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.
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.
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.
Refers to the obligation of one person to contribute, in part or in whole, to the cost of living of another person.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
Required, compulsory or obligatory.
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.
1) adj., adv. completely obvious or evident. 2) n. a written list of goods in a shipment.
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”).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
n. emotional pain synonymous with “mental anguish.”
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.
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.
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.
adj. from Norman French for intermediate, the middle point between two extremes. It is seldom used, except in reference to “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.
n. regulations governing the conduct of men and women in the armed services in relation to their military (not civilian) activities.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
n. a death due to unintentional accident without any violation of law or criminal negligence. Thus, there is no crime.
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).
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.
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.
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.
n. the wrong name.
Misprision of a felony
n. the crime of concealing another’s felony (serious crime) from law enforcement officers.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
n. half. Generally a reference to interest in real property, moiety is seldom used today.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
n. 1) a legal question which no court has decided, so it is still debatable or unsettled. 2) an issue only of academic interest.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A monthly deduction from a universal life insurance policy that increases as the policyholder ages.
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.
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.
n. the person who has borrowed money and pledged his/her real property as security for the money provided by the lender (mortgagee).
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.”
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.
n. the party in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who makes a motion (application for a court order or judgment).
v. to make a motion in court applying for a court order or judgment.
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.
adj. referring to an incorporated or chartered city or town.
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.
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.
adj., adv. referring to anything in which both parties have reciprocal rights, understanding or agreement.
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.