fact finder (finder of fact)
n. in a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution, the jury or judge (if there is no jury) who decides if facts have been proven. Occasionally a judge may appoint a "special master" to investigate and report on the existence of certain facts.
n. the court system which handles civil and criminal cases based on jurisdictions enumerated in the Constitution and federal statutes. They include federal district courts which are trial courts, district courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as specialized courts such as bankruptcy, tax, claims (against the government) and veterans' appeals.
n. U.S. system of government based on the concept of dual sovereignty between the states and the federal government.
n. a crime punishable by high fines and a prison term of one year or longer
n. another name for a final judgment.
n. the determination of a factual question vital (contributing) to a decision in a case by the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) after a trial of a lawsuit, often referred to as findings of fact. A finding of fact is distinguished from a conclusion of law which is determined by the judge as the sole legal expert. Findings of fact and conclusions of law, need not be made if waived or not requested by the trial attorneys, leaving just the bare judgment in the case.
n. the intentional use of deceit, a trick or some dishonest means to deprive another of his/her/its money, property or a legal right. A party who has lost something due to fraud is entitled to file a lawsuit for damages against the party acting fraudulently, and the damages may include punitive damages as a punishment or public example due to the malicious nature of the fraud. Quite often there are several persons involved in a scheme to commit fraud and each and all may be liable for the total damages. Inherent in fraud is an unjust advantage over another which injures that person or entity. It includes failing to point out a known mistake in a contract or other writing (such as a deed), or not revealing a fact which he/she has a duty to communicate, such as a survey which shows there are only 10 acres of land being purchased and not 20 as originally understood. Constructive fraud can be proved by a showing of breach of legal duty (like using the trust funds held for another in an investment in one's own business) without direct proof of fraud or fraudulent intent. Extrinsic fraud occurs when deceit is employed to keep someone from exercising a right, such as a fair trial, by hiding evidence or misleading the opposing party in a lawsuit. Since fraud is intended to employ dishonesty to deprive another of money, property or a right, it can also be a crime for which the fraudulent person(s) can be charged, tried and convicted. Borderline overreaching or taking advantage of another's naiveté involving smaller amounts is often overlooked by law enforcement, which suggests the victim seek a "civil remedy" (i.e., sue). However, increasingly fraud, which has victimized a large segment of the public (even in individually small amounts), has become the target of consumer fraud divisions in the offices of district attorneys and attorneys general.
n. monetary recovery (money won) in a lawsuit for injuries suffered (such as pain, suffering, inability to perform certain functions) or breach of contract for which there is no exact dollar value which can be calculated. They are distinguished from special damages, which are for specific costs, and from punitive (exemplary) damages for punishment and to set an example when malice, intent or gross negligence was a factor.
n. 1) a clause in a statute or zoning ordinance (particularly a city ordinance) which permits the operator of a business or a land owner to be exempt from restrictions on use if the business or property continues to be used as it was when the law was adopted. Upon passage of the statute or regulation, the specific property may be referred to as "grandfathered in." Example: the city passes an ordinance which does not permit retail businesses in a particular zone, but any existing store can continue to function in the area, even with new owners. However, if the premises stop being a retail outlet then the grandfather clause will lapse. 2) among the state constitutional amendments passed by southern states in the late 1800s to keep blacks from voting, "grandfather clauses" denied voter registration to people who were illiterate, who did not own property or could not pass a test on citizenship obligations, unless their grandfathers had served in the Confederate Army. Such laws are now unconstitutional.
n. a person who has been appointed by a judge to take care of a minor child or incompetent adult (both called "ward") personally and/or manage that person's affairs. To become a guardian of a child either the party intending to be the guardian or another family member, a close friend or a local official responsible for a minor's welfare will petition the court to appoint the guardian. In the case of a minor, the guardianship remains under court supervision until the child reaches majority at 18. Naming someone in a will as guardian of one's child in case of the death of the parent is merely a nomination. The judge does not have to honor that request, although he/she usually does. Sadly, often a parent must petition to become the guardian of his/her child's "estate" if the child inherits or receives a gift of substantial assets, including the situation in which a parent gives his/her own child an interest in real property or stocks. Therefore, that type of gift should be avoided and a trust created instead. While the term "guardian" may refer to someone who is appointed to care for and/or handle the affairs of a person who is incompetent or incapable of administering his/her affairs, this is more often called a "conservator" under a conservatorship.
n. 1) in general, a person paying to stay in a hotel, motel or inn for a short time. 2) a person staying at another's residence without charge, called a "social guest." An important distinction is that a non-paying guest is not owed the duty of being provided a safe boarding space, as is a paying customer. Thus if a social guest trips on a slippery rug, he/she has no right to sue for negligence, but a paying guest might. 3) an "automobile" guest is one who is a passenger without paying, as distinguished from a taxi fare, bus rider or one who has paid a friend to drive. However, the so-called "guest statute" may give a non-paying passenger the right to sue. An automobile guest is somewhat (but not entirely) analogous to the "social guest" in a residence.
n. a state law which sets standards of care by the driver of a car to a non-paying passenger. Although state laws vary, the basic concept is that the social passenger can bring suit for negligence against the driver for gross negligence only if the driver could have foreseen that his/her actions or car could put the rider in great peril. Examples: driving while drunk, going far over the speed limit, playing "chicken," taking chances, driving a car knowing the brakes are faulty, or particularly continuing the reckless driving after the passenger has asked the driver to stop or asked to be let out.
n. a writ employed to bring a person before a court, often to ensure that the party’s imprisonment is not illegal.
adj. referring to a residence that is safe and can be occupied in reasonable comfort. Although standards vary by region, the premises should be closed in against the weather, provide running water, access to decent toilets and bathing facilities, heating, and electricity. Particularly in multi-dwelling buildings freedom from noxious smells, noise and garbage are included in the standard. This can become important in landlord-tenant disputes or government actions to force a landlord to make the premises livable (abatement of deficiencies). Example: if the roof begins to leak, the water goes off, the electricity shorts out or the toilet breaks, in most states the landlord has a duty to make repairs when requested or the tenant may order the repairs and deduct the cost from the rent.
n. an error by a judge in the conduct of a trial which an appellate court finds is not sufficient for it to reverse or modify the lower court's judgment at trial. Harmless error would include: a technical error which has no bearing on the outcome of the trial, an error that was corrected (such as allowing testimony and then ordering it stricken and admonishing the jury to ignore it), the issue affected by the error was found in the appellant's favor (such as hearsay evidence on premeditation, but the jury found no premeditation), and the appeals court's view that even though there were errors the appealing party could not have won in trial in any event. This last gives the appeals court broad latitude to rule that errors were not significant. It is frustrating to appealing parties and their attorneys for the appeals court to rule that there were indeed several errors, and then say: "However, they appear to be harmless."
n. any proceeding before a judge or other magistrate (such as a hearing officer or court commissioner) without a jury in which evidence and/or argument is presented to determine some issue of fact or both issues of fact and law. While technically a trial with a judge sitting without a jury fits the definition, a hearing usually refers to brief sessions involving a specific question at some time prior to the trial itself, or such specialized proceedings as administrative hearings. In criminal law, a "preliminary hearing" is held before a judge to determine whether the prosecutor has presented sufficient evidence that the accused has committed a crime to hold him/her for trial.
v. decided or ruled, as "the court held that the contract was valid."
1) n. any ruling or decision of a court. 2) n. any real property to which one has title. 3) n. investment in a business. 4) v. keeping in one's possession.
n. the power of a local city or county to set up its own system of governing and local ordinances without receiving a charter from the state which comes with certain requirements and limitations. The concept has become popular with so-called libertarians, survivalists and others who would like to divorce local government from as much state regulation as possible. However, few cities and counties have chosen this route. For example, in California, there is one small county (Colusa) out of the 58 which has chosen "home rule." This does not mean they will not take state funds for local improvements.
n. doctrine that provides that government officials who are performing discretionary functions are immune from civil liability if their actions do not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would be aware.
n. a government’s immunity from being sued in its own courts without its consent
n. a procedural device before trial in which a party brings a third party into the lawsuit because that third party is the one who owes money to an original defendant, which money will be available to pay the original plaintiff. The theory is that two cases may be decided together and justice may be done more efficiently than having two suits in a series.
adj., adv. referring to circumstances, conduct or statements of one or both parties which substitute for explicit language to prove authority to act, warranty, promise, trust, agreement, consent or easement, among other things. Thus circumstances "imply" something rather than spell it out.
v. 1) to attach to a person responsibility (and therefore financial liability) for acts or injuries to another, because of a particular relationship, such as mother to child, guardian to ward, employer to employee or business associates. Example: a 16-year-old boy drives his father's car without a license and runs someone down. The child's negligence may be imputed to the parent, or, in the reverse, a mother drives her car and collides with a truck driven over the speed limit, and her baby in the front seat of the car is badly injured, in part due to not being put in a safety seat with a seat belt. The mother's negligence can be imputed to the child in any claim on behalf of the child against the truck driver. 2) to attribute knowledge and/or notice to a person only because of his/her relationship to the one actually possessing the information. Example: if a partner in a business is informed of something, that knowledge is imputed to his/her partner, and the partner is expected to have the information also.
adj. referring to discussions or hearings held in the judge's office, called his chambers. It is also called "in camera."
n. evidence introduced to prove a fact in a trial which is so conclusive, that by no stretch of the imagination can there be any other truth as to that matter. Examples: a fingerprint which shows someone had been present in a room, or a blood test which scientifically proves that a person is not the parent of a child.
adj. cannot be altered or voided, usually in reference to an interest in real property.
n. (in-dish-yah) from Latin for "signs," circumstances which tend to show or indicate that something is probable. It is used in the form of "indicia of title," or "indicia of partnership," particularly when the "signs" are items like letters, certificates or other things that one would not have unless the facts were as the possessor claimed.
n. a writ (order) issued by a court ordering someone to do something or prohibiting some act after a court hearing. The procedure is for someone who has been or is in danger of being harmed, or needs some help (relief) or his/her attorney, to a) petition for the injunction to protect his/her rights; to b) get an "order to show cause" from the judge telling the other party to show why the injunction should not be issued; c) serve (personally delivered) the order to show cause on the party whom he/she wishes to have ordered to act or be restrained ("enjoined"); partake in a hearing in which both sides attempt to convince the judge why the injunction should or should not be granted. If there is danger of immediate irreparable harm at the time the petition is filed, a judge may issue a temporary injunction which goes into effect upon it being served (deliver or have delivered) to the other party. This temporary injunction will stay in force until the hearing or sometimes until the outcome of a lawsuit is decided in which an injunction is one of the parts of the plaintiff's demands (in the "prayer"). A final and continuing injunction is called a permanent injunction. Examples of injunctions include prohibitions against cutting trees, creating nuisances, polluting a stream, picketing which goes beyond the bounds of free speech and assembly, or removing funds from a bank account pending determination of ownership. So-called "mandatory" injunctions which require acts to be performed, may include return of property, keeping a gate to a road unlocked, clearing off tree limbs from a right-of-way, turning on electricity or heat in an apartment building, or depositing disputed funds with the court.
(in-tur eh-lee-ah) prep. Latin for "among other things." This phrase is often found in legal pleadings and writings to specify one example out of many possibilities. Example: "The judge said, inter alia, that the time to file the action had passed."
n. a temporary order of the court pending a hearing, trial, a final order or while awaiting an act by one of the parties.
adj. provisional and not intended to be final. This usually refers to court orders which are temporary.
n. a court judgment which is temporary and not intended to be final until either a) other matters come before the judge, or b) there is a specified passage of time to determine if the interlocutory decree (judgment) is "working" (becomes accepted by both parties) and should become final. Interlocutory decrees were most commonly used in divorce actions, in which the terms of the divorce were stated in an interlocutory decree, which would be in force until a final decree could be granted after a period of time (such as one year after serving the divorce petition). The theory was that this would provide for a period in which reconciliation might be possible and would also test the efficacy of the original order which might be changed upon a motion of either party. Interlocutory decrees of divorce have been abandoned as a procedure in most states, because they seldom had the desired effect and appeared to waste the parties' time.
n. the rules that regulate relationships among sovereign states and other actors, such as international organizations and individuals, in the international system.
n. the procedure when two parties are involved in a lawsuit over the right to collect a debt from a third party, who admits the money is owed but does not know which person to pay. The debtor deposits the funds with the court ("interpleads"), asks the court to dismiss him/her/it from the lawsuit and lets the claimants fight over it in court.
n. commercial trade, business, movement of goods or money, or transportation from one state to another, regulated by the federal government according to powers spelled out in Article I of the Constitution. The federal government can also regulate commerce within a state when it may impact interstate movement of goods and services and may strike down state actions which are barriers to such movement under Chief Justice John Marshall's decision in Gibbons v. Ogden (1824). Theoretically commerce is regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission (I.C.C.) under authority granted by the Interstate Commerce Act, first enacted by Congress in 1887. This authority has been diffused among various federal agencies, and the I.C.C. may soon be history.
n. an intentionally false representation (lie) which is part of the fraud and can be considered in determining general and punitive damages. This is distinguished from extrinsic fraud (collateral fraud) which was a deceptive means to keeping one from enforcing his/her legal rights.
(ip-soh fact-toe) prep. Latin for "by the fact itself." An expression more popular with comedians imitating lawyers than with lawyers themselves. A simple example: "a blind person, ipso facto, is not entitled to a driver's license."
irreparable damage or injury
n. the type of harm which no monetary compensation can cure or put conditions back the way they were, such as cutting down shade trees, polluting a stream, not giving a child needed medication, not supporting an excavation which may cause collapse of a building, tearing down a structure, or a host of other actions or omissions. The phrase must be used to claim that a judge should order an injunction, writ, temporary restraining order or other judicial assistance, generally known as equitable relief. Such relief is a court order of positive action, such as prohibiting pollution or requiring the shoring up of a defective wall.
n. the joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided that the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants. Joinder requires a) that one of the parties to one of the lawsuits make a motion to join the suits and the parties in a single case; b) notice must be made to all parties; c) there must be a hearing before a judge to show why joinder will not cause prejudice (hurt) to any of the parties to the existing lawsuits; and d) an order of the judge permitting joinder. Joinder may be mandatory if a person necessary to a fair result was not included in the original lawsuit, or it may be permissive if joining the cases together is only a matter of convenience or economy.
joinder of issue
n. that point in a lawsuit when the defendant has challenged (denied) some or all of plaintiff's allegations of facts, and/or when it is known which legal questions are in dispute. This is stated in the expression: "the issue is joined," in the same manner as a military man would say: "the battle has been joined," meaning the fight is underway. Thus, the pre-trial legal underbrush has been cleared away, the motions made, and the pre-trial discovery (depositions, requests for documents, written questions and answers, and other demands for information) sufficiently completed, all of which makes clear what matters are to be decided by trial.
n., adj. a federal law which covers injuries to crewmen at sea, gives jurisdiction to the federal courts and sets up various rules for conduct of these cases under maritime law. A claim for recompense (payment) for damages at sea is called a "Jones Act case."
1) n. an official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings. Judges are almost always attorneys. In some states, "justices of the peace" may need only to pass a test, and federal and state "administrative law judges" are often lawyer or non-lawyer hearing officers specializing in the subject matter upon which they are asked to rule. The word "court" often refers to the judge, as in the phrase "the court found the defendant at fault," or "may it please the court," when addressing the judge. The word "bench" also refers to the judge or judges in general. Judges on appeals courts are usually called "justices." Judges of courts established by a state at the county, district, city or township level, gain office by election, by appointment by the Governor or by some judicial selection process in case of a vacancy. Federal judges are appointed for life by the President of the United States with confirmation by the U.S. Senate. A senator of the same party as the President has considerable clout in recommending Federal judges from his/her home state. 2) v. to rule on a legal matter, including determining the result in a trial if there is no jury.
n. the final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution or appeal from a lower court's judgment, except for an "interlocutory judgment," which is tentative until a final judgment is made. The word "decree" is sometimes used as synonymous with judgment.
judgment notwithstanding the verdict
(N.O.V.) n. reversal of a jury's verdict by the trial judge when the judge believes there was no factual basis for the verdict or it was contrary to law. The judge will then enter a different verdict as "a matter of law." Essentially the judge should have required a "directed verdict" (instruction to the jury to return with a particular verdict since the facts allowed no other conclusion), and when the jury "went wrong," the judge uses the power to reverse the verdict instead of approving it, to prevent injustice. This process is commonly called "judgment N.O.V." or simply "N.O.V.," for Latin non obstante veredicto.
n. the power of the judge to make decisions on some matters without being bound by precedent or strict rules established by statutes. On appeal a higher court will usually accept and confirm decisions of trial judges when exercising permitted discretion, unless capricious, showing a pattern of bias, or exercising discretion beyond his/her authority.
n. the authority of a judge to accept as facts certain matters which are of common knowledge from sources which guarantee accuracy or are a matter of official record, without the need for evidence establishing the fact. Examples of matters given judicial notice are public and court records, tides, times of sunset and sunrise, government rainfall and temperature records, known historic events or the fact that ice melts in the sun.
n. any action by a judge re: trials, hearings, petitions or other matters formally before the court.
n. the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. It is vital to determine before a lawsuit is filed which court has jurisdiction. State courts have jurisdiction over matters within that state, and different levels of courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits involving different amounts of money. For example, Superior Courts (called District or County Courts in several states) generally have sole control of lawsuits for larger sums of money, domestic relations (divorces), probate of estates of deceased persons, guardianships, conservatorships and trials of felonies. In some states (like New York) probate and certain other matters are within the jurisdiction of so-called Surrogate Courts. Municipal courts (or other local courts) have jurisdiction over cases involving lesser amounts of money, misdemeanors (crimes not punishable by state prison), traffic matters and preliminary hearings on felony charges to determine if there is sufficient evidence to warrant a trial by the Superior Court. Some states have police courts to handle misdemeanors. Jurisdiction in the courts of a particular state may be determined by the location of real property in a state (in rem jurisdiction), or whether the parties are located within the state (in personam jurisdiction). Thus, a probate of Marsha Blackwood's estate would be in Idaho where she lived and died, but jurisdiction over her title to real estate in Utah will be under the jurisdiction of the Utah courts. Federal courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between citizens of different states, cases based on federal statutes such as fair labor standards and antitrust violations, charges of federal crimes, appeals from bankruptcy proceedings, maritime cases or legal actions involving federal constitutional questions. Sometimes regulatory agencies have the initial jurisdiction before any legal action may be filed in court. More than one court may have concurrent jurisdiction, such as both state and federal courts, and the lawyer filing the lawsuit may have to make a tactical decision as to which jurisdiction is more favorable or useful to his/her cause, including time to get to trial, the potential pool of jurors or other considerations. Appellate jurisdiction is given by statute to appeals courts to hear appeals about the judgment of the lower court that tried a case, and to order reversal or other correction if error is found. State appeals are under the jurisdiction of the state appellate courts, while appeals from federal district courts are within the jurisdiction of the courts of appeal and eventually the Supreme Court. Jurisdiction is not to be confused with "venue," which means the best place to try a case. Thus, any state court may have jurisdiction over a matter, but the "venue" is in a particular county.
n. the entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions.
n. any person who actually serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are chosen from various sources such as registered voters, automobile registration or telephone directories. The names are drawn by lot (more often by computer random selection) and requested to appear for possible service. Before a trial begins the names of jurors are assigned to a trial court, and a further selection process is made. Acceptable excuses from service are determined by state law or by the judge before or during the final selection process. If chosen, a juror receives a small amount of pay per day of service and payment for automobile mileage from home to court. A member of a Grand Jury is called a grand juror.
n. a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the case is presented to a jury and the factual questions and the final judgment are determined by a jury. This is distinguished from a "court trial" in which the judge decides factual as well as legal questions, and makes the final judgment.
n. 1) in general a fair and reasonable amount of money to be paid for work performed or to make one "whole" after loss due to damages. 2) the full value to be paid for property taken by the government for public purposes guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which states: "…nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." If the amount offered by the governmental agency taking the property is not considered sufficient, the property owner may demand a trial to determine just compensation.
n. referring to a matter which is capable of being decided by a court. Usually it is combined in such terms as: "justiciable issue," "justiciable cause of action" or "justiciable case."