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.