the opposition to take the expert’s deposition, and imposes a sanction (fine) on Campbell to pay both sides’ costs of the deposition and $500 attorney’s fees to the opposing counsel. c) Defendant Danny Dipper says “you son-of-a-bitch” in court when the judge fines him $100 for jay-walking. The judge imposes a sanction of $200 and a day in jail for Danny’s contempt of court. 2) v. to impose a fine or penalty as part of a judge’s duty to maintain both order and fairness in court. 3) v. in international law, to impose economic constraints on trade against a country that violates international law or is guilty of human rights violations. 4) v. to allow or approve. This meaning is ironically in contrast to the other definitions of “sanction.” To sanction can mean to ratify or to approve but it can also mean to punish. The sanction of a crime refers to the actual punishment, usually expressed as a fine or jail term.

Satisfaction

n. receiving payment or performance of what is due.

Satisfaction of judgment

n. a document signed by a judgment creditor (the party owed the money judgment) stating that the full amount due on the judgment has been paid. The judgment creditor (the party who paid the judgment) is entitled to demand that the judgment creditor (the party to whom the money judgment is owed) sign the satisfaction of judgment, file it with the court clerk, acknowledge it before a notary public, and record the document with the County Recorder (or Recorder of Deeds) if there is an abstract of judgment (a document showing the amount of the judgment which is a lien on any real property belonging to the defendant) on record.

Satisfaction of mortgage

n. a document signed by a lender acknowledging that a mortgage has been fully paid. It must be recorded with the County Recorder (or Recorder of Deeds) to clear the title to the real property owned by the person who paid off the debt.

Save harmless

v. 1) also called hold harmless, to indemnify (protect) another from harm or cost. 2) to agree to guarantee that any debt, lawsuit or claim which may arise as a result of a contract or contract performance will be paid or taken care of by the party making the guarantee. Example: the seller of a business agrees to “save harmless” the buyer from any unknown debts of the business.

Savings and loan

n. a banking and lending institution, chartered either by a state or the federal government. Savings and loans only make loans secured by real property from deposits, upon which they pay interest slightly higher than that paid by most banks. In the early 1980s savings and loans were “de-regulated,” allowing them to make loans for speculative land development, removing high reserve funds requirements, and allowing their funds to participate in competition with banks. The result was use of many savings and loans for speculative and dishonest investments, lack of controls and tremendous losses to thousands of depositors. However, a properly managed, conservative savings and loan which concentrates on real estate loans guaranteed by the FHA (Federal Housing Administration) and/or sold in the secondary mortgage market can be safe, profitable and provide a valuable channel for savings into the home finance market.

Scienter

Latin for “having knowledge.” In criminal law, it refers to knowledge by a defendant that his/her acts were illegal or his/her statements were lies and thus fraudulent.

Scintilla

Latin for “spark.” Scintilla is commonly used in reference to evidence, in the context that there must be a “scintilla of evidence” (at least a faint spark) upon which to base a judgment.

Scope of employment

n. actions of an employee which further the business of the employer and are not personal business, which becomes the test as to whether an employer is liable for damages due to such actions under the doctrine of respondeat superior (make the master answer).

Scrivener

n. a person who writes a document for another, usually for a fee. If a lawyer merely writes out the terms of a lease or contract exactly as requested by the client, without giving legal advice, then the lawyer is just a scrivener and is probably not responsible for legal errors (unless they were so obvious as to warrant comment). A non-lawyer may act as a scrivener without getting in trouble for practicing law without a license.

Seal

n. a device which creates an impression upon paper or melted wax, used by government agencies, corporations and notaries public to show that the document is validly executed, acknowledged or witnessed, since the seal is unique to the sealer. Corporate seals state the name, date and state of incorporation. Notaries increasingly use a rubber stamp instead of a seal since their print is easier to microfilm for official recording than is a faint embossed impression. Contracts used to be “sealed,” but that is rare today.

Sealed verdict

n. the decision of a jury when there is a delay in announcing the result, such as waiting for the judge, the parties and the attorneys to come back to court. The verdict is kept in a sealed envelope until handed to the judge when court reconvenes.

Sealing of records

n. trial records and decisions which a judge orders kept secret. Usually these are the criminal records of under-age offenders which cannot be examined without a special court order or only by those connected with law enforcement. On occasion records in civil trials are sealed on the motion of a party claiming the need to protect inventions, business secrets or national security. Sometimes sealing is stipulated as part of a settlement to keep the terms from public scrutiny.

Search

v. 1) to examine another’s premises (including a vehicle) to look for evidence of criminal activity. It is unconstitutional under the 4th and 14th Amendments for law enforcement officers to conduct a search without a “search warrant” issued by a judge or without facts which give the officer “probable cause” to believe evidence of a specific crime is on the premises and there is not enough time to obtain a search warrant. 2) to trace the records of ownership of real property in what is commonly called a “title search.”

Search and seizure

n. examination of a person’s premises (residence, business or vehicle) by law enforcement officers looking for evidence of the commission of a crime, and the taking (seizure and removal) of articles of evidence (such as controlled narcotics, a pistol, counterfeit bills, a blood-soaked blanket). The basic question is whether the search and seizure were “unreasonable”. Thus, searches and seizures must be under the authority of a search warrant or when the officer has solid facts that give him/her “probable cause” to believe there was evidence of a specific crime on the premises but no time to get a warrant. Evidence obtained in violation of the Constitution is not admissible in court, nor is evidence traced through such illegal evidence.

Search warrant

An order signed by a judge that directs owners of private property to allow the police to enter and search for items named in the warrant. The judge won’t issue the warrant unless she has been convinced that there is probable cause for the search — that reliable evidence shows that it’s more likely than not that a crime has occurred and that the items sought by the police are connected with it and will be found at the location named in the warrant. In limited situations the police may search without a warrant, but they cannot use what they find at trial if the defense can show that there was no probable cause for the search.

Second degree murder

n. a non-premeditated killing, resulting from an assault in which death of the victim was a distinct possibility. Second degree murder is different from first degree murder, which is a premeditated, intentional killing or results from a vicious crime such as arson, rape or armed robbery. Exact distinctions on degree vary by state.

Secondary boycott

n. an organized refusal to purchase the products of, do business with or perform services for (such as deliver goods) a company which is doing business with another company where the employees are on strike or in a labor dispute.

Secondary meaning

In trademark law, a mark that is not inherently distinctive becomes protected after developing a “secondary meaning”: great public recognition through long use and exposure in the marketplace. For example, though first names are not generally considered inherently distinctive, Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream has become so well known that it is now entitled to maximum trademark protection.

Secret rebate

n. a kickback of money by a business to a “preferred” customer, not offered to the public or by a subcontractor to a contractor not shown on a job estimate. Both are illegal in most states as unfair business practices and may result in criminal penalties or refusal of a court to enforce a contract (written or oral) in which there is such a secret rebate.

Secret warranty program

A program under which a car manufacturer will make repairs for free on vehicles with persistent problems, even after the warranty has expired, in order to avoid a recall and the accompanying bad press. Secret warranties are rarely advertised by the manufacturer, so consumers must pursue the manufacturer to discover and take advantage of them. A few states require manufacturers to notify car buyers when they adopt secret warranty programs.

Secured debt

A debt on which a creditor has a lien. The creditor can institute a foreclosure or repossession to take the property identified by the lien, called the collateral, to satisfy the debt if you default.

Secured transaction

n. any loan or credit in which property is pledged as security in the event payment is not made.

Securities

n. generic term for shares of stock, bonds and debentures issued by corporations and governments to evidence ownership and terms of payment of dividends or final pay-off. They are called securities because the assets and/or the profits of the corporation or the credit of the government stand as security for payment. However, unlike secured transactions in which specific property is pledged, securities are only as good as the future profitability of the corporation or the management of the governmental agency. Most securities are traded on various stock or bond markets.

Security deposit

A payment required by a landlord to ensure that a tenant pays rent on time and keeps the rental unit in good condition. If the tenant damages the property or leaves owing rent, the landlord can use the security deposit to cover what the tenant owes.

Security interest

n. generic term for the property rights of a lender or creditor whose right to collect a debt is secured by property.

Sedition

n. the federal crime of advocacy of insurrection against the government or support for an enemy of the nation during time of war, by speeches, publications and organization. Sedition usually involves actually conspiring to disrupt the legal operation of the government and is beyond expression of an opinion or protesting government policy. Sedition is a lesser crime than “treason,” which requires actual betrayal of the government, or “espionage.” Espionage involves spying on the government, trading state secrets (particularly military) to another country (even a friendly nation), or sabotaging governmental facilities, equipment or suppliers of the government, like an aircraft factory.

Seisin

n. an old feudal term for having both possession and title of real property. The word is found in some old deeds, meaning ownership in fee simple (full title to real property).

Seized

1) having ownership, commonly used in wills as “I give all the property of which I die seized as follows:….” 2) having taken possession of evidence for use in a criminal prosecution. 3) having taken property or a person by force.

Seizure

The taking of physical evidence or property by law enforcement officials. This runs the gamut from taking blood for a drug test to impounding a car used in a robbery. The police must generally obtain a search warrant, or court order, before they can seize personal property.

Self-dealing

n. in the stock market, using secret “inside” information gained by being an official of a corporation (or from such an officer) to buy or sell stock (or real property wanted by the corporation) before the information becomes public (like a merger, poor profit report, striking oil). Self-dealing can also apply to general partners of a limited partnership who do not inform limited partners of business opportunities which should belong to the partnership. Self-dealing can result in a lawsuit for fraud by shareholders. Self-dealing with securities is a crime under the federal Securities and Exchange Act.

Self-defense

An affirmative defense to a crime. Self-defense is the use of reasonable force to protect oneself from an aggressor. Self-defense shields a person from criminal liability for the harm inflicted on the aggressor. For example, a robbery victim who takes the robber’s weapon and uses it against the robber during a struggle won’t be liable for assault and battery since he can show that his action was reasonably necessary to protect himself from imminent harm.

Self-executing

adj. immediately effective without further action, legislation or legal steps. Some statutes are self-executing, as are some legal rights (such as when a person holds property as security and title passes automatically when payments are not made). Most judgments in lawsuits are not self-executing and are only documents giving the winning party the right to try to collect.

Self-help

n. 1) obtaining relief or enforcing one’s rights without resorting to legal action, such as repossessing a car when payments have not been made, retrieving borrowed or stolen goods, demanding and receiving payment or abating a nuisance (such as digging a ditch to divert flooding from another’s property). Self-help is legal as long as it does not “break the public peace” or violate some other law (although brief trespass is common). 2) the maximizing of one’s opportunities.

Self-incrimination

The making of statements that might expose you to criminal prosecution, either now or in the future. The Constitution prohibits the government from forcing you to provide evidence (as in answering questions) that would or might lead to your prosecution for a crime.

Self-proving will

A will that is created in a way that allows a probate court to easily accept it as the true will of the person who has died. In most states, a will is self-proving when two witnesses sign under penalty of perjury that they observed the willmaker sign it and that he told them it was his will. If no one contests the validity of the will, the probate court will accept the will without hearing the testimony of the witnesses or other evidence. To make a self-proving will in other states, the willmaker and one or more witnesses must sign an affidavit (sworn statement) before a notary public certifying that the will is genuine and that all willmaking formalities have been observed.

Self-serving

adj. referring to a question asked of a party to a lawsuit or a statement by that person that serves no purpose and provides no evidence, but only argues or reinforces the legal position of that party.

Sell

v. to transfer possession and ownership of goods or other property for money or something of equivalent value.

Seller

n. one who sells goods or other property to a buyer (purchaser).

Senior lien

n. the first security interest (lien or claim) placed upon property at a time before other liens, which are called “junior” liens.

Sentence

Punishment in a criminal case. A sentence can range from a fine and community service to life imprisonment or death. For most crimes, the sentence is chosen by the trial judge; the jury chooses the sentence only in a capital case, when it must choose between life in prison without parole and death. The punishment given to a person who has been convicted (i.e. found to be guilty) of a crime. It may be time in jail, community service or a period of probati

Separate property

In community property states, property owned and controlled entirely by one spouse in a marriage. At divorce, separate property is not divided under the state’s property division laws, but is kept by the spouse who owns it. Separate property includes all property that a spouse obtained before marriage, through inheritance or as a gift. It also includes any property that is traceable to separate property — for example, cash from the sale of a vintage car owned by one spouse before marriage-and any property that the spouses agree is separate property.

Separation

A situation in which the partners in a married couple live apart. Spouses are said to be living apart if they no longer reside in the same dwelling, even though they may continue their relationship. A legal separation results when the parties separate and a court rules on the division of property, such as alimony or child support — but does not grant a divorce.

Separation agreement

n. an agreement between two married people who have agreed to live apart for an unspecified period of time, perhaps forever. The agreement generally covers any alimony (money paid for spousal support), child support, custody arrangements if there are children, payment of bills and management of separate bank accounts. A separation agreement may determine division of property if the separation appears permanent. It cannot be enforced by court order unless one party files a petition for legal separation or files a lawsuit for specific performance of a contract. If the couple reconciles, the separation agreement is voidable (can be cancelled) by the parties. However, most separation agreements are interim agreements to serve between the time of separation and the eventual divorce of the parties.

Seriatim

Latin for “one after another” as in a series. Thus, issues or facts are discussed seriatim (or “ad seriatim”), meaning one by one in order.

Servant

n. an employee of an employer, technically one who works for a master. A servant is distinguished from an “independent contractor” who operates his/her own business even though spending much time on the work of a particular person or entity. The servant has established hours or piece work, is under the direction of the employer even as to details, cannot work for competitors and acts for the benefit of the employer rather than for himself/herself. The employer of a servant must provide to the servant (employee) worker’s compensation insurance, Social Security coverage, make income tax deductions, and provide benefit from various federal and state labor laws. An independent contractor is responsible for such payments and benefits himself/herself.

Service

n. 1) paid work by another person, either by contract or as an employee. “Personal services” is work that is either unique (such as an artist or actor) or based on a person’s particular relationship to employer (such as a butler, nanny, traveling companion or live-in health care giver). 2) the domestic activities of a wife, including the marital relationship (consortium), are legally considered “services” for which a deprived husband may sue a person who has caused injury to his wife. 3) the official delivery of legal documents (“service of process”) such as a summons, subpena, complaint, order to show cause (order to appear to show reasons why a judge should not make a particular order), writ (court order), or notice to quit the premises, as well as delivery by mail or in person of documents to opposing attorneys or parties, such as answers, motions, points and authorities, demands and responses.

Service by FAX

n. delivery of legal documents required by statute to be “served” by transmitting through telecopier phone (FAX), followed by mailing an original (“hard copy”). Increasingly, the courts recognize this as legitimate service since it is instantaneous.

Service by mail

n. mailing legal pleadings to opposing attorneys or parties, while filing the original with the court clerk with a declaration stating that the copy was mailed to a particular person at a specific address. Once a party has responded by filing an answer, subsequent pleadings (except orders to show cause and orders of examination) can be served upon his/her/its attorney by mail.

Service by publication

n. serving a summons or other legal document in a lawsuit on a defendant by publishing the document in an advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation. Service by publication is used to give “constructive notice” to a defendant who is intentionally absent, in hiding, unknown (as a possible descendant of a former landowner), and only when allowed by a judge’s order based on a sworn declaration of the inability to find the defendant after “due diligence” (trying hard). Service by publication is commonly used in a divorce action to serve a spouse who has disappeared without leaving a forwarding address or to give notice to people who might have a right to object to a “quiet title” action to clear title to real property.

Service mark

A word, phrase, logo, symbol, color, sound or smell used by a business to identify a service and distinguish it from those of its competitors. If the business uses the name or logo to identify a product, such as a camera, it is called a trademark. In practice, the legal protections for trademarks and service marks are identical.

Service of process

n. the delivery of copies of legal documents such as summons, complaint, subpena, order to show cause (order to appear and argue against a proposed order), writs, notice to quit the premises and certain other documents, usually by personal delivery to the defendant or other person to whom the documents are directed. So-called “substituted service” can be accomplished by leaving the documents with an adult resident of a home, with an employee with management duties at a business office or with a designated “agent for acceptance of service” (often with name and address filed with the state’s Secretary of State), or, in some cases, by posting in a prominent place followed by mailing copies by certified mail to the opposing party. In certain cases of absent or unknown defendants, the court will allow service by publication in a newspaper. Once all parties have filed a complaint, answer or any pleading in a lawsuit, further documents usually can be served by mail or even FAX.

Services

n. work performed for pay.

Servient estate

n. real property which has an easement or other use imposed upon it in favor of another property (called the “dominant estate”), such as right of way or use for access to an adjoining property or utility lines. The property giving usage is the servient estate, and the property holding usage of the easement is the dominant estate.

Servient tenement

Property that is subject to use by another for a specific purpose. For example, a beachfront house that has a public walkway to the beach on its premises would be a servient tenement.

Session

n. 1) a meeting (or “sitting”) of a court for a particular period of time. “Session” technically means one day’s business (as in “today’s session”). 2) the term of an appeals court covering several months (as in the “Spring Term” or the “October Term”).

Set

v. to schedule, as to “set a case for trial.”

Set aside

v. to annul or negate a court order or judgment by another court order. Example: a court dismisses a complaint believing the case had been settled. Upon being informed by a lawyer’s motion that the lawsuit was not settled, the judge will issue an order to “set aside” the original dismissal.

Setback

The distance between a property boundary and a building. A minimum setback is usually required by law.

Setoff

A claim made by someone who allegedly owes money, that the amount should be reduced because the other person owes him money. This is often raised in a counterclaim filed by a defendant in a lawsuit. Banks may try to exercise a setoff by taking money out of a deposit account to satisfy past due payments on a loan or credit card bill. Such an act is illegal under most circumstances.

Setting

n. the action of a court, clerk or commissioner in scheduling a trial or hearing.

Settle

v. to resolve a lawsuit without a final court judgment by negotiation between the parties, usually with the assistance of attorneys and/or insurance adjusters, and sometimes prodding by a judge. Most legal disputes are settled prior to trial.

Settlement

n. the resolution of a lawsuit (or of a legal dispute prior to filing a complaint or petition) without going forward to a final court judgment. Most settlements are achieved by negotiation in which the attorneys (and sometimes an insurance adjuster with authority to pay a settlement amount on behalf of the company’s insured defendant) and the parties agree to terms of settlement. Many states require a settlement conference a few weeks before trial in an effort to achieve settlement with a judge or assigned attorneys to facilitate the process. A settlement is sometimes reached based upon a final offer just prior to trial (proverbially “on the courthouse steps”) or even after trial has begun. A settlement reached just before trial or after a trial or hearing has begun is often “read into the record” and approved by the court so that it can be enforced as a judgment if the terms of the settlement are not complied with. Most lawsuits result in settlement.

Settlor

n. the person who creates a trust by a written trust declaration, called a “Trustor” in many (particularly western) states and sometimes referred to as the “Donor.” The settlor usually transfers the original assets into the trust.

Severability clause

A provision in a contract that preserves the rest of the contract if a portion of it is invalidated by a court. Without a severability clause, a decision by the court finding one part of the contract unenforceable would invalidate the entire document.

Severable contract

n. an agreement which is made up of several separate contracts between the same parties, such as series of sales, shipments or different pieces of equipment. Therefore, breach of one of the separate (severable) contracts is not a breach of the remainder of the overall contract and is not an excuse for the other party to refuse to honor any divisable part of the contract which has not been breached.

Several liability

n. referring to responsibility of one party for the entire debt (as in “joint and several”) or judgment when those who jointly agreed to pay the debt or are jointly ordered to pay a judgment do not do so. A person who is stuck with “several liability” because the others do not pay their part may sue the other joint debtors for contribution toward the payment he/she has made.

Severance

n. 1) a separating by court order, such as separate trials for criminal defendants who were charged with the same crime, or trying the negligence aspect of a lawsuit before a trial on the damages. Such division of issues in a trial is sometimes also called “bifurcation.” Severance is granted when a joint trial might be unfair or reaching a decision on one issue (such as negligence) may save the trouble of hearing the other questions. 2) extra pay offered and made to a person to encourage him/her to resign, retire or settle a potential claim for discharge.

Severance pay

Funds, usually amounting to one or two months’ salary, frequently offered by employers to workers who are laid off. No law compels employers to provide severance pay, although the employer may be legally obligated to do so if it was promised in a contract or employees’ handbook.

Sexual harassment

Unwelcome sexual advances or conduct on the job that creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. Sexual harassing behavior ranges from repeated offensive jokes to a workplace full of pornography to outright sexual assault.

Shall

v. 1) an imperative command as in “you shall not kill.” 2) in some statutes, “shall” is a direction but does not mean mandatory, depending on the context.

Share

n. 1) a portion of a benefit from a trust, estate, claim or business usually in equal division (or a specifically stated fraction) with others (“to my three daughters, in equal shares”). 2) a portion of ownership interest in a corporation, represented by a stock certificate stating the number of shares of an issue of the corporation’s stock.

Share and share alike

adj. referring to the equal division of a benefit from an estate, trust or gift, which includes the right of the survivors to divide the portion of any beneficiary who dies before receiving the gift.

Shared equity mortgage

A home loan in which the lender gets a share of the equity of the home in exchange for providing a portion of the down payment. When the home is later sold, the lender is entitled to a portion of the proceeds.

Shareholder

n. the owner of one or more shares of stock in a corporation, commonly also called a “stockholder.” The benefits of being a shareholder include receiving dividends for each share as determined by the board of directors, the right to vote (except for certain preferred shares) for members of the board of directors, to bring a derivative action (lawsuit) if the corporation is poorly managed, and to participate in the division of value of assets upon dissolution and winding up of the corporation, if there is any value. A shareholder should have his/her name registered with the corporation, but may hold a stock certificate which has been signed over to him/her. Before registration the new shareholder may not be able to cast votes represented by the shares.

Shareholders’ agreement

n. an employment agreement among the shareholders of a small corporation permitting a shareholder to take a management position with the corporation without any claim of conflict of interest or self-dealing against the shareholder/manager. Such agreements are common when there are only three or four shareholders.

Shareholders’ derivative action

n. a lawsuit by a corporation’s shareholders, theoretically on behalf of the corporation, to protect and benefit all shareholders against the corporation for improper management.

Shareholders’ meeting

n. a meeting, usually annual, of all shareholders of a corporation (although in large corporations only a small percentage attend) to elect the board of directors and hear reports on the company’s business situation. In larger corporations top management people hold the proxies signed over to them by many of the shareholders to vote for them.

Sharp practice

n. actions by a lawyer using misleading statements to opposing counsel or the court, denial of oral stipulations (agreements between attorneys) previously made, threats, improper use of process or tricky and/or dishonorable means barely within the law. A consistent pattern of sharp practice may lead to discipline by the state bar association or by the courts.

Shepardize

n. a method of locating reports of appeals decisions based on prior precedents from Shepard’s Citations, books which list the volume and page number of published reports of every appeals court decision which cites a previously decided case or a statute. Shepard’s exists for all sets of reports of appeals cases, and is updated every month with supplemental booklets. While it looks like a mathematician’s book of tables, Shepard’s Citations is an invaluable tool in finding appeals decisions which either follow, distinguish or deviate from prior case law.

Sheriff

n. the top law enforcement officer for a county, usually elected and responsible for police protection outside of incorporated cities, management of the county jail, providing bailiffs for protection of the courts, and such civil activities as serving summonses, subpenas and writs, conducting judgment sales, and fulfilling various functions ordered by the courts. The office was brought to the United States from England and is unknown in most nations which use federal and state police. Canada, for example, has the highly professional Royal Canadian Mounted Police (and its Quebec equivalent) to serve for most non-municipal law enforcement. The position of sheriff has been criticized as lacking training standards, being overly political, not being coordinated with other jurisdictions, and being hampered by its lack of authority beyond the county line except when in “hot pursuit” of a suspect who crosses the county line. The sheriff’s uniformed police are called “deputy sheriffs,” with the number two person often entitled “under sheriff.”

Sheriff’s sale

n. an auction sale of property held by the sheriff pursuant to a writ (court order) of execution (to seize and sell the property) to satisfy (pay) a judgment, after notice to the public.

Shield laws

n. statutes enacted in some states which declare that communications between news reporters and informants are confidential and privileged and thus cannot be testified to in court. This is similar to the doctor-patient, lawyer-client or priest-parishioner privilege. The concept is to allow a journalist to perform his/her function of gathering news without being ordered to reveal his/her sources and notes of conversations. In states which have no shield law, many judges have found reporters in contempt of court (and given them jail terms) for refusing to name informants or reveal information gathered on the promise of confidentiality.

Shifting the burden of proof

n. the result of the plaintiff in a lawsuit meeting its burden of proof in the case, in effect placing the burden with the defendant, at which time it presents a defense. There may be shifts of burden of proof on specific factual issues during a trial, which may impact the opposing parties and their need to produce evidence.

Short cause

n. a lawsuit which is estimated by the parties (usually their attorneys) and the trial setting judge to take no more than one day. Thus, a short cause may be called on the “short cause” calendar and get priority on the calendar since it can be fitted into the court’s schedule and will not tie up a courtroom for a long period. Short causes may be treated differently from “long cause” cases, such as not requiring a settlement conference or having the cases tried by “pro tem” judges. However, if a supposed “short cause” lasts beyond one day the judge is authorized to declare a mistrial and the case will be reset later as a “long cause.”

Short sale (of house)

A sale of a house in which the proceeds fall short of what the owner still owes on the mortgage. Many lenders will agree to accept the proceeds of a short sale and forgive the rest of what is owed on the mortgage when the owner cannot make the mortgage payments. By accepting a short sale, the lender can avoid a lengthy and costly foreclosure, and the owner is able to pay off the loan for less than what he owes.

Shortening time

n. an order of the court in response to the motion of a party to a lawsuit which allows setting a motion or other legal matter at a time shorter than provided by law or court rules. Shortening time is usually granted when the time for trial or some other court action is approaching and a hearing must be heard promptly by the judge. Example: the local rules require that a party give the other side 10 days’ notice before a hearing. A hearing on adding a witness to the expert list would be useless unless heard in five days, since the trial is set to be called in nine days. The court may shorten the time to schedule the hearing to five days, provided the notice is served within 24 hours.

Show cause order

n. an order of the court, also called an order to show cause or OSC, directing a party to a lawsuit to appear on a certain date to show cause why the judge should not issue a specific order or make a certain finding.

Sick leave

Time off work for illness. Most employers provide for some paid sick leave, although no law requires them to do so. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, however, a worker is guaranteed up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid leave for severe or lasting illnesses.

Sidebar

n. 1) physically, an area in front of or next to the judge’s bench (the raised desk in front of the judge) away from the witness stand and the jury box, where lawyers are called to speak confidentially with the judge out of earshot of the jury. 2) a discussion between the judge and attorneys at the bench off the record and outside the hearing of the jurors or spectators. 3) in journalism, a brief story on a sidelight to a news story, such as a biographical sketch about a figure in the news or an anecdote related to the main story, and sometimes enclosed within a box.

Sign

v. 1) to write one’s signature on a document, including an “X” by an illiterate or physically impaired person, provided the mark is properly witnessed in writing as “Eddie Jones, his mark.” An attorney-in-fact given authority to act for another person by a power of attorney may sign for the one giving the power but should identify the signature as “by his attorney-in-fact, George Goodman.” 2) to commu-nicate by sign language.

Silent partner

n. a non-legal term for an investor who puts money into a business, takes no part in management and is often unknown to customers. A “limited partner,” who is prohibited from taking part in management and has no liability for debts beyond his/her investment, is a true silent partner. However, without a limited partnership agreement, a silent partner is responsible for the debts of the partnership as a general partner.

Similarly situated

adj. with the same problems and circumstances, referring to the people represented by a plaintiff in a “class action,” brought for the benefit of the party filing the suit as well as all those “similarly situated.” To be similarly situated, the defendants, basic facts and legal issues must be the same, and separate lawsuits would be impractical or burdensome.

Simple trust

n. a trust which requires that all income be distributed each year and not accumulated.

Simultaneous death act

n. a statute in effect in most states which provides that if a husband and wife or siblings die in an accident in which they died at the same moment or it cannot be determined who died first, it is presumed that each died before the other for determining inheritance.

Sine qua non

Latin for “without which it could not be,” an indispensable action or condition.

Situs

Latin for “location,” be it where the crime or accident took place or where the building stands.

Slander

A type of defamation. Slander is an untruthful oral (spoken) statement about a person that harms the person’s reputation or standing in the community. Because slander is a tort (a civil wrong), the injured person can bring a lawsuit against the person who made the false statement. If the statement is made via broadcast media — for example, over the radio or on TV — it is considered libel, rather than slander, because the statement has the potential to reach a very wide audience.

SLAPP suit

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, in which a corporation or developer sues an organization in an attempt to scare it into dropping protests against a corporate initiative. SLAPP suits typically involve the environment–for example, local residents who are petitioning to change zoning laws to prevent a real estate development might be sued in a SLAPP suit for interference with the developer’s business interests. Many states have “anti-SLAPP suit” statutes that protect citizens’ rights to free speech and to petition the government.

Small claims court

A state court that resolves disputes involving relatively small amounts of money — usually between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the state. Adversaries usually appear without lawyers — in fact, some states forbid lawyers in small claims court — and recount their side of the dispute in plain English. Evidence, including the testimony of eye witnesses and expert witnesses, is relatively easy to present because small claims courts do not follow the formal rules of evidence that govern regular trial cases. A small claims judgment has the same force as does the judgment of any other state court, meaning that if the loser — now called the “judgment debtor” — fails to pay the judgment voluntarily, it can be collected using normal collection techniques, such as property liens and wage garnishments.

Small entity

According to the Patent and Trademark Office (PTO), a for-profit company with 500 or fewer employees, a nonprofit organization or an independent inventor. The PTO charges small entities half the fees charged large entities for filing a patent application and for issuing and maintaining the patent.

Social Security

The general term that describes a number of related programs, including retirement, disability, dependents and survivors benefits. These programs provide workers and their families with some monthly income when their normal flow of income shrinks because of retirement, disability, or death.

Sole custody

An arrangement whereby only one parent has physical and legal custody of a child and the other parent has visitation rights.

Sole proprietorship

A business owned and managed by one person (or for tax purposes, a husband and wife). For IRS purposes, a sole proprietor and her business are one tax entity, meaning that business profits are reported and taxed on the owner’s personal tax return. Setting up a sole proprietorship is cheap and easy since no legal formation documents need be filed with any governmental agency (although tax registration and other permit and license requirements may still apply). Once you file a fictitious name statement (assuming you don’t use your own name) and obtain any required basic tax permits and business licenses, you’ll be in business. The main downside of a sole proprietorship is that its owner is personally liable for all business debts.

Solicitor

n. an English attorney who may perform all legal services except appear in court. Under the British system, the litigator or trial attorney takes special training in trial work and is called a “barrister.” Occasionally a solicitor becomes a barrister, which is called “taking the silk.” In the United States and Canada attorneys are referred to interchangeably as solicitors or barristers.

Solicitor General

n. the chief trial attorney in the federal Department of Justice responsible for arguing cases before the Supreme Court and ranking second to the Attorney General in the Department.

Solitary confinement

n. the placement of a prisoner in a federal or state prison in a cell away from other prisoners, usually as a form of internal penal discipline, but occasionally to protect the con- vict from other prisoners or to prevent the prisoner from causing trouble. Long-term solitary confinement may be found to be unconstitutional as “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Solvency

n. 1) having sufficient funds or other assets to pay debts. 2) having more assets than liabilities (debts). The contrast is “insolvency,” which may be a basis for filing a petition in bankruptcy.

Sound mind

A requirement for anyone making a legal document, such as a will or healthcare directive. For example, although he can be eccentric or forgetful, a person writing a will must know what he owns, the identities of his family and close friends, and how the will distributes his property. If a person isn’t of sound mind, and someone later challenges the validity of the document in a lawsuit, the judge could rule that the document is invalid and has no legal effect. (Such lawsuits are quite rare.)

Sound mind and memory

n. having an understanding of one’s actions and reasonable knowledge of one’s family, possessions and surroundings. This is a phrase often included in the introductory paragraph of a will in which the testator (writer of the will) declares that he/she is “of sound mind and memory.” The general test is whether the person making the will understood: a) the meaning and effect of the will, b) what the person owned (more or less), and c) the “natural objects of his/her bounty,” meaning the immediate family and any other particularly close relatives or friends to whom he/she might leave things.

Sound recording copyright

A right in a work resulting from the fixation of a series of musical or other sounds (including narration or spoken words). A sound recording copyright protects the way that the composition is performed. The performer, producer, or recording company usually claims copyright in a sound recording. 

Sounds in

adj. referring to the underlying legal basis for a lawsuit or one of several causes of action in a suit, such as contract or tort (civil wrong). The phrasing might be: “Plaintiff’s first cause of action against Defendant sounds in tort, and his second cause of action sounds in contract.”

Spam

Internet slang for unsolicited bulk email, primarily unsolicited commercial email (UCE).  Spam has been linked with fraudulent business schemes, chain letters, and offensive sexual and political messages.

Speaking demurrer

n. an attempt to introduce evidence during a hearing on a demurrer. A demurrer is a legal opposition to a complaint in a lawsuit (or to an answer), which says, in effect, that even if the factual claims (allegations) are true, there are legal flaws or failures in the lawsuit. Therefore, since the factual allegations are admitted for the sake of argument, introducing evidence is improper, and an attorney making a “speaking demurrer” will be halted, often in mid-argument.

Special

adj. referring to a particular purpose, person or happening. In law these include hearings, proceedings, administrator, master, orders and so forth.

Special administrator

1) In the law of wills and estates, a person appointed by the court to take charge of only a designated portion of an estate during probate. For example, a special administrator with particular expertise on art might be appointed to oversee the probate of a wealthy person’s art collection, but not the entire estate. 2) A person appointed to be responsible for a deceased person’s property for a limited time or during an emergency, such as a challenge to the will or to the qualifications of the named executor. In such cases, the special administrator’s duty is to maintain and preserve the estate, not necessarily to take control of the probate process

Special appearance

n. the representation by an attorney of a person in court for: a) only that particular session of the court; b) on behalf of the client’s regular attorney of record; c) as a favor for an unrepresented person; or d) pending a decision as to whether the attorney agrees to handle the person’s case. A special appearance is different from a “general appearance” in which the attorney is committed to represent the client in all future matters, hearings and trial of the case unless he/she is allowed to withdraw or is substituted “out of” the case by the client. Quite often an attorney will make a “special appearance” to protect the interests of a potential client but before a fee has been paid or arranged.

Special circumstances

n. in criminal cases, particularly homicides, actions of the accused or the situation under which the crime was committed for which state statutes allow or require imposition of a more severe punishment. “Special circumstances” in murder cases may well result in the imposition of the death penalty for murder (in states with capital punishment) or life sentence without possibility of parole. Such circumstances may include: rape, kidnapping or maiming prior to the killing, multiple deaths, killing a police officer or prison guard, or actions showing wanton disregard for life, such as throwing a bomb into a restaurant.

Special damages

n. damages claimed and/or awarded in a lawsuit which were out-of-pocket costs directly as the result of the breach of contract, negligence or other wrongful act by the defendant. Special damages can include medical bills, repairs and replacement of property, loss of wages and other damages which are not speculative or subjective. They are distinguished from general damages, in which there is no evidence of a specific dollar figure.

Special master

n. a person appointed by the court to carry out an order of the court, such as selling property or mediating child custody cases. A “special” master differs from a “master” in that he/she takes positive action rather than just investigating and reporting to the judge.

Special prosecutor

n. an attorney from outside of the government selected by the Attorney General or Congress to investigate and possibly prosecute a federal government official for wrongdoing in office. The theory behind appointing a special prosecutor is that there is a built-in conflict of interest between the Department of Justice and officials who may have political or governmental connections with that department.

Special verdict

n. the jury’s decisions or findings of fact with the application of the law to those facts lef