LEGAL DICTIONARY

 

A

a fortiori 
(ah-for-she-ory) prep. Latin for "with even stronger reason," which applies to a situation in which if one thing is true then it can be inferred that a second thing is even more certainly true. Thus, if Anil is too young to serve as administrator, then his younger brother Amit certainly is too young.

 

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

 

a.k.a. 
prep. abbreviation for "also known as" when someone uses different initials, a nickname, a maiden or married name. Example: Amit G. Das, a.k.a. A. G. Das, a.k.a. "Snuffy the Snod."

 

ab initio 
prep. lawyer Latin for "from the start," as "it was legal ab initio."

 

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

 

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

 

abandonment 
n. the act of intentionally and permanently giving up, surrendering, deserting or relinquishing property, premises, a right of way, a ship, contract rights, a spouse and/or children. Abandonment of a spouse means intent at permanent separation, and with children a lengthy period of neither contact nor any support. In maritime law abandonment has a special meaning: when an owner surrenders a ship and its contents to a trustee for the benefit of claimants, particularly after a wreck. If one invents something and does not get a patent but allows others to use the invention or dedicates it to public use, the right to patent is probably abandoned. Confusion arises over abandonment of water rights, mining rights, or rights of way, since mere non-use is not sufficient to show abandonment.

 

abate 
v. to do away with a problem, such as a public or private nuisance or some structure built contrary to public policy. This can include dikes, which illegally direct water onto a neighbor's property, high volume noise from a rock band or a factory, an improvement constructed in violation of building and safety codes, or seepage from a faulty septic tank.

 

abatement 
n. 1) the removal of a problem which is against public or private policy, or endangers others, including nuisances such as weeds that might catch fire on an otherwise empty lot; 2) an equal reduction of recovery of debts by all creditors when there are not enough funds or assets to pay the full amount; 3) an equal reduction of benefits to beneficiaries (heirs) when an estate is not large enough to pay each beneficiary in full.

 

abduction 
n. the criminal taking away of a person by persuasion (convincing someone-particularly a minor or a woman-he/she is better off leaving with the persuader), by fraud (telling the person he/she is needed, or that the mother or father wants him/her to come with the abductor), or by open force or violence. Kidnapping is more limited, requiring force, threat of force upon an adult or the taking of children.

 

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

 

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

 

able-bodied 
adj. physically capable of working at a job or in the military. It is often used to describe a person as capable of earning a living and, therefore, of paying alimony or child support

 

abortion 
n. the termination of pregnancy by various means, including medical surgery, before the fetus is able to sustain independent life. 

 

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

 

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

 

absolute 
adj. complete, and without condition.

 

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

 

abstract of judgment 
n. a written summary of a judgment which states how much money the losing party owes to the person who won the lawsuit (judgment creditor), the rate of interest to be paid on the judgment amount, court costs, and any specific orders that the losing party (judgment debtor) must obey, which abstract is acknowledged and stamped so that it can be recorded at the county recorder.

 

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

 

abuse of discretion 
n. a polite way of saying a trial judge has made such a bad mistake ("clearly against reason and evidence" or against established law) during a trial or on ruling on a motion that a person did not get a fair trial. A court of appeals will use a finding of this abuse as a reason to reverse the trial court judgment. Examples of "abuse of discretion" or judges' mistakes include not allowing an important witness to testify, making improper comments that might influence a jury, showing bias, or making rulings on evidence that deny a person a chance to tell his or her side of the matter. This does not mean a trial or the judge has to be perfect, but it does mean that the judge's actions were so far out of bounds that someone truly did not get a fair trial. Sometimes the appeals courts admit the judge was wrong, but not wrong enough to have influenced the outcome of the trial, often to the annoyance of the losing party. In criminal cases abuse of discretion can include sentences that are grossly too harsh. In a divorce action, it includes awarding alimony way beyond the established formula or the spouse's or life partner's realistic ability to pay.

 

abuse of process 
n. the use of legal process by illegal, malicious, or perverted means. Examples include serving (officially giving) a complaint to someone when it has not actually been filed, just to intimidate an enemy; filing a false declaration of service (filing a paper untruthfully stating a lie that someone has officially given a notice to another person, filing a lawsuit which has no basis at law, but is intended to get information, force payment through fear of legal entanglement or gain an unfair or illegal advantage. Some people think they are clever by abusing the process this way. A few unscrupulous lawyers do so intentionally and can be subject to discipline and punishment. Sometimes a lawyer will abuse the process accidentally; an honest one will promptly correct the error and apologize.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

acceptance 
n. 1) receiving something from another with the intent to keep it, and showing that this was based on a previous agreement. 2) agreeing verbally or in writing to the terms of a contract, which is one of the requirements to show there was a contract (an offer and an acceptance of that offer). A written offer can be accepted only in writing. 3) receiving goods with the intention of paying for them if a sale has been agreed to. 4) agreement to pay a bill of exchange, which can be an "absolute acceptance" (to pay as the bill is written) or "conditional acceptance" (to pay only when some condition actually occurs such as the shipment or delivery of certain goods). "Acceptance" is most often used in the factual determination of whether a contract was entered into.

 

acceptance of service 
n. agreement by a defendant (or his/her attorney) in a legal action to accept a complaint or other petition (like divorce papers) without having the law enforcement officer show up at the door. The agreement of "acceptance of service" must be in writing or there is no proof that it happened. In most jurisdictions there is a form entitled "receipt and acknowledgment of acceptance of service" or similar language which must be signed, dated and sent back to the attorney who sent the complaint or petition. Attorneys must be careful that they have legal authority from a client to act on his/her behalf, because a client may deny later that he/she gave authority to accept service

 

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

 

accessory 
n. a second-string player who helps in the commission of a crime by driving the getaway car, providing the weapons, assisting in the planning, providing an alibi, or hiding the principal offender after the crime. Usually the accessory is not immediately present during the crime, but must be aware that the crime is going to be committed or has been committed. Usually an accessory's punishment is less than that of the main perpetrator, but a tough jury or judge may find the accessory just as responsible.

 

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

 

accomplice 
n. someone who assists in the commission of a crime and, unlike a mere accessory, is usually present or directly aids in the crime (like holding a gun on the bank guard while the vault is looted, or holding a victim of assault and battery). Also unlike an accessory who can claim being only a subordinate figure, the accomplice may share in the same charge and punishment as the principal criminal.

 

accord and satisfaction 
n. an agreement to accept less than is legally due in order to wrap up the matter. Once the accord and satisfaction is made and the amount paid (even though it is less than owed) the debt is wiped out since the new agreement (accord) and payment (the satisfaction) replaces the original obligation. It is often used by creditors as "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush" practicality.

 

account stated 
n. a statement between a creditor or the person to whom money is owed and a debtor (the person who owes) that a particular amount is owed to the seller as of a certain date. Often the account stated is a bill, invoice or a summary of invoices, signed by the customer or sent to the customer who pays part or all of it without protest. This is important when a frustrated businessman sues for "account stated" which sets both the debtor's liability and the exact amount the debtor must pay, which is less complicated than claiming a debt is due and payable.

 

accounts payable 
n. bills that are owed. 

 

accounts receivable 
n. the amounts of money due or owed to a business or professional by customers or clients. Generally, accounts receivable refers to the total amount due and is considered in calculating the value of a business or the business's problems in paying its own debts. Evaluation of the chances of collecting based on history of customers' payments, quality of customers and age of the accounts receivable and debts is important. A big mistake made by people overly eager to buy a business is to give too high a value to the accounts receivable without considering the chances of collection.

 

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

 

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

 

accusation 
n. 1) in legal terms accusation means officially charging someone with a crime either by indictment by a Grand Jury or filing charges by a District Attorney. 2) in lay terms any claim of wrongdoing by another person. 

 

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

 

acknowledgment 
n. the section at the end of a document where a notary public verifies that the signer of the document states he/she actually signed it. 

 

acquit 
v. what a jury or judge sitting without a jury does at the end of a criminal trial if the jury or judge finds the accused defendant not guilty 

 

acquittal 
n. what an accused criminal defendant receives if he/she is found not guilty. It is a verdict (a judgment in a criminal case) of not guilty. 

 

act 
1) n. in general, any action by a person. 2) n. a statutory plan passed by Congress or any legislature which is a "bill" until enacted and becomes law. 3) v. for a court to make a decision and rule on a motion or petition, as in "the court will act on your motion for a new trial."

 

action 
n. a lawsuit in which one party (or parties) sues another. 

 

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

 

actual controversy 
n. a true legal dispute which leads to a genuine lawsuit rather than merely a "cooked up" legal action filed to get a court to give the equivalent of an advisory opinion.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

ad seriatim 
adj. (add sear-ee-ah-tim) Latin for "one after another".

 

ad valorem 
adj. Latin for "based on value," which applies to property taxes based on a percentage of the county's assessment of the property's value. The assessed value is the standard basis for local real property taxes, although some place "caps" (maximums) on the percentage of value or "parcel taxes" which establish a flat rate per parcel.

 

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

 

adeem 
v. to revoke a gift made in a will by destroying, selling or giving away the gift item during the lifetime of the testator (writer of the will). Example: a person writes in his/her will, "I leave my son my 1988 Ford automobile" and then Dad totals or sells the car. Nasty legal fights can arise if the supposed adeemed gift is not clearly identified, as in "I give Ajay my family car." Then the giver sells the Ford and buys a Jeep. Better will language would be: "To Ajay any (or the newest) automobile of which I shall be possessed at the time of my death."

 

ademption 
n. the act of adeeming, which is revoking (getting rid of) a gift mentioned in a will by destruction, or selling or giving away the gift before death.

 

adequate remedy 
n. a remedy (money or performance) awarded by a court or through private action (including compromise) which affords "complete" satisfaction, and is "practical, efficient and appropriate" in the circumstances. In part this depends on what relief (like an order granting one an easement over a neighbor's property or an order keeping the drunken husband away from the complaining wife) a party is seeking. A court is a bit self-congratulatory and subjectively judgmental when it announces that the remedy granted is "adequate" when it has done the best it can in the circumstances. Example: a "stay away" order telling an abusive husband to keep his distance from his wife but not putting him in jail. The order is only a piece of paper until he violates it, giving cause for his arrest.

 

adhesion contract 
n.(contract of adhesion) a contract (often a signed form) so imbalanced in favor of one party over the other that there is a strong implication it was not freely bargained. Example: a rich landlord dealing with a poor tenant who has no choice and must accept all terms of a lease, no matter how restrictive or burdensome, since the tenant cannot afford to move. An adhesion contract can give the little guy the opportunity to claim in court that the contract with the big shot is invalid. This doctrine should be used and applied more often, but the same big guy-little guy inequity may apply in the ability to afford a trial or find and pay a resourceful lawyer.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

adjuster 
n. an employee (usually a non-lawyer) of an insurance company or an adjustment firm employed by an insurance company to negotiate an early settlement of a claim for damages against a person, a business or public body (like a city). While a fair and responsible adjuster can serve a real purpose in getting information and evaluating the case for the insurance company, some adjusters try to make a settlement before the injured person has retained an attorney ("don't worry, we'll pay your bills. You don't need an attorney. He'll only confuse things."), get a statement from the injured without counsel, or delay the payout with the promise he/she will negotiate any reasonable demand, and then making an offer of payment that is absurdly low. Some insurance companies try to make the attorney deal with the adjuster, which is cheaper than sending the case to defense attorneys. Adjusters also represent the company in approving settlements

 

administer 
v. 1) to conduct the duties of a job or position. 2) particularly, to manage the affairs of the estate of a person who has died under supervision of the local court. 3) to give an oath, as in "administer the oath."

 

administrative hearing 
n. a hearing before any governmental agency or before an administrative law judge. Such hearings can range from simple arguments to what amounts to a trial. There is no jury, but the agency or the administrative law judge will make a ruling.

 

administrative law 
n. the procedures created by administrative agencies (governmental bodies of the city, county, state or government) involving rules, regulations, applications, licenses, permits, available information, hearings, appeals and decision-making. 1) the rules and regulations are often special for each agency and are not usually found in the statutes but in those regulations; 2) a member of the public must "exhaust his/her administrative remedies" (take every step, including appeals) with the agency and its system before he/she can challenge the administrative ruling with a lawsuit in court. There are exceptions (such as emergency or obvious futility) to exhausting one's remedies, but those are rare. Administrative law can be a technical jungle, and many lawyers make lots of money from knowing how to hack their way through it on behalf of their clients.

 

administrative law judge 
n. a professional hearing officer who works for the government to preside over hearings and appeals involving governmental agencies. They are generally experienced in the particular subject matter of the agency involved or of several agencies. Formerly called "hearing officers," they discovered that there was more prestige and higher pay in being called "judge".

 

administrator 
n. the person appointed by the court to handle the estate of someone who died without a will, with a will but no nominated executor, or the executor named in the will has died, has been removed from the case or does not desire to serve. If there is a will but no available executor, the administrator is called an "administrator with will annexed." The procedure is that if an estate must be probated (filed and approved by a court) then someone (usually a relative or close friend) petitions the court in the appropriate county (usually where the late lamented last lived) for appointment of a particular person as administrator. If an estate requires attention and no one has come forward to administer the estate, then the county Public Administrator may do so. In most cases state law requires that the administrator post a bond ordered by the court to protect the estate from mishandling or malfeasance. If the will includes real property in another state then the administrator or executor must find someone in the other state to handle the change of title and paying of local taxes, and that person is called an "ancillary administrator."

 

admiralty 
n. concerning activities which occur at sea, including on small boats and ships in navigable bays. Admiralty law (maritime law) includes accidents and injuries at sea, maritime contracts and commerce, alleged violations of rules of the sea over shipping lanes and rights-of-way, and mutiny and other crimes on shipboard. 

 

admissible evidence 
n. evidence which the trial judge finds is useful in helping the trier of fact (a jury if there is a jury, otherwise the judge), and which cannot be objected to on the basis that it is irrelevant, immaterial, or violates the rules against hearsay and other objections. Sometimes the evidence which a person tries to introduce has little relevant value (usually called probative value) in determining some fact, or prejudice from the jury's shock at gory details may outweigh that probative value. In criminal cases the courts tend to be more restrictive on letting the jury hear such details for fear they will result in "undue prejudice." Thus, the jury may only hear a sanitized version of the facts in prosecutions involving violence.

 

admission 
n. a statement made by a party to a lawsuit or a criminal defendant, usually prior to trial, that certain facts are true. An admission is not to be confused with a confession of blame or guilt, but admits only some facts. In civil cases, each party is permitted to submit a written list of alleged facts and request the other party to admit or deny whether each is true or correct. Failure to respond in writing is an admission of the alleged facts and may be used in trial.

 

admission against interest 
n. an admission of the truth of a fact by any person, but especially by the parties to a lawsuit, when a statement obviously would do that person harm, be embarrassing, or be against his/her personal or business interests. Another party can quote in court an admission against interest even though it is only hearsay.

 

admission of evidence 
n. a judge's acceptance of evidence in a trial. 

 

admission of guilt 
n. a statement by someone accused of a crime that he/she committed the offense. If the admission is made outside court to a police officer it may be introduced as evidence if the defendant was given the proper warnings as to his/her rights before talking. 

 

admission to bail 
n. an order of a court in a criminal case allowing an accused defendant to be freed pending trial if he/she posts bail (deposits either cash or a bond) in an amount set by the court. Theoretically the posting of bail is intended to guarantee the appearance of the defendant in court when required. In minor routine cases (e.g. petty theft or drunk driving) a judge automatically sets bail based on a rate schedule which can be obtained and put up quickly. Otherwise bail is set at the first court appearance (arraignment). Although the Constitution guarantees the right to bail, in extreme cases (murder, treason, mayhem) the court is not required to admit a prisoner to bail of any amount due to the likelihood of the defendent fleeing the area, or causing further harm. Bail bondsmen are usually readily available near larger courthouses and jails, charge ten percent of the amount of the court-required bond, and often demand collateral for the amount posted. If the defendant fails to show up in court or flees ("jumps bail"), the defendant may have to give up his/her deposit (bail). When the case is concluded, the bail is "exonerated" (released) and returned to the bail bond company or to whoever put up the cash. If a bail bondsman has good reason to believe his client is attempting to flee he may bring him/her in to jail, revoke the bond, and surrender the client.

 

admit 
v. 1) to state something is true in answering a complaint filed in a lawsuit. The defendant will admit or deny each allegation in his or her answer filed with the court. If he or she agrees and states that he/she did what he/she is accused of, then the allegation need not be proved in trial. 2) in criminal law, to agree a fact is true or confess guilt. 3) to allow as evidence in a trial, as the judge says: "Exhibit D, the letter, is admitted."

 

adopt 
v. 1) to take on the relationship of parent to child of another person, particularly (but not necessarily) a minor, by official legal action. 2) to accept or make use of, such as to adopt another party's argument in a lawsuit.

 

adoption 
n. the taking of a child into one's family, creating a parent to child relationship, and giving him or her all the rights and privileges of one's own child, including the right to inherit as if the child were the adopter's natural child. The adoption procedure varies depending on whether the child comes through an agency which handles adoptions or comes from a stranger or a relative, and on the age of the child and the adoptive parent or parents. The hopeful adoptive parent must file a petition, which may be handled by the adoption agency. Natural parents must either give binding written permission for the adoption or have abandoned the child for a lengthy period of time. An investigation will be made by a county office (probation or family services) as to the future parents' suitability to adoption, their relationship status, their home situation, and their health, as well as the best interests of the child. If the child is old enough to understand the procedure he or she may have a say in the adoption. Finally there is a hearing before a local court judge (called "surrogate" in some states) and an adoption order made. In many states a new birth certificate can be issued, with the adoptive parents listed as the parents. If there is an adoption of an adult, the adopting adult usually must be several years older, based on the state law. In recent years, there has been much controversy over adoption by single parents, including gays and lesbians, with the tendency toward allowing such adoptions, provided all other criteria beneficial to the child are met.

 

adultery 
n. consensual sexual relations when one of the participants is legally married to another. 

 

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

 

advancement 
n. a gift made by a person to one of his or her children or heirs (a presumptive heir since an heir is only determined on the date of death) in anticipation of a gift from the still-living parent's potential estate as an advance on one's inheritance. Example: Sibin John is going to leave his son Rs 1,00,000 under his will or a percentage of the estate on John's death. John gives the son Rs 50,000 with the intention that it would be deducted from the inheritance. The main problem is one of proof that the advanced sum was against the projected inheritance. A person making an advancement should leave a written statement about the advancement or get a signed receipt. Such gifts made shortly before death are more readily treated as an advancement than one made several years earlier.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

adverse possession 
n. a means to acquire title to land through obvious occupancy of the land, while claiming ownership for the period of years set by the law of the state where the property exists. This can arise when a rancher fences in a parcel contending he was to get title from some prior owner, and then grazes cattle on the property for many years without objection by the title holder. Payment of real property taxes and making improvements (such as paving or fencing) for the statutory period are evidence of adverse possession but cannot be used by a land grabber with no claim to title other than possession.

 

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

 

advisory opinion 
n. an opinion stated by a judge or a court upon the request of a legislative body or government agency. An advisory opinion has no force of law but is given as a matter of courtesy. A private citizen cannot get an advisory ruling from a court and can only get rulings in an actual lawsuit. 

 

affiant 
n. a person who signs an affidavit and swears to its truth before a notary public or some person authorized to take oaths, like a County Clerk.

 

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

 

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

 

affirmative action 
n. the process of a business or governmental agency in which it gives special rights of hiring or advancement to ethnic minorities to make up for past discrimination against that minority. Affirmative action has been the subject of legal battles on the basis that it is reverse discrimination against Caucasians, but in most challenges to affirmative action the programs have been upheld.

 

affirmative defense 
n. part of an answer to a charge or complaint in which a defendant takes the offense and responds to the allegations with his/her own charges, which are called "affirmative defenses." These defenses can contain allegations, take the initiative against statements of facts contrary to those stated in the original complaint against them, and include various defenses based on legal principles. Many of these defenses fall into the "boilerplate" (stated in routine, non-specific language) category, but one or more of the defenses may help the defendant.

 

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

 

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

 

after-acquired title 
n. title to property acquired after the owner attempts to sell or transfer the title to another person before he/she actually got legal title. When the title is acquired by the seller in this paper shuffle, title automatically goes to the person to whom it was sold, passing through the person who acquired title "like a dose of salts" on its way to the new purchaser. Example: John signs, acknowledges, and records a deed of the ranch to Sam, but John has not yet received title from the estate of his late father. When John gets title from his father's estate and records it, the after-acquired title goes automatically to Sam.

 

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

 

age discrimination 
n. an employer's unfair treatment of a current or potential employee. The claimant's problem is proof of age discrimination, but employers should beware. Even flight attendants in their late 30s have proved that there was age discrimination in replacing them with younger, "more attractive" women.

 

age of consent 
n. the age at which a person is responsible for his/her own actions (including the capacity to enter into a contract which is enforceable by the other party), for damages for negligence or intentional wrongs without a parent being liable and for punishment as an adult for a crime. 

 

agency 
n. the relationship of a person (called the agent) who acts on behalf of another person, company, or government, known as the principal. "Agency" may arise when an employer (principal) and employee (agent) ask someone to make a delivery or name someone as an agent in a contract. The basic rule is that the principal becomes responsible for the acts of the agent, and the agent's acts are like those of the principal (Latin: respondeat superior). Factual questions arise such as: was the agent in the scope of employment when he/she ran down the little child, got drunk and punched someone, or sold impure wheat? There is also the problem of whether the principal acted in such a way as to make others believe someone was his agent-this is known as "apparent" or "ostensible" authority. When someone who is or is not an employee uses company business cards, finance documents, or a truck with the company logo, such use gives apparent authority as an agent.

 

agent 
n. a person who is authorized to act for another (the agent's principal) through employment, by contract or apparent authority. The importance is that the agent can bind the principal by contract or create liability if he/she causes injury while in the scope of the agency. Who is an agent and what is his/her authority are often difficult and crucial factual issues.

 

aggravated assault 
n. the crime of physically attacking another person which results in serious bodily harm and/or is made with a deadly or dangerous weapon such as a gun, knife, sword, ax or blunt instrument. Aggravated assault is usually a felony punishable by a term in state prison.

 

agreed statement 
n. occasionally the two parties on opposite sides of a lawsuit or on an appeal from a trial judgment will agree upon certain facts and sign a statement to be used in court for that purpose. Agreed statements are only used when the only remaining dispute boils down to a question of law and legal argument and not of the actual facts. 

 

agreement 
1) n. any meeting of the minds, even without legal obligation. 2) in law, another name for a contract including all the elements of a legal contract: offer, acceptance, and consideration (payment or performance), based on specific terms.

 

aid and abet 
v. help commit a crime. A lawyer redundancy since abet means aid, which lends credence to the old rumor that lawyers used to be paid by the word.

 

aleatory 
adj. uncertain; usually applied to insurance contracts in which payment is dependent on the occurrence of a contingent event, such as injury to the insured person in an accident or fire damage to his insured building.

 

alias 
n. 1) a name used other than the given name of a person or reference to that other name, which may not be an attempt to hide his/her identity (such as initials or a maiden name).

 

alibi 
n. an excuse used by a person accused or suspected of a crime. In the original Latin it means "in another place," which has to be the ultimate alibi.

 

alien 
1) n. a person who is not a citizen of the country. 2) in India any person born in another country to parents who are not Indians and who has not become a naturalized citizen. There are resident aliens officially permitted to live in the country and illegal aliens who have sneaked into the country or stayed beyond the time allowed on a visa. 3) v. to convey title to property. 

 

alienation 
n. the transfer of title to real property, voluntarily and completely. It does not apply to interests other than title, such as a mortgage.

 

alienation of affections 
n. convincing a wife to leave her husband, often for another man, causing the husband to lose conjugal relations. 

 

alimony 
n. support paid by one ex-spouse to the other as ordered by a court in a divorce case. Usually it is paid by the male to his ex, but in some cases a wealthy woman may have to pay her husband, or, in same-sex relationships the "breadwinner" may pay to support his/her stay-at-home former partner. Failure to pay ordered alimony can result in contempt of court citations and even jail time. The level of alimony can be determined by written agreement and submitted to the court for a stipulated order. Income tax-wise, alimony is deductible as an expense for the payer and charged as income to the recipient. Child support is not alimony.

 

aliquot 
(al-ee-kwoh) adj. a definite fractional share, usually applied when dividing and distributing a dead person's estate or trust assets.

 

all the estate i own 
n. a phrase from a poorly drafted will which means the possessions owned by the deceased at the moment of death, not when the will was written.

 

allegation 
n. a statement of claimed fact contained in a complaint (a written pleading filed to begin a lawsuit), a criminal charge, or an affirmative defense (part of the written answer to a complaint). Until each statement is proved it is only an allegation. Some allegations are made "on information and belief" if the person making the statement is not sure of a fact.

 

allege 
v. to claim a fact is true, commonly in a complaint which is filed to commence a lawsuit, in an "affirmative defense" to a complaint, in a criminal charge of the commission of a crime or any claim.

 

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

 

alter ego 
n. a corporation, organization or other entity set up to provide a legal shield for the person actually controlling the operation. Proving that such an organization is a cover or alter ego for the real defendant breaks down that protection, but it can be difficult to prove complete control by an individual. In the case of corporations, proving one is an alter ego is one way of "piercing the corporate veil." In a lawsuit complaint, it might be stated (pleaded) that "the ABC Corporation was the alter ego of Joseph John."

 

alternative pleading 
n. a legal fiction in which a party to a lawsuit or a defendant charged with a crime can plead two ways which are inconsistent with each other. Examples: a) someone hurt in an accident can plead that the other party was negligent or ran into him intentionally. b) "not guilty" and "not guilty by reason of insanity" (in which there is the implied admission that the defendant committed the act).

 

ambiguity 
n. when language has more than one meaning. If the ambiguity is obvious it is called "patent," and if there is a hidden ambiguity it is called "latent." If there is an ambiguity, and the original writer cannot effectively explain it, then the ambiguity will be decided in the light most favorable to the other party.

 

amend 
v. to alter or change by adding, subtracting, or substituting. One can amend a statute, a contract or a written pleading filed in a law -suit. The change is usually called an amendment. The legislature will amend a statute, the parties to a contract can amend it, and a party to a lawsuit can amend his or her own pleading. A contract can be amended only by the parties participating in the contract. If the contract is written, it can be amended only in writing (although, curiously, an oral contract can be amended orally or in writing). A pleading can be amended before it is served on the other party, by stipulation or agreement in court between the parties (actually usually between their attorneys), or upon order of the court.

 

amended complaint 
n. what results when the party suing (plaintiff or petitioner) changes the complaint he/she has filed. It must be in writing, and can be done before the complaint is served on any defendant, by agreement between the parties (usually their lawyers), or upon order of the court. Complaints are amended to correct facts, add new causes of action (bases for the lawsuit), substitute discovered names for persons sued as "Does," or to properly plead a cause of action (the legal basis for suing) after the court has found the complaint inadequate.

 

amended pleading 
n. a changed written pleading in a lawsuit, including complaint or answer to a complaint. Pleadings are amended for various reasons, including correcting facts, adding causes of action (legal bases for a suit), adding affirmative defenses, or responding to a court's finding that a pleading is inadequate as a matter of law. Amendments cannot be made willy-nilly, but only prior to being served, upon stipulation by the parties or order of the court.

 

american depository receipt 
n. called in the banking trade an ADR, it is a receipt issued by American banks to Americans as a substitute for actual ownership of shares of foreign stocks. ADRs are traded on American stock exchanges and over-the-counter easily without the necessity of trading the foreign shares themselves.

 

amicus curiae 
n. Latin for "friend of the court," a party or an organization interested in an issue which files a brief or participates in the argument in a case in which that party or organization is not one of the litigants.

 

amnesty 
n. a blanket abolition of an offense by the government, with the legal result that those charged or convicted have the charge or conviction wiped out.

 

amortization 
n. a periodic payment plan to pay a debt in which the interest and a portion of the principal are included in each payment by an established mathematical formula. Most commonly it is used on a real property loan or financing of an automobile or other purchase. By figuring the interest on the declining principal and the number of years of the loan, the monthly payments are averaged and determined. Since the main portion of the early payments is interest, the principal does not decline rapidly until the latter stages of the loan term. If the amortization leaves a principal balance at the close of the time for repayment, this final lump sum is called a "balloon" payment.

 

and 
conj. this little word is important in law, particularly when compared to or. Most commonly it determines if one or both owners have to sign documents. Example: when an automobile registration reads that the title is for Anil and Jaya Oswald, then both must sign off upon sale, but if it says "or" then only one will have to sign; if Anil dies then the title is automatically in Jaya's name if it reads "or," but not if it reads "and."

 

annuity 
n. 1) an annual sum paid from a policy or gift. 2) short for a purchased annuity policy which will pay dividends to the owner regularly for years or for life. 

 

answer 
n. in law, a written pleading filed by a defendant to respond to a complaint in a lawsuit filed and served upon that defendant. An answer generally responds to each allegation in the complaint by denying or admitting it, or admitting in part and denying in part. The answer may also com- prise "affirmative defenses" including allegations which contradict the complaint or contain legal theories (like "unclean hands," "contributory negligence" or "anticipatory breach") which are intended to derail the claims in the complaint. Sometimes the answer is in the form of a "general denial," denying everything. The answer must be in typed form, follow specific rules of pleading established by law and the courts, and be filed with the court and served on the defendant within a specific statutory time (e.g. 20 or 30 days after service of the complaint). If the complaint is verified as under penalty of perjury, the answer must be also. There is a fairly steep filing fee for each defendant filing an answer. In short, if served a complaint, one should see a lawyer as soon as possible to prevent a default judgment.

 

antenuptial (prenuptial) agreement 
n. a written contract between two people who are about to marry, setting out the terms of possession of assets, treatment of future earnings, control of the property of each, and potential division if the marriage is later dissolved. These are fairly common if either or both parties have substantial assets, children from a previous marriage, potential large inheritances, high incomes, or have been "taken" by a prior spouse.

 

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

 

antitrust laws 
n. acts adopted to outlaw or restrict business practices considered to be monopolistic. 

 

apparent authority 
n. the appearance of being the agent of another (employer or principal) with the power to act for the principal. Since under the law of agency the employer (the principal) is liable for the acts of his employee (agent), if a person who is not an agent appears to an outsider (a customer) to have been given authority by the principal, then the principal is stuck for the acts of anyone he allows to appear to have authority. This "apparent authority" can be given by providing Anand Mehta (who has no authority to contract) with materials, stationery, forms, a truck with a company logo, or letting him work out of the company office, so that a reasonable person would think Anand had authority to act for the company. Then the contract or the price quote given by Anand and accepted by a third party is binding on the company. Apparent authority may also arise when Anand's works for the company, has no authority to contract, but appears to have been given that authority. Beware of the salesman who exceeds his authority or the hanger-on who claims to work for the boss.

 

appeal 
1) v. to ask a higher court to reverse the decision of a trial court after final judgment or other legal ruling. After the lower court judgment is entered into the record, the losing party (appellant) must file a notice of appeal, request transcripts or other records of the trial court (or agree with the other party on an "agreed-upon statement"), file briefs with the appeals court citing legal reasons for over-turning the ruling, and show how those reasons (usually other appeal decisions called "precedents") relate to the facts in the case. No new evidence is admitted on appeal, for it is strictly a legal argument. The other party (Respondent or appellee) usually files a responsive brief countering these arguments. The appellant then can counter that response with a final brief. If desired by either party, they will then argue the case before the appeals court, which may sustain the original ruling, reverse it, send it back to the trial court, or reverse in part and confirm in part. 2) n. the name for the process of appealing, as in "he has filed an appeal."

 

appear 
v. for a party or an attorney to show up in court. 

 

appearance 
n. the act of a party or an attorney showing up in court. Once it is established that an attorney represents the person (by filing a notice of appearance or representation or actually appearing), the lawyer may make an appearance for the client on some matters without the client being present. An attorney makes a "special appearance" when he/she is appearing only for the purpose of what is before the court that day-such as arraignment of one charged with a crime. If an attorney makes a "general appearance" he or she is telling the court that the client is definitely his or hers and the court can proceed. In the future that attorney will be required to represent the client. Some appearances are voluntary, but most are compulsory and are by notice to the party or, if represented, to his/her attorney. 

 

appellant 
n. the party who appeals a trial court decision he/she/it has lost. 

 

appellate court 
n. a court of appeals which hears appeals from lower court decisions. The term is often used in legal briefs to describe a court of appeals. 

 

appellee 
n. in some jurisdictions the name used for the party who has won at the trial court level, but the loser (appellant) has appealed the decision to a higher court. Thus the appellee has to file a response to the legal brief filed by the appellant. In many jurisdictions the appellee is called the "respondent."

 

appraise 
v. to professionally evaluate the value of property including real estate, jewelry, antique furniture, securities, or in certain cases the loss of value (or cost of replacement) due to damage. This may be necessary in determining the value of the estate of someone who has died, particularly when the items must be divided among the beneficiaries, to determine the value of assets for insurance coverage, to divide partnership assets, set a sales price, determine taxes, or make insurance claims.

 

appraiser 
n. a professional who makes appraisals of the value of property. Some specialize in real property, and others in other types of assets from rugs to rings. A careful, well-trained and practical appraiser may be more important than any other professional in a transaction, since one who grossly undervalues or overvalues property (or has no knowledge of true value) can wreak havoc. Where possible, a person should ask for a profile of other clients and training, and ask whether the appraiser is "MAI" (Member, Appraisal Institute).

 

appreciate 
v. to increase in value over a period of time through the natural course of events, including inflation, greater rarity, or public acceptance. This can include real property, jewelry, rare books, art works or securities.

 

appreciation 
n. the increase in value through the natural course of events as distinguished from improvements or additions. 

 

approach 
v. short for "approach the bench," as in "may I approach, your honor," or "will counsel approach?"

 

approach the bench 
v. an attorney's movement from the counsel table to the front of the bench (the large desk at which the judge sits) in order to speak to the judge off the record and/or out of earshot of the jury. Since the bench area is the sacred territory of the judge the attorney must ask permission as "may I approach the bench," or simply, "may I approach." If the judge consents, then opposing counsel must be allowed to come forward and participate in the conversation. The purpose can range from explaining the order of witnesses, a technical problem or the need to take a recess to go to the restroom.

 

approach the witness 
v. a request by an attorney to the judge for permission to go up to a witness on the witness stand to show the witness a document or exhibit. "May I approach the witness?" is the typical request, and it is almost always granted.

 

appurtenant 
adj. pertaining to something that attaches. In real property law this describes any right or restriction which goes with that property, such as an easement to gain access across the neighbor's parcel, or a covenant (agreement) against blocking the neighbor's view. Thus, there are references to appurtenant easement or appurtenant covenant.

 

arbiter 
n. in some jurisdictions the name for a referee appointed by the court to decide a question and report back to the court, which must confirm the arbiter's finding before it is binding on the parties.

 

arbitrary 
adj. not supported by fair or substantial cause or reason. Most often it is used in reference to a judge's ruling. 

 

arbitration 
n. a mini-trial, which may be for a lawsuit ready to go to trial, held in an attempt to avoid a court trial and conducted by a person or a panel of people who are not judges. The arbitration may be agreed to by the parties, may be required by a provision in a contract for settling disputes, or may be provided for under statute. 

 

arbitrator 
n. one who conducts an arbitration, and serves as a judge who conducts a "mini-trial," somewhat less formally than a court trial. In most cases the arbitrator is an attorney, either alone or as part of a panel. Most court jurisdictions now have lists of attorneys who serve as arbitrators. Other arbitrators come from arbitration services which provide lists from which the parties can agree on an arbitrator. Professional arbitration services are paid well to move cases along. There are also arbitrators who are experts on everything from construction to maritime damage. In some contracts there is a provision for such an expert-type arbitrator named by each side with a third chosen by the other two.

 

arguendo 
prep. Latin meaning "for the sake of argument," used by lawyers in the context of "assuming arguendo" that the facts were as the other party contends, but the law prevents the other side from prevailing. Example: "assuming arguendo" that the court finds our client, the defendant, was negligent, the other party (plaintiff) was so contributorily negligent he cannot recover damages. In short, the lawyer is not admitting anything, but wants to make a legal argument only. The word appears most commonly in appeals briefs.

 

argumentative 
adj. the characterization of a question asked by the opposing attorney which does not really seek information but challenges the truthfulness or credibility of the witness. Since such a question is not allowable, often it is the basis of an objection before the question is answered, much like irrelevant, immaterial or hearsay. The definition of argumentative is somewhat vague, and different judges hear it differently. 

 

arm's length 
adj. the description of an agreement made by two parties freely and independently of each other, and without some special relationship, such as being a relative, having another deal on the side or one party having complete control of the other. It becomes important to determine if an agreement was freely entered into to show that the price, requirements, and other conditions were fair and real. Example: if a man sells property to his son the value set may not be the true value since it may not have been an "arm's length" transaction.

 

arraign 
v. to bring a criminal defendant before the court, at which time the charges are presented to him/her, the opportunity to enter a plea (or ask for a continuance to plead) is given, a determination of whether the party has a lawyer is made (or whether a lawyer needs to be appointed), if necessary setting the amount of bail, and future appearances are scheduled.

 

arraignment 
n. the hearing in which a person charged with a crime is arraigned in his or her first appearance before a judge. This is the initial appearance of a criminal defendant (unless continued from an earlier time) in which all the preliminaries are taken care of. 

 

arrears 
n. money not paid when due, usually the sum of a series of unpaid amounts, such as rent, installments on an account or promissory note, or monthly child support. Sometimes these are called "arrearages."

 

arrest 
v. 1) to take or hold a suspected criminal with legal authority, as by a law enforcement officer. An arrest may be made legally based on a warrant issued by a court after receiving a sworn statement of probable cause to believe there has been a crime committed by this person, for an apparent crime committed in the presence of the arresting officer, or upon probable cause to believe a crime has been committed by that person. Once the arrest has been made, the officer must give the arrestee his/her rights at the first practical moment, and either cite the person to appear in court or bring him/her in to jail. A person arrested must be brought before a judge for arraignment in a short time , and have his/her bail set. A private "security guard" cannot actually arrest someone except by citizen's arrest, but can hold someone briefly until a law officer is summoned. A "citizen's arrest" can be made by any person when a crime has been committed in his/her presence. However, such self-help arrests can lead to lawsuits for "false arrest" if proved to be mistaken, unjustified or involving unnecessary holding. 2) to delay the enforcement of a judgment by a judge while errors in the record are corrected.

 

arrest warrant 
n. a judge's order to law enforcement officers to arrest and bring to jail a person charged with a crime, also called a warrant of arrest. The warrant is issued upon a sworn declaration by the district attorney, a police officer or an alleged victim that the accused person committed a crime.

 

arson 
n. the felony crime of intentionally burning a house or other building. The perpetrators range from mentally ill pyromaniacs to store owners hoping to get insurance proceeds. Historically, arson meant just the burning of a house, but now covers any structure. A death resulting from arson is murder.

 

article 
n. a paragraph or section of any writing such as each portion of a will, corporate charter (articles of incorporation), or different sections of a statute.

 

articles of impeachment 
n. the charges brought (filed) to impeach a public official. 

 

articles of incorporation 
n. the basic charter of a corporation which spells out the name, basic purpose, incorporators, amount and types of stock which may be issued, and any special characteristics such as being non-profit. Articles must be signed by the incorporating person or persons or by the first board of directors. 

 

as is 
adj. description of a condition in a sales contract in which the buyer agrees to take the property (e.g. house, horse, auto, or appliance) without the right to complain if it is faulty. However, the buyer must have had the right to reasonable inspection, so that he/she has a chance to find any obvious deficiency. Intentionally hiding a known defect will make a seller liable for fraud and serves to cancel the "as is" provision.

 

assault 
1) v. the threat or attempt to strike another, whether successful or not, provided the target is aware of the danger. The assaulter must be reasonably capable of carrying through the attack. If the assault is with a deadly weapon (such as sniping with a rifle), the intended victim does not need to know of the peril. Other laws distinguish between different degrees (first or second) of assault depending on whether there is actual hitting, injury or just a threat. "Aggravated assault" is an attack connected with the commission of another crime, such as beating a clerk during a robbery or a particularly vicious attack. 2) n. the act of committing an assault, as in "there was an assault down on Third Avenue." Assault is both a criminal wrong, for which one may be charged and tried, and civil wrong for which the target may sue for damages due to the assault, including for mental distress.

 

assault and battery 
n. the combination of the two crimes of threat (assault) and actual beating (battery). They are both also intentional civil wrongs for which the party attacked may file a suit for damages. 

 

assess 
v. to set a value on property, usually for the purpose of calculating real property taxes. The assessed value is multiplied by the tax rate to determine the annual tax bill.

 

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

 

assign 
1) v. to transfer to another person any asset such as real property or a valuable right such as a contract or promissory note. 2) n. the person (assignee) who receives a piece of property by purchase, gift or by will. The word often shows up in contracts and wills.

 

assignee 
n. a person to whom property is transferred by sale or gift, particularly real property.

 

assignment 
n. the act of transferring an interest in property or some right (such as contract benefits) to another. It is used commonly by lawyers, accountants, business people, title companies and others dealing with property.

 

assignment for benefit of creditors 
n. a method used for a debtor to work out a payment schedule to his/her creditors through a trustee who receives directly a portion of the debtor's income on a regular basis to pay the debtor's bills. 

 

associate justice 
n. a member of the Supreme Court appointed by the President They serve for life or until voluntary retirement or removal after being convicted after impeachment. 

 

association 
n. any group of people who have joined together for a particular purpose, ranging from social to business, and usually meant to be a continuing organization. It can be formal, with rules and/or bylaws, membership requirements and other trappings of an organization, or it can be a collection of people without structure. An association is not a legally established corporation or a partnership. To make this distinction the term "unincorporated association" is often used, although technically redundant.

 

assume 
v. to take over the liability for a debt on a promissory note, which is often done by the buyer of real property which has a secured debt upon it. Example: Anil Jain pays part of the price of a piece of real property by taking over the debt that Amit Rathore had on the property. However, usually the original owner to whom Amit owes the debt must agree to the assumption.

 

assumption 
n. the act of taking over a debt as part of payment for property which secures that debt. 

 

assumption of risk 
n. 1) taking a chance in a potentially dangerous situation. This is a typical affirmative defense in a negligence case, in which the defendant claims that the situation (taking a ski-lift, climbing a steep cliff, riding in an old crowded car, working on the girders of a skyscraper) was so inherently or obviously hazardous that the injured plaintiff should have known there was danger and took the chance that he/she could be injured. 2) the act of contracting to take over the risk, such as buying the right to a shipment and accepting the danger that it could be damaged or prove unprofitable.

 

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

 

at will employment 
n. a provision found in many employment contracts which suggest the employee works at the will of the employer, and which the employers insert in order to avoid claims of termination in breach of contract, breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, or discrimination. Inclusion of such a term puts the burden on the discharged employee to show that he or she had reasons to believe the employment was permanent. The employer uses the "at will" provision to claim: We could fire the employee at any time, no matter what the reasons.

 

attached 
adj. 1) referring to two buildings which are connected, or equipment which is solidly incorporated into a structure such as bolted to the floor or wired to the ceiling (and not capable of being removed without damage to the structure). If an item is so attached it probably has become a part of the real property, except for "trade fixtures," which can be detached. 2) referring to money or an object which is taken by court order based on a sworn claim by a plaintiff (person suing) that the owner-defendant being sued may soon depart to avoid payment of the debt.

 

attachment 
n. the seizing of money or property prior to getting a judgment in court, in contemplation that the plaintiff will win at trial (usually in simple cases of money owed) and will require the money or property to cover (satisfy) the judgment. The Supreme Court has ruled that an attachment may be made only after a hearing before a judge in which both sides can argue the danger that the party being sued (defendant) is likely to leave the area or otherwise avoid probable payment. A temporary attachment may be allowed by court order without both parties being present based on a declaration of the party wanting the attachment that there is clear proof that the defendant is going to flee. The court must also require a bond to cover damages to the defendant if the attachment proves not to have been necessary. Before the hearing requirement, pre-judgment attachments were common in which automobiles and bank accounts were held by the law enforcement officer, merely upon the plaintiff seeking the attachment getting a writ of attachment, posting a bond.

 

attempt 
v. and n. to actually try to commit a crime and have the ability to do so. This means more than just thinking about doing a criminal act or planning it without overt action. It also requires the opportunity and ability. Attempts can include attempted murder, attempted robbery, attempted rape, attempted forgery, attempted arson, and a host of other crimes. The person accused cannot attempt to commit murder with an unloaded gun or attempt rape over the telephone. The attempt becomes a crime in itself, and usually means one really tried to commit the crime, but failed through no fault of himself or herself. Example: if a husband laces his wife's cocktail with cyanide, it is no defense that by chance the intended victim decided not to drink the deadly potion. One defendant claimed he could not attempt rape in an old Model A coupe because it was too cramped to make the act possible. The court threw out this defense. Sometimes a criminal defendant is accused of both the crime (e.g. robbery) and the attempt in case the jury felt he tried but did not succeed.

 

attest 
v. 1) to confirm (usually in writing) that a document is genuine. 2) to bear witness that someone actually signed a document, such as a will. They require at least two witnesses to attest that a will was signed and declared to be a will.

 

attestation 
n. the act of witnessing a signature for the purpose of declaring that a document (like a will) was properly signed and declared by the signer to be his or her signature. 

 

attorney 
n. 1) an agent or someone authorized to act for another. 

 

attorney at law (or attorney-at-law) 
n. (or attorney-at-law) a slightly fancier way of saying attorney or lawyer. 

 

attorney general 
n. the highest ranking legal officer of the government. 

 

attorney of record 
n. the attorney who has appeared in court and/or signed pleadings or other forms on behalf of a client. The lawyer remains the attorney of record until some other attorney or the client substitutes for him/her, he/she is allowed by the court to withdraw, or after the case is closed. Sometimes lawyers find themselves still on the record in cases (such as divorces) which they believe have long since been completed.

 

attorney's advertising 
n. the commercials which appear on television or crowd the yellow pages of the telephone book.

 

attorney's fee 
n. the payment for legal services. It can take several forms 1) hourly charge, 2) flat fee for the performance of a particular service , 3) contingent fee (such as one-third of the gross recovery, and nothing if there is no recovery), 4) statutory fees (such as percentages of an estate for representing the estate), 5) court-approved fees (such as in bankruptcy or guardianships), 6) some mixture of hourly and contingent fee or other combination. It is wise (and often mandatory) for the attorney and the client to have a signed contract for any extensive legal work, particularly in contingent fee cases. Most attorneys keep records of time spent on cases to justify fees (and keep track of when actions were taken), even when the work is not on an hourly basis. A "retainer" is a down payment on fees, often required by the attorney in order to make sure he or she is not left holding the bag for work performed, or at least as a good faith indication that the client is serious and can afford the services. On the other hand, contingent fees require limits (often one-third) to protect the unwary client. Attorney fee disputes can be decided by arbitration, often operated by the local bar association. Attorney's fees are not awarded to the winning party in a lawsuit except where there is a provision in a contract for the fees or there is a statute which provides for an award of fees in the particular type of case.

 

attorney's work product 
n. written materials, charts, notes of conversations and investigations, and other materials directed toward preparation of a case or other legal representation. Their importance is that they cannot be required to be introduced in court or otherwise revealed to the other side. Sometimes there is a question as to whether documents were prepared by the attorney and/or the client for their use in the case preparation or are documents which are independent and legitimate evidence.

 

attorney-client privilege 
n. the requirement that an attorney may not reveal communications, conversations and letters between himself/ herself and his/her client, under the theory that a person should be able to speak freely and honestly with his/her attorney without fear of future revelation. In a trial, deposition, and written questions (interrogatories), the attorney is required and the client is entitled to refuse to answer any question or produce any document which was part of the attorney-client contact. The problem sometimes arises as to whether the conversation was in an attorney-client relationship. If a man tells his neighbor who happens to be an attorney that he embezzled funds, is he doing so while seeking legal advice or just chatting over the fence (which is the test)? If a document was prepared as part of the legal preparation for a client, it usually is a "work product" and is also privileged. Similar privileges exist between pastor and parishioner and doctor and patient.

 

attorney-in-fact 
n. someone specifically named by another through a written "power of attorney" to act for that person in the conduct of the appointer's business. In a "general power of attorney" the attorney-in-fact can conduct all business or sign any document, and in a "special power of attorney" he/she can only sign documents or act in relation to special identified matters. Too often people sign themselves as attorney-in-fact for relatives or associates without any power of attorney. If someone claims to be able to sign for another, a demand to see the written power of attorney is reasonable and necessary. In real estate matters the power of attorney must be formally acknowledged before a notary public so that it can be recorded along with the real estate deed, deed of trust, mortgage, or other document.

 

attractive nuisance doctrine 
n. a legal doctrine which makes a person negligent for leaving a piece of equipment or other condition on property which would be both attractive and dangerous to curious children. These have included tractors, unguarded swimming pools, open pits, and abandoned refrigerators. Liability could be placed on the people owning or controlling the premises even when the child was a trespasser who sneaked on the property. Basically the doctrine was intended to make people careful about what dangerous conditions they left untended. 

 

audit 
n. an examination by a trained accountant of the financial records of a business or governmental entity, including noting improper or careless practices, recommendations for improvements, and a balancing of the books. An audit performed by employees is called "internal audit," and one done by an independent (outside) accountant is an "independent audit." Even an independent audit may be limited in that the financial information is given to the auditor without an examination of all supporting documents. Auditors will note that the audit was based on such limited information and will refuse to sign the audit as a guarantee of the accuracy of the information provided.

 

auditor 
n. an accountant who conducts an audit to verify the accuracy of the financial records and accounting practices of a business or government. A proper audit will point out deficiencies in accounting and other financial operations. Many counties have an appointed or elected auditor to make independent audits of all governmental agencies in the county government. The term "auditor" is often misused as meaning any accountant.

 

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

 

authority 
n. permission, a right coupled with the power to do an act or order others to act. Often one person gives another authority to act, as an employer to an employee, a principal to an agent, a corporation to its officers, or governmental empowerment to perform certain functions. There are different types of authority, including "apparent authority" when a principal gives an agent various signs of authority to make others believe he or she has authority; "express authority" or "limited authority," which spells out exactly what authority is granted (usually a written set of instructions) "implied authority," which flows from the position one holds and "general authority," which is the broad power to act for another.

 

authorize 
v. to officially empower someone to act. 

 

avulsion 
n. the change in the border of two properties due to a sudden change in the natural course of a stream or river, when the border is defined by the channel of the waterway. 

 

award 
1) n. the decision of an arbitrator or commissioner (or any non-judicial arbiter) of a controversy. 2) v. to give a judgment of money to a party to a lawsuit, arbitration, or administrative claim. Example: "Plaintiff is awarded Rs 27,000."

 

B

bachelor of laws 
n. the degree in law from a law school, abbreviated to LLB, which means that the recipient has successfully completed three years of law studies in addition to at least three undergraduate years on any subject. 

 

back-to-back life sentences 
n. for consecutive life terms imposed by a judge when there were two crimes committed by the defendant, both of which can result in punishment of a life term, such as two murders, or a murder and a rape involving aggravated assault. The purpose of making the sentences subsequent ("back-to-back") and not "concurrent" (served at the same time) is to lessen the chance of parole, since if parole were permissible after 25 years, the defendant would then begin the second "life" sentence and would wait another 25 years for a parole hearing.

 

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

 

bad faith 
1) n. intentional dishonest act by not fulfilling legal or contractual obligations, misleading another, entering into an agreement without the intention or means to fulfill it, or violating basic standards of honesty in dealing with others. 2) adj. when there is bad faith then a transaction is called a "bad faith" contract or "bad faith" offer.

 

bail 
1) n. the money or bond put up to secure the release of a person who has been charged with a crime. For minor crimes bail is usually set by a schedule which will show the amount to be paid before any court appearance (arraignment). For more serious crimes the amount of bail is set by the judge at the suspect's first court appearance. The theory is that bail guarantees the appearance of the defendant in court when required. While the Constitution guarantees the right to reasonable bail, a court may deny bail in cases charging murder or treason, or when there is a danger that the defendant will flee or commit mayhem. In some traffic matters the defendant may forfeit the bail by non-appearance since the bail is equivalent to the fine. 2) v. to post money or bond to secure an accused defendant's release. This is generally called "bailing out" a prisoner.

 

bail bond 
n. a bond provided by an insurance company through a bail bondsman acting as agent for the company, to secure the release from jail of an accused defendant pending trial. Usually there is a charge of 10 percent of the amount of the bond (e.g. Rs 1000 for a Rs 10,000 bond) and often the defendant must put up some collateral like a second deed of trust or mortgage on one's house. Upon acquittal, conviction, or other conclusion of the case, the bail bond is "exonerated" and returned to the insurance company. If the person who has been bailed out disappears and does not appear in court, the bond funds will be forfeited unless the defendant is found and returned.

 

bail bondsman 
n. a professional agent for an insurance company who specializes in providing bail bonds for people charged with crimes and awaiting trial in order to have them released. Bail bondsmen usually charge the suspect a fee of 10 percent of the amount of the bond. If a bail bondsman has reason to believe a person he bailed out is about to flee, he may revoke the bond and surrender his client to jail.

 

bailee 
n. a person, also called a custodian, with whom some article is left, usually pursuant to a contract (called a "contract of bailment"), who is responsible for the safe return of the article to the owner when the contract is fulfilled. These can include banks holding bonds, storage companies where furniture or files are deposited, a parking garage, or a kennel or horse ranch where an animal is boarded. Leaving goods in a sealed rented box, like a safe deposit box, is not a bailment, and the holder is not a bailee since he cannot handle or control the goods.

 

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

 

bailment 
n. 1) the act of placing property in the custody and control of another, usually by agreement in which the holder (bailee) is responsible for the safekeeping and return of the property. Examples: bonds left with the bank, autos parked in a garage, animals lodged with a kennel, or a storage facility (as long as the goods can be moved and are under the control of the custodian). While most are "bailments for hire" in which the custodian (bailee) is paid, there is also "constructive bailment" when the circumstances create an obligation upon the custodian to protect the goods, and "gratuitous bailment" in which there is no payment, but the bailee is still responsible, such as when a finder of a lost diamond ring places it with a custodian pending finding the owner. 2) the goods themselves which are held by a bailee. Thus, the "bailor" (owner) leaves the "bailment" (goods) with the "bailee" (custodian), and the entire transaction is a "bailment."

 

bailor 
n. a person who leaves goods in the custody of another, usually under a "contract of bailment," in which the custodian ("bailee") is responsible for the safekeeping and return of the property. Sometimes the bailor is not the owner but a person who is a servant of the owner or a finder (say, of jewelry) who places the goods with the bailee until the owner is found.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

bank 
n. 1) an officially chartered institution empowered to receive deposits, make loans, and provide checking and savings account services, all at a profit. 2) a group of judges sitting together as an appeals court, referred to as "in bank" or "en banc."

 

bankruptcy 
n. a system of statutes and courts which permits persons and businesses which are insolvent (debtors) or (in some cases) face potential insolvency, to place his/her/its financial affairs under the control of the bankruptcy court. The procedure is that when the debtor's debts exceed his/her/its assets or ability to pay, the debtor can file a petition with the bankruptcy court for voluntary bankruptcy or the debtor's unpaid creditors can file an "involuntary" petition to force the debtor into bankruptcy, although voluntary bankruptcy is far more common. The most common petition is, in which a trustee is appointed by the court, the current assets are counted up by the trustee (with many of them exempt from bankruptcy), who pays debts to the extent possible with priority for taxes, then secured debts (mortgages or some judgments), and finally unsecured debts. Then the court adjudicates (officially declares) the debtor a bankrupt and discharges the unpayable debts, to the loss of the creditors. Exempt from sale to pay debts are a portion of the value of a home (equal to a homestead), secured notes that can be kept current, an automobile, tools of the trade, furniture, and some other items.

 

bankruptcy proceedings 
n. the bankruptcy procedure is: a) filing a petition (voluntary or involuntary) to declare a debtor person or business bankrupt, to allow reorganization or refinancing under a plan to meet the debts of the party unable to meet his/her/its obligations. The petition is supposed to include a schedule of debts, assets and income potential. b) A hearing called "first meeting of creditors" with notice to all known creditors. This is often brief and usually results in the judge assigning the matter to a professional trustee. c) Later the trustee reports and there is a determination of what debts are dischargeable, what assets are exempt, and what payments are possible. d) If there are assets available then the creditors are requested in writing to file a "creditor's claim." e) There may be other hearings, reports, proposals, hearings on claims of fraudulent debts, petitions for removing the stay on foreclosures and other matters. f) Debts secured by property or by judgment lien are paid up to the amount of assets and funds available. g) The final step is a hearing on discharge of the bankrupt, which wipes out unsecured debts (or a pro rata share of them). 

 

bar 
1) n. collectively all attorneys, as "the bar," which comes from the bar or railing which separates the general spectator area of the courtroom from the area reserved for judges, attorneys, parties and court officials. A party to a case or criminal defendant is "before the bar" when he/she is inside the railing. 2) v. to prevent some legal maneuver, as in "barring" a lawsuit due to the running out of the time to file. 3) to prohibit and keep someone from entering a room, building, or real property.

 

bar association 
n. an organization of lawyers. 

 

bar examination 
n. the examination given in each state by either the highest court or, if an "integrated" bar, by the state bar association (subject to appeal to the Supreme Court) for admission as an attorney. 

 

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

 

barratry 
n. creating legal business by stirring up disputes and quarrels, generally for the benefit of the lawyer who sees fees in the matter. Barratry is illegal and subject to criminal punishment and/or discipline by the bar, but there must be a showing that the resulting lawsuit was totally groundless. There is a lot of border-line barratry in which attorneys, in the name of being tough or protecting the client, fail to seek avenues for settlement of disputes or will not tell the client he/she has no legitimate claim.

 

barrister 
n. in the United States a fancy name for a lawyer or attorney. In Great Britain, there is a two-tier bar made up of solicitors, who perform all legal tasks except appearance in court, and barristers, who try cases. Some solicitors will "take the silk" (quaint expression) and become barristers.

 

basis 
n. the original cost of an asset to be used to determine the amount of capital gain tax upon its sale. An "adjusted basis" includes improvements, expenses, and damages between the time the original basis (price) is established and transfer (sale) of the asset. "Stepped up basis" means that the original basis of an asset (especially real property) will be stepped up to current value at the time of the death of the owner, and thus keep down capital gain taxes if the beneficiary of the dead person sells the asset. 

 

battery 
n. the actual intentional striking of someone, with intent to harm, or in a "rude and insolent manner" even if the injury is slight. Negligent or careless unintentional contact is not battery no matter how great the harm. Battery is a crime and also the basis for a lawsuit as a civil wrong if there is damage. It is often coupled with "assault" (which does not require actual touching) in "assault and battery."

 

beach bum trust provision 
n. a requirement in a trust that a beneficiary can only receive profit from the trust equal to the amount he/she earns. This provision is intended to encourage the beneficiary to work, and not just lie around the beach and live off the trust.

 

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

 

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

 

belief 
n. convinced of the truth of a statement or allegation. In a common phrase "upon information and belief," the so-called belief is based only on unconfirmed information, so the person declaring the belief is hedging his/her bet as to whether the belief is correct.

 

bench 
n. 1) general term for all judges, as in "the bench," or for the particular judge or panel of judges, as in an order coming from the "bench." 2) the large, usually long and wide desk raised above the level of the rest of the courtroom, at which the judge or panel of judges sit.

 

bench warrant 
n. a warrant issued by a judge, often to command someone to appear before the judge, with a setting of an amount of bail to be posted. Often a bench warrant is used in lesser matters to encourage the party to appear in court.

 

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

 

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

 

beneficiary 
n. a broad definition for any person or entity (like a charity) who is to receive assets or profits from an estate, a trust, an insurance policy or any instrument in which there is distribution. There is also an "incidental beneficiary" or a "third party beneficiary" who gets a benefit although not specifically named, such as someone who will make a profit if a piece of property is distributed to another.

 

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

 

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

 

bequeath 
v. to give personal property under provisions of a will (as distinct from "devise," which is to give real estate). 2) the act of giving any asset by the terms of a will.

 

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

 

best evidence rule 
n. the legal doctrine that an original piece of evidence, particularly a document, is superior to a copy. If the original is available, a copy will not be allowed as evidence in a trial.

 

bfp 
n. slang for bona fide purchaser, which means someone who purchased something (e.g. a bond, a promissory note, or jewelry) with no reason to be suspicious that it was stolen, belonged to someone else, or was subject to another party's claim. The BFP must have paid a full and fair price and have received the item in the normal course of business, otherwise he/she might have some doubts ("wanta buy a watch, cheap?" from a character on a street corner).

 

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

 

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

 

bifurcate 
v. the order or ruling of a judge that one issue in a case can be tried to a conclusion or a judgment given on one phase of the case without trying all aspects of the matter. A typical example is when the judge will grant a divorce judgment without hearing evidence or making a ruling on such issues as division of marital property, child custody or spousal support (alimony). Thus the parties can be free of each other promptly while still fighting over other issues at their leisure. In a negligence case when the question of responsibility (liability) is clearly in doubt or rests on some legal technicality, the court may bifurcate the issues and hear evidence on the defendant's liability and decide that issue before going ahead with a trial on the amount of damages. If the court rules there is no liability, then the amount of damages is meaningless and further trial is necessary.

 

bifurcation 
n. the act of a judge in dividing issues before a trial so that one issue will be ruled upon before hearing evidence on the other issue. (See bifurcate) 

 

bigamy 
n. the condition of having two wives or two husbands at the same time. A marriage in which one of the parties is already legally married is bigamous, void, and ground for annulment. The one who knowingly enters into a bigamous marriage is guilty of the crime of bigamy, but it is seldom prosecuted unless it is part of a fraudulent scheme to get another's property or some other felony. Occasionally people commit bigamy accidentally, usually in the belief that a prior marriage had been dissolved. Having several wives at the same time is called polygamy and being married to several husbands is polyandry.

 

bilateral contract 
n. an agreement in which the parties exchange promises for each to do something in the future. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

bill of particulars 
n. a written itemization of claims which a defendant in a lawsuit can demand of the plaintiff to find out what are the details of the claims. 

 

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

 

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

 

blackmail 
n. the crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat. It is one form of extortion (which may include other threats such as physical harm or damage to property).

 

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

 

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

 

boiler room 
n. a telephone bank operation in which fast-talking telemarketers or campaigners attempt to sell stock, services, goods, or candidates and act as if they are calling from an established company or brokerage. Often the telemarketers are totally fraudulent and in violation of security laws.

 

boilerplate 
n., adj. slang for provisions in a contract, form or legal pleading which are apparently routine and often preprinted. The term comes from an old method of printing. Today "boilerplate" is commonly stored in computer memory to be retrieved and copied when needed. A layperson should beware that the party supplying the boilerplate form usually has developed supposedly "standard" terms (some of which may not apply to every situation) to favor and/or protect the provider.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

bondsman 
n. 1) someone who sells bail bonds. 2) a surety (guarantor or insurance company, who/which provides bonds for performance.

 

booby trap 
n. a device set up to be triggered to harm or kill anyone entering the trap, such as a shotgun which will go off if a room is entered, or dynamite which will explode if the ignition key on an auto is turned. If a person sets up such a trap to protect his/her property, he/she will be liable for any injury or death even to an unwanted intruder such as a burglar. Setting a booby trap to even protect one's property is a crime.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

boycott 
n. organized refusal to purchase products or patronize a store to damage the producer or merchant monetarily, to influence its policy, and/or to attract attention to a social cause. The term is named for Captain Charles C. Boycott, a notorious land agent whose neighbors ostracized him during Ireland's Land League rent wars in the 1880's. Boycotts are not illegal in themselves, unless there are threats of violence involved. 

 

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

 

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

 

breach of the peace 
n. any act which disturbs the public or even one person. It can include almost any criminal act causing fear or attempting intimidation, such as displaying a pistol or shouting inappropriately.

 

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

 

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

 

breaking and entering 
n. 1) the criminal act of entering a residence or other enclosed property through the slightest amount of force (even pushing open a door), without authorization. If there is intent to commit a crime, this is burglary. If there is no such intent, the breaking and entering alone is probably at least illegal trespass, which is a misdemeanor crime. 2) the criminal charge for the above.

 

bribery 
n. the crime of giving or taking money or some other valuable item in order to influence a public official (any governmental employee) in the performance of his/her duties. Bribery includes paying to get government contracts (cutting in the roads commissioner for a secret percentage of the profit), giving a bottle of liquor to ignore a violation or grant a permit, or selling stock at a cut-rate price. The definition has been expanded to include bribes given to corporate officials to obtain contracts or other advantages which are against company policy.

 

brief 
1) n. a written legal argument, usually in a format prescribed by the courts, stating the legal reasons for the suit based on statutes, regulations, case precedents, legal texts, and reasoning applied to facts in the particular situation. A brief is submitted to lay out the argument for various petitions and motions before the court (sometimes called "points and authorities"), to counter the arguments of opposing lawyers, and to provide the judge or judges with reasons to rule in favor of the party represented by the brief writer. Ironically, although the term was originally intended to mean a brief or summary argument (shorter than an oral presentation), legal briefs are quite often notoriously long. 2) v. to summarize a precedent case or lay out in writing a legal argument. Attentive law students "brief" each case in their casebooks, which means extracting the rule of law, the reasoning (rationale), the essential facts, and the outcome. 3) v. to give a summary of important information to another person.

 

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

 

brought to trial 
v. the act of actually beginning a trial, usually signaled by swearing in the first witness (not the impanelling of the jury or beginning opening statements).

 

bucket shop 
n. an unofficial and usually illegal betting operation in which the prices of stocks and commodities are posted and the customers bet on the rise and fall of prices without actually buying stock, commodities, or commodity futures. Bucket shops are seldom seen today since there are many opportunities to gamble legally on the stock and commodities markets.

 

building and loan 
n. another name for savings and loan association. As the name implies, originally these institutions were meant to provide loans for building a house after the depositor had saved enough for a down payment.

 

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

 

bulk transfer 
bulk sale 

 

burden 
n. anything that results in a restrictive load upon something. This is not meant in a tangible sense, but includes a "burden" on interstate commerce (which is any matter which limits, restricts or is onerous such as a license or fee for passage), and "burdens" on land such as zoning restrictions or the right of a neighbor to pass over the property to reach his home (easement).

 

burden of proof 
n. the requirement that the plaintiff (the party bringing a civil lawsuit) show by a "preponderance of evidence" or "weight of evidence" that all the facts necessary to win a judgment are presented and are probably true. In a criminal trial the burden of proof required of the prosecutor is to prove the guilt of the accused "beyond a reasonable doubt," a much more difficult task. Unless there is a complete failure to present substantial evidence of a vital fact (usually called an "element of the cause of action"), the ultimate decision as to whether the plaintiff has met his/her burden of proof rests with the jury or the judge if there is no jury. However, the burden of proof is not always on the plaintiff. In some issues it may shift to the defendant if he/she raises a factual issue in defense, such as a claim that he/she was not the registered owner of the car that hit the plaintiff, so the defendant has the burden to prove that defense. If at the close of the plaintiff's presentation he/she has not produced any evidence on a necessary fact (e.g. any evidence of damage) then the case may be dismissed without the defendant having to put on any evidence.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

buy-sell agreement 
n. a contract among the owners of a business which provides terms for their purchase of a withdrawing partner's or stockholder's interest in the enterprise. 

 

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

 

C

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

cancellation 
cancel 

 

caning 
n. a punishment for crimes employed in certain Asian countries (notably Singapore) even for misdemeanors (lesser crimes) in which the convicted defendant receives several lashes with a flexible "cane" meted out by a husky and skilled whipper.

 

canon law 
n. laws and regulations over ecclesiastical (church) matters developed between circa 1100 and 1500 and used by the Roman Catholic Church in reference to personal morality, status and powers of the clergy, administration of the sacraments and church and personal discipline. Canon law comprises ordinances of general councils of the church, decrees, bulls and epistles of the Popes, and the scriptures and writings of the early fathers of the church. Canon law has no legal force except within the Vatican in Rome, Italy, and in those nations in which the Catholic Church is the "official" church and where it prevails in religious matters which may affect all citizens (such as abortion and divorce). In Great Britain there is also a body of canon law dating back to pre-reformation in the 16th Century, which is used by the Anglican (Episcopal) Church. Canon law is not to be confused with professional canons, which are rules of conduct with no religious connection.

 

cap 
n. slang for maximum, as the most interest that can be charged on an "adjustable rate" promissory note

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

capital gains 
n. the difference between the sales price and the original cost (plus improvements) of property. 

 

capital offense 
n. any criminal charge which is punishable by the death penalty, called "capital" since the defendant could lose his/her head (Latin for caput).

 

capital punishment 
n. execution (death) for a capital offense. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

capricious 
adv., adj. unpredictable and subject to whim, often used to refer to judges and judicial decisions which do not follow the law, logic or proper trial procedure. A semi-polite way of saying a judge is inconsistent or erratic.

 

caption 
n. the first section of any written legal pleading (papers) to be filed, which contains the name, address, telephone number of the attorney, the person or persons the attorney represents, the court name, the title of the case, the number of the case, and the title of the documents (complaint, accusation, answer, motion, etc.). Each jurisdiction has its own rules as to the exact format of the caption.

 

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

 

careless 
adj., adv. 1) negligent. 2) the opposite of careful. A careless act can result in liability for damages to others.

 

carnal knowledge 
n. from Latin carnalis for "fleshly:" sexual intercourse between a male and female in which there is at least some slight penetration of the woman's vagina by the man's penis. It is legally significant in that it is a necessary legal characteristic or element of rape, child molestation, or consensual sexual relations with a female below the age of consent ("statutory rape").

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

carryover 
n. in taxation accounting, using a tax year's deductions, business losses or credits to apply to the following year's tax return to reduce the tax liability.

 

cartel 
n. 1) an arrangement among supposedly independent corporations or national monopolies in the same industrial or resource development field organized to control distribution, set prices, reduce competition, and sometimes share technical expertise. Often the participants are multinational corporations which operate across numerous borders and have little or no loyalty to any home country, and great loyalty to profits. The most prominent cartel is OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries), which represents all of the oil producing countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Venezuela. Many cartels operate behind a veil of secrecy. 2) a criminal syndicate like the international drug cartel headquartered in Colombia.

 

case 
n. short for a cause of action, lawsuit, or the right to sue (as in "does he have a case against Anil?"). It is also shorthand for the reported decisions which can be cited as precedents.

 

case law 
n. reported decisions of appeals courts and other courts which make new interpretations of the law and, therefore, can be cited as precedents. These interpretations are distinguished from "statutory law," which is the statutes and codes (laws) enacted by legislative bodies; "regulatory law," which is regulations required by agencies based on statutes. The rulings in trials and hearings which are not appealed and not reported are not case law and, therefore, not precedent or new interpretations. Law students principally study case law to understand the application of law to facts and learn the courts' subsequent interpretations of statutes.

 

case of first impression 
n. a case in which a question of interpretation of law is presented which has never arisen before in any reported case. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

cause 
from Latin causa 1) v. to make something happen. 2) n. the reason something happens. A cause implies what is called a "causal connection" as distinguished from events which may occur but do not have any effect on later events. 3) n. short for cause of action.

 

cause of action 
n. the basis of a lawsuit founded on legal grounds and alleged facts which, if proved, would constitute all the "elements" required by statute. Examples: to have a cause of action for breach of contract there must have been an offer of acceptance; for a tort (civil wrong) there must have been negligence or intentional wrong-doing and failure to perform; for libel there must have been an untruth published which is particularly harmful; and in all cases there must be a connection between the acts of the defendant and damages. In many lawsuits there are several causes of action stated separately, such as fraud, breach of contract, and debt, or negligence and intentional destruction of property.

caveat 
n. (kah-vee-ott) from Latin caveat for "let him beware." 1) a warning or caution. 2) a popular term used by lawyers to point out that there may be a hidden problem or defect. In effect, "I just want to warn you that…."

 

caveat emptor 
(kah-vee-ott emptor) Latin for "let the buyer beware." The basic premise that the buyer buys at his/her own risk and therefore should examine and test a product himself/herself for obvious defects and imperfections. Caveat emptor still applies even if the purchase is "as is" or when a defect is obvious upon reasonable inspection before purchase. Since implied warranties (assumed quality of goods) and consumer protections have come upon the legal landscape, the seller is held to a higher standard of disclosure than "buyer beware" and has responsibility for defects which could not be noted by casual inspection (particularly since modern devices cannot be tested except by use and many products are pre-packaged).

 

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

 

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

 

certificate of incorporation 
n. document which is used to prove a corporation's existence upon the filing of articles of incorporation. 

 

certificate of title 
n. generally, the title document for a motor vehicle issued by the state in which it is registered, describing the vehicle by type and engine number, as well as the name and address of the registered owner and the lienholder (financial institution that loaned money to buy the car).

 

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

 

certiorari 
n. (sersh-oh-rare-ee) a writ (order) of a higher court to a lower court to send all the documents in a case to it so the higher court can review the lower court's decision. 

 

cestui que trust 
n. (properly pronounced ses-tee kay, but lawyers popularly pronounce it setty kay) from old French. 1) an old-fashioned expression for the beneficiary of a trust. 2) "the one who trusts" or the person who will benefit from the trust and will receive payments or a future distribution from the trust's assets.

 

cestui que use 
(pronounced ses-tee kay use or setty kay use) n. an old-fashioned term for a person who benefits from assets held in a trust for the beneficiary's use. The term "beneficiary" is now used instead

 

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

 

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

 

champerty 
n. an agreement between the party suing in a lawsuit (plaintiff) and another person, usually an attorney, who agrees to finance and carry the lawsuit in return for a percentage of the recovery (money won and paid). In common law this was illegal on the theory that it encouraged lawsuits. 

 

chancellor 
n. from the old English legal system, a chancellor is a judge who sits in what is called a chancery (equity) court with the power to order something be done (as distinguished from just paying damages). 

 

chancery 
n. a court that can order acts performed. 

 

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

 

character witness 
n. a person who testifies in a trial on behalf of a person (usually a criminal defendant) as to that person's good ethical qualities and morality both by the personal knowledge of the witness and the person's reputation in the community. Such testimony is primarily relevant when the party's honesty or morality is an issue, particularly in most criminal cases and civil cases such as fraud.

 

charge 
n. 1) in a criminal case, the specific statement of what crime the party is accused (charged with) contained in the indictment or criminal complaint. 2) in jury trials, the oral instructions by the judge to the jurors just before the jury begins deliberations. This charge is based on jury instructions submitted by attorneys on both sides and agreed upon by the trial judge. 3) a fee for services.

 

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

 

charitable remainder trust (charitable remainder irrevocable unitrust) 
n. a form of trust in which the donor (trustor or settlor) places substantial funds or assets into an irrevocable trust (a trust in which the basic terms cannot be changed or the gift withdrawn) with an independent trustee, in which the assets are to go to charity on the death of the donor, but the donor (or specific beneficiaries) will receive regular profits from the trust during the donor's lifetime. The disadvantage is that the assets are permanently tied up or committed.

 

charity 
n. 1) in general the sentiment of benevolence, doing good works, assisting the less fortunate, philanthropy and contributing to the general public. 2) an organization which exists to help those in need or provide educational, scientific, religious and artistic assistance to members of the public. Charities are usually corporations established under state guidelines and require government approval in order for contributions to them to be deductible from gross income by donors.

 

charter 
n. the name for articles of incorporation as in a corporate charter. 

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

 

chattel mortgage 
n. an outmoded written document which made a chattel (tangible personal asset) security for a loan of a certain amount. 

 

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

 

chief justice 
n. the presiding judge of the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the President. 

 

child 
n. 1) a person's natural offspring. 

 

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

 

child support 
n. court-ordered funds to be paid by one parent to the custodial parent of a minor child after divorce (dissolution) or separation. Usually the amounts are based on the income of both parents, the number of children, the expenses of the custodial parent, and any special needs of the child. It may also include health plan coverage, school tuition or other expenses, and may be reduced during periods of extended visitation such as summer vacations. Child support generally continues until the child reaches 18 years, graduates from high school, is emancipated (no longer lives with either parent), or, in some cases, for an extended period such as college attendance. The amount and continuation of support may be changed by the court upon application of either party depending on a proved change of circumstance of the parents or child. Child support should not be confused with alimony (spousal support) which is for the ex-spouse's support. Child support is not deductible from gross income for tax purposes (but may allow a dependent exemption) nor is it taxed as income, unlike alimony, which is deductible by the payer and taxed as the adult recipient's income.

 

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

 

circumstantial evidence 
n. evidence in a trial which is not directly from an eyewitness or participant and requires some reasoning to prove a fact. There is a public perception that such evidence is weak ("all they have is circumstantial evidence"), but the probable conclusion from the circumstances may be so strong that there can be little doubt as to a vital fact ("beyond a reasonable doubt" in a criminal case, and "a preponderance of the evidence" in a civil case). Particularly in criminal cases, "eyewitness" ("I saw Mary shoot John") type evidence is often lacking and may be unreliable, so circumstantial evidence becomes essential. Prior threats to the victim, fingerprints found at the scene of the crime, ownership of the murder weapon, and the accused being seen in the neighborhood, certainly point to the suspect as being the killer, but each bit of evidence is circumstantial.

 

citation 
n. 1) a notice to appear in court due to the probable commission of a minor crime such as a traffic violation, drinking liquor in a park where prohibited, etc. Failure to appear can result in a warrant for the citee's arrest. 2) a notice to appear in court in a civil matter in which the presence of a party appears necessary, usually required by statute, such as a person whose relatives wish to place him/her under a conservatorship (take over and manage his/her affairs). 3) the act of referring to (citing) a statute, precedent-setting case or legal textbook, in a brief (written legal court statement) or argument in court, called "citation of authority." 4) the section of the statute or the name of the case as well as the volume number, the report series and the page number of a case referred to in a brief, points and authorities, or other legal argument.

 

cite 
v. 1) to make reference to a decision in another case to make a legal point in argument. 2) to give notice of being charged with a minor crime and a date for appearance in court to answer the charge rather than being arrested (usually given by a police officer). 

 

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

 

civil 
adj. 1) that part of the law that encompasses business, contracts, estates, domestic (family) relations, accidents, negligence and everything related to legal issues, statutes and lawsuits, that is not criminal law. In a few areas civil and criminal law may overlap or coincide. For example, a person may be liable under a civil lawsuit for negligently killing a pedestrian with his auto by running over the person and be charged with the crime of vehicular homicide due to his/her reckless driving. Assault may bring about arrest by the police under criminal law and a lawsuit by the party attacked under civil law. 2) referring to one's basic rights guaranteed under the Constitution (and the interpretations and statutes intended to implement the enforcement of those rights) such as voting, equitable taxation, freedom of speech, press, religion and assembly.

 

civil action 
n. any lawsuit relating to civil matters and not criminal prosecution. 

 

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

 

civil code 
n. the name for the collection of statutes and laws which deal with business and negligence lawsuits and practices. 

 

civil law 
n. 1) a body of laws and legal concepts which come down from old Roman laws established by Emperor Justinian, and which differ from English common law. 2) generic term for non-criminal law.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

civil procedure 
n. the complex and often confusing body of rules and regulations which establish the format under which civil lawsuits are filed, pursued and tried. Civil procedure refers only to form and procedure, and not to the substantive law which gives people the right to sue or defend a lawsuit.

 

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

 

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

 

claim against a governmental agency 
n. any time one believes he/she has a right to payment for damages from the government or on an unpaid contract with a government agency (including city, county, state, school district) the first step is to file a written claim. Usually the time to file a claim is relatively brief. If the claim is rejected or ignored and the claimant wants to try again, the claimant must file a lawsuit within a time period usually shorter than other types of lawsuits.

 

claim against an estate 
n. upon the death of a person and beginning of probate (filing of will, etc.), a person believing he/she is owed money should file a written claim (statement) promptly with the executor or administrator of the estate, who will then approve it, in whole or in part, or deny the claim. If the claim is not approved the claimant can demand a hearing to have the court determine his/her rights. The period for filing a claim begins upon publication of a death notice or a date specified by state law and continues for a few months (four in California, for example). If there is no probate the claim should be made to the heirs.

 

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

 

class 
n. in legal (not sociological) terms, all those persons in the same category, level of rights (e.g. heirs of dead person who are related by the same degree), or who have suffered from the same incident. Whether a person is part of a class is often crucial in determining who can sue on behalf of the people who have been similarly damaged or collect his/her share if a class action judgment is given.

 

class action 
n. a lawsuit filed by one or more people on behalf of themselves and a larger group of people "who are similarly situated." Examples might include: all women who have suffered from defective contraceptive devices, all those overcharged by a public utility during a particular period, or all those who were underpaid by an employer in violation of the Labor Act. If a class action is successful, a period of time is given for those who can prove they fit the class to file claims to participate in the judgment amount. Class actions are difficult and expensive to file and follow through, but the results can be helpful to people who could not afford to carry a suit alone. They can force businesses that have caused broad damage or have a "public be damned" attitude to change their practices and/or pay for damages. They often result in high fees for the winning attorneys, although often attorneys do not collect a fee at the beginning of a class action suit but might charge a contingent fee (such as one-third of the final judgment), which, occasionally, can be millions of dollars. Such fees usually require court approval.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

close corporation 
n. a corporation which is permitted by law to operate more informally than most corporations (allowing decisions without meetings of the board of directors) and has only a limited number of shareholders. Usually a close corporation's shareholders are involved in the actual operation of the business and often are family members. 

 

closed shop 
n. a business that will hire only union members by choice or by agreement with the unions. 

 

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

 

closing argument 
n. the final argument by an attorney on behalf of his/her client after all evidence has been produced for both sides. The lawyer for the plaintiff or prosecution (in a criminal case) makes the first closing argument, followed by counsel for the defendant, and then the plaintiff's attorney can respond to the defense argument. Unlike the "opening statement," which is limited to what is going to be proved, the "closing argument" may include opinions on the law, comment on the opposing party's evidence, and usually requests a judgment or verdict (jury's decision) favorable to the client.

 

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

 

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

 

code 
n. a collection of written laws gathered together, usually covering specific subject matter. Despite their apparent permanence, codes are constantly being amended by legislative bodies. Some codes are administrative and have the force of law even though they were created and adopted by regulatory agencies and are not actually statutes or laws.

 

code of professional responsibility 
n. a set of rules governing the ethical conduct of attorneys in the practice of the law. It covers such topics as conflicts of interest, honesty with clients, confidentiality and conduct toward other attorneys and the courts.

 

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

 

codicil 
n. a written amendment to a person's will, which must be dated, signed and witnessed just as a will would be, and must make some reference to the will it amends. A codicil can add to, subtract from or modify the terms of the original will. When the person dies, both the original will and the codicil are submitted for approval by the court (probate) and form the basis for administration of the estate and distribution of the belongings of the writer.

 

codify 
v. to arrange and label a system of laws. 

 

cohabitation 
n. living together in the same residence, generally either as husband and wife or for an extended period of time as if the parties were married. Cohabitation implies that the parties are having sexual intercourse while living together, but the definition would not apply to a casual sexual encounter. Legal disputes have arisen as to whether cohabitation would refer to same sex partners, which is important to those involved since "cohabitation" is the basis of certain rights and privileges under various laws, regulations and contracts. The findings of the courts vary on this question, but the trend is to include long-standing homosexual relationships as cohabitation.

 

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

 

collateral attack 
n. a legal action to challenge a ruling in another case. For example, Jose Mathew has been ordered to pay child support in a divorce case, but he then files another lawsuit trying to prove a claim that he is not the father of the child. A "direct attack" would have been to raise the issue of paternity in the divorce action.

 

collateral descendant 
n. a relative descended from a brother or sister of an ancestor, and thus a cousin, niece, nephew, aunt or uncle.

 

collateral estoppel 
n. the situation in which a judgment in one case prevents (estops) a party to that suit from trying to litigate the issue in another legal action. In effect, once decided, the parties are permanently bound by that ruling.

 

collusion 
n. where two persons (or business entities through their officers or other employees) enter into a deceitful agreement, usually secret, to defraud and/or gain an unfair advantage over a third party, competitors, consumers or those with whom they are negotiating. Collusion can include secret price or wage fixing, secret rebates, or pretending to be independent of each other when actually conspiring together for their joint ends. It can range from small-town shopkeepers or heirs to a grandma's estate, to gigantic electronics companies.

 

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

 

color of law 
n. the appearance of an act being performed based upon legal right or enforcement of statute, when in reality no such right exists. An outstanding example is found in the civil rights acts which penalize law enforcement officers for violating civil rights by making arrests "under color of law" of peaceful protesters or to disrupt voter registration. It could apply to phony traffic arrests in order to raise revenue from fines or extort payoffs to forget the ticket.

 

color of title 
n. the appearance of having title to personal or real property by some evidence, but in reality there is either no title or a vital defect in the title. One might show a title document to real property, but in reality he/she may have deeded the property to another; a patent to an invention may have passed to the inventor's widow, who sells the rights to one party and then, using the original patent documents, sells the patent to a second party based on this "color of title."

 

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

 

comity 
n. when one court defers to the jurisdiction of another in a case in which both would have the right to handle the case. 

 

commencement of action 
n. an action (a lawsuit) commences (begins officially) when the party suing files a written complaint or petition with the clerk of the court. 

 

comment 
n. a statement made by a judge or an attorney during a trial which is based on an alleged fact, but not a proven fact. If a comment is made in the presence of the jury, the jurors should be reminded it is not evidence and should not be considered. But how can a juror forget? The old adage: "a bell once rung, cannot be unrung," applies.

 

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

 

commercial law 
n. all the law which applies to the rights, relations and conduct of persons and businesses engaged in commerce, merchandising, trade and sales.

 

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

 

commission 
n. 1) a fee paid based on a percentage of the sale made by an employee or agent, as distinguished from regular payments of wages or salary. 2) a group appointed pursuant to law to conduct certain government business, especially regulation.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

common law 
n. the traditional unwritten law of England, based on custom and usage. The best of the pre-Saxon compendiums of the common law was reportedly written by a woman, Queen Martia, wife of a king of a small English kingdom. Together with a book on the "law of the monarchy" by a Duke of Cornwall, Queen Martia's work was translated into the emerging English language by King Alfred (849-899 A.D.). When William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066, he combined the best of this Anglo-Saxon law with Norman law, which resulted in the English common law, much of which was by custom and precedent rather than by written code. By the 14th century legal decisions and commentaries on the common law began providing precedents for the courts and lawyers to follow. It did not include the so-called law of equity (chancery), which came from the royal power to order or prohibit specific acts.

 

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

 

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

 

common-law marriage 
n. an agreement between a man and woman to live together as husband and wife without any legal formalities, followed and/or preceded by cohabitation on a regular basis.

 

community property 
n. property and profits received by a husband and wife during the marriage, with the exception of inheritances, specific gifts to one of the spouses, and property and profits clearly traceable to property owned before marriage, all of which is separate property. Community property is a concept which began in Spain to protect rich women from losing everything to profligate husbands. Community property recognizes the equal contribution of both parties to the marriage even though one or the other may earn more income through employment. By agreement or action the married couple can turn (transmute) separate property into community property, including by commingling community and separate funds in one account. Community property is recognized based on fact or agreement of the parties, rather than holding of title. Upon divorce community property is divided equally without regard to fault.

 

commutation 
n. the act of reducing a criminal sentence resulting from a criminal conviction by the executive clemency of the Governor of the state, or President. This is not the same as a pardon, which wipes out the conviction or the actual or potential charge A pardon implies either that the conviction was wrong, that there has been complete rehabilitation of the party, or that he/she has lived an exemplary life for many years and deserves to have his/her name cleared in old age. Commutation implies the penalty was excessive or there has been rehabilitation, reform or other circumstances such as good conduct or community service. Commutation is sometimes used when there is evidence that the defendant was not guilty, but it would prove embarrassing to admit an outright error by the courts.

 

commute a sentence 
See: commutation 

 

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

 

comparative negligence 
n. a rule of law applied in accident cases to determine responsibility and damages based on the negligence of every party directly involved in the accident. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

complaint 
n. the first document filed with the court by a person or entity claiming legal rights against another. The party filing the complaint is usually called the plaintiff and the party against whom the complaint is filed is called the defendant or defendants. Complaints are pleadings and must be drafted carefully (usually by an attorney) to properly state the factual as well as legal basis for the claim. When the complaint is filed, the court clerk will issue a summons, which gives the name and file number of the lawsuit and the address of the attorney filing the complaint, and instructs the defendant that he/she/it has a specific time to file an answer or other response. A copy of the complaint and the summons must be served on a defendant before a response is required.

 

compos mentis 
n. (com-pose-men-tis) Latin for "having a sound mind."

 

compound interest 
n. payment of interest upon principal and previously accumulated interest, which increases the amount paid for money use above simple interest. Thus, it can increase more rapidly if compounded daily, monthly or quarterly. The genius physicist Albert Einstein called compound interest man's "greatest invention." Most lenders agree.

 

compound question 
n. the combination of more than one question into what seems to be a single question asked of a witness during a trial or deposition. A compound question can be objected to by opposing counsel since it is confusing to the witness, who is entitled to answer each question separately. If the objection is sustained the question must be withdrawn and asked in a series of separate questions.

 

compounding a felony 
n. when a person injured by a felony (being shot, having one's business trashed, being robbed) reaches an agreement with the one causing the harm that the injured party (victim) will not prosecute (complain to law authorities or testify) the apparent felon in return for money payment, reparations, return of stolen goods or other recompense. 

 

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

 

compromise verdict 
n. a decision made by a jury in which the jurors split the difference between the high amount of damages which one group of jurors feel is justified and the low amount other jurors favor. Since this is a "chance" verdict not computed on a careful determination of the damages, it may do an injustice to one party or the other, and is thus misconduct, which can result in an appeals court overturning the verdict.

concealed weapon 
n. a weapon, particularly a handgun, which is kept hidden on one's person, or under one's control (in a glove compartment or under a car seat).

 

concealment 
n. fraudulent failure to reveal information which someone knows and is aware that in good faith he/she should communicate to another. Examples include failure to disclose defects in goods sold (the horse has been sick, the car has been in an accident), leaving out significant liabilities in a credit application, or omitting assets from a bankruptcy schedule to keep them from being available for distribution to creditors. Such concealment at minimum can be a cause for rescission (cancellation) of a contract by the misled party or basis for a civil lawsuit for fraud.

 

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

 

conclusion of fact 
n. in a trial, the final result of an analysis of the facts presented in evidence, made by the trier of fact. When a judge is the trier of fact he/she will present orally in open court or in a written judgment his/her findings of fact to support his/her decision. In most cases either party is entitled to written conclusion of facts if requested.

 

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

 

concurrent sentences 
n. sentences for more than one crime which are to be served at one time. When a criminal defendant is convicted of two or more crimes, a judge sentences him/her to a certain period of time for each crime. Then out of compassion, leniency, plea bargaining or the fact that the several crimes are interrelated, the judge will rule that the sentences may all be served at the same time, with the longest period controlling.

 

condemn 
v. 1) for a public agency to determine that a building is unsafe or unfit for habitation and must be torn down or rebuilt to meet building and health code requirements. 2) for a governmental agency to take private property for public use under the right of eminent domain, but constitutionally the property owner must receive just compensation. If an agreement cannot be reached then the owner is entitled to a court determination of value in a condemnation action (lawsuit), but the public body can take the property immediately upon deposit of the estimated value. 3) to sentence a convicted defendant to death. 4) send to prison.

 

condemnation 
n. the legal process by which a governmental body exercises its right of "eminent domain" to acquire private property for public uses (highways, schools, redevelopment, etc.). Condemnation includes a resolution of public need, an offer to purchase, and, if a negotiated purchase is not possible, then a condemnation suit. The government may take the property at the time of suit if it deposits money with the court in the amount of the government's appraisal.

 

condemnation action 
n. a lawsuit brought by a public agency to acquire private property for public purposes (schools, highways, parks, hospitals, redevelopment, civic buildings, for example), and a determination of the value to be paid. While the government has the right to acquire the private property (eminent domain), the owner is entitled under the Constitution to receive just compensation to be determined by a court.

 

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

 

condition precedent 
n. 1) in a contract, an event which must take place before a party to a contract must perform or do their part. 2) in a deed to real property, an event which has to occur before the title (or other right) to the property will actually be in the name of the party receiving title. Examples: if the ship makes it to port, the buyer agrees to pay for the freight on the ship and unload it.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

condominium 
n. title to a unit of real property which, in reality, is the airspace which an apartment, office or store occupies. An increasingly common form of property title in a multi-unit project, condominiums actually date back to ancient Rome, hence the Latin name. The owner of the condominium also owns a common tenancy with owners of other units in the common area, which includes all the driveways, parking, elevators, outside hallways, recreation and landscaped areas, which are managed by a homeowners' or tenant's association. If the condominium unit is destroyed by fire or other disaster, the owner has the right to rebuild in his/her airspace.

 

condone 
v. 1) to forgive, support, and/or overlook moral or legal failures of another without protest, with the result that it appears that such breaches of moral or legal duties are acceptable. An employer may overlook an employee overcharging customers or a police officer may look the other way when a party uses violent self-help to solve a problem. 2) to forgive the marital infidelity of one's spouse and resume marital sexual relations on the condition that the sin is not repeated.

 

confess 
v. in criminal law, to voluntarily state that one is guilty of a criminal offense. This admission may be made to a law enforcement officer or in court either prior to or upon arrest, or after the person is charged with a specific crime. A confession must be truly voluntary (not forced by threat, torture, or trickery).

 

confession 
n. the statement of one charged with a crime that he/she committed the crime. Such an admission is generally put in writing (by the confessor, law enforcement officers or their stenographer) and then read and signed by the defendant. If the defendant cannot read English, he/she has the right to have his/her confession read aloud or translated. It can be used against the defendant in trial (and his/her codefendants) if it is truly voluntary.

 

confession and avoidance 
n. when a defendant admits the allegations in a complaint against him/her in a lawsuit or accusations in a criminal case but alleges other facts (affirmative defenses) to show that the original allegations do not prove a case against him/her. Often this means the defendant confesses to the accuracy of the stated facts and tries to avoid their legal impact. 

 

confession of judgment 
n. a written agreement in which the defendant in a lawsuit admits liability and accepts the amount of agreed-upon damages he/she must pay to plaintiff (person suing him/her), and agrees that the statement may be filed as a court judgment against him/her if he/she does not pay or perform as agreed. This avoids further legal proceedings and may prevent a legal judgment being entered (filed) if the terms are fulfilled by the defendant.

 

confidence game 
n. the obtaining of money from others through trick or swindle, generally by gaining the victim's trust and confidence

 

confidential communication 
n. certain written communications which can be kept confidential and need not be disclosed in court as evidence, answered by a witness either in depositions or trial, or provided to the parties to a lawsuit or their attorneys. This is based on the inherent private relationship between the person communicating and the confidant's occupation or relationship to him/her. They include communications between husband and wife, lawyer and client, physician or other medical person (most therapists) and patient, minister or priest and parishioner (or anyone seeking spiritual help), and journalist. Moral conflicts may arise when a murderer or child molester confesses to his/her priest, who is pledged to silence and confidentiality by his priestly vows and cannot reveal the confession in legal cases.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

confrontation 
n. 1) fight or argument. 2) the right of a criminal defendant "to be confronted with the witnesses against him". Confrontation includes the right to object to the witness against him/her (sometimes depending on whether the witness can identify the defendant) and to cross-examine that witness.

 

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

 

conjugal rights 
n. a spouse's so-called "rights" to the comforts and companionship from his/her mate, meaning sexual relations.

 

conscientious objector 
n. a person who refuses to serve in the military due to religious or strong philosophical views against war or killing. 

 

conscious parallelism 
n. an undiscussed imitation by a business of a competitor's action, such as changing prices up or down without the active conspiracy between business rivals, which would make this coincidental activity a violation of anti-trust laws.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

conservatee 
n. a person whom a court has determined because of physical or mental limitations or just plain old age requires a conservator to handle his/her financial affairs, and/or his/her actual personal activities such as arranging a residence, health care and the like.

 

conservator 
n. a guardian and protector appointed by a judge to protect and manage the financial affairs and/or the person's daily life due to physical or mental limitations or old age. The conservator may be only of the "estate" (meaning financial affairs), but may be also of the "person," when he/she takes charge of overseeing the daily activities, such as health care or living arrangements of the conservatee. The process is that a relative or friend petitions the appropriate local court for appointment of a specific conservator, with written notice served on the potential conservatee. The object of this concern is interviewed by a court-appointed investigator to determine need, desire and understanding of the potential conservatee as well as the suitability of the proposed conservator. An open hearing is held before the appointment is made. The conservator is required to make regular accountings which must be approved by the court. The conservator may be removed by order of the court if no longer needed, upon the petition of the conservatee or relatives, or for failure to perform his/her duties.

 

consideration 
n. 1) payment or money. 2) a vital element in the law of contracts, consideration is a benefit which must be bargained for between the parties, and is the essential reason for a party entering into a contract. Consideration must be of value (at least to the parties), and is exchanged for the performance or promise of performance by the other party (such performance itself is consideration). In a contract, one consideration (thing given) is exchanged for another consideration. Not doing an act (forbearance) can be consideration, such as "I will pay you Rs. 10,000 not to build a road next to my fence." Sometimes consideration is "nominal," meaning it is stated for form only, such as "Rs 500 as consideration for conveyance of title," which is used to hide the true amount being paid. Contracts may become unenforceable or rescindable (undone by rescission) for "failure of consideration" when the intended consideration is found to be worth less than expected, is damaged or destroyed, or performance is not made properly. Acts which are illegal or so immoral that they are against established public policy cannot serve as consideration for enforceable contracts.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

consortium 
n. 1) a group of separate businesses or business people joining together and cooperating to complete a project, work together to perform a contract or conduct an on-going business. 2) the marital relationship, particularly sexual intimacies, between husband and wife. Consortium arises in a lawsuit as a claim of "loss of consortium." Often it means that due to one spouse's injuries or emotional distress he/she cannot have sexual relations for a period of time or permanently, which is a loss to the mate for which he/she should be awarded damages. How loss of consortium is valued in money terms is a difficult question.

 

conspiracy 
n. when people work together by agreement to commit an illegal act. A conspiracy may exist when the parties use legal means to accomplish an illegal result, or to use illegal means to achieve something that in itself is lawful. To prove a conspiracy those involved must have agreed to the plan before all the actions have been taken, or it is just a series of independent illegal acts. A conspiracy can be criminal for planning and carrying out illegal activities, or give rise to a civil lawsuit for damages by someone injured by the conspiracy. Thus, a scheme by a group of salesmen to sell used automobiles as new, could be prosecuted as a crime of fraud and conspiracy, and also allow a purchaser of an auto to sue for damages for the fraud and conspiracy.

 

conspirator 
n. a person or entity who enters into a plot with one or more other people or entities to commit illegal acts, legal acts with an illegal object, or using illegal methods, to the harm of others.

 

constitutional rights 
n. rights given or reserved to the people by the Constitution. 

 

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

 

constructive 
adj. a legal fiction for treating a situation as if it were actually so. Some examples help to clarify this term: although George does not have the jewelry in his possession, he has the key to the safe deposit box and the right to enter so he has "constructive possession".

 

constructive eviction 
n. when the landlord does not go through a legal eviction of a tenant but takes steps which keep the tenant from continuing to live in the premises. This could include changing the locks, turning off the drinking water, blocking the driveway, yelling at the tenant all the time or nailing the door shut.

 

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

 

constructive notice 
n. a fiction that a person got notice even though actual notice was not personally delivered to him/her. The law may provide that a public notice put on the courthouse bulletin board is a substitute for actual notice. 

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

consumer protection laws 
n.laws set up to protect the consumer (the retail purchasers of goods and services) from inferior, adulterated, hazardous or deceptively advertised products, and deceptive or fraudulent sales practices. Eg. wholesome poultry and meat, misbranding and adulteration of food and cosmetics, truth in lending, false advertising, the soundness of banks, securities sales, standards of housing materials, flammable fabrics, and various business practices.

 

contemplation of death 
n. the anticipation of death in a relatively short time due to age, illness, injury or great danger, which causes a person to make a gift, transfer property or take some other dramatic action. 

 

contempt of court 
n. there are essentially two types of contempt: a) being rude, disrespectful to the judge or other attorneys or causing a disturbance in the courtroom, particularly after being warned by the judge; b) willful failure to obey an order of the court. This latter can include failure to pay child support or alimony. The court's power to punish for contempt (called "citing" one for contempt) includes fines and/or jail time (called "imposing sanctions"). Incarceration is generally just a threat and if imposed, usually brief. Since the judge has discretion to control the courtroom, contempt citations are generally not appealable unless the amount of fine or jail time is excessive. "Criminal contempt" involves contempt with the aim of obstruction of justice, such as threatening a judge or witness or disobeying an order to produce evidence.

 

contiguous 
adj. connected or "next to", usually meaning adjoining pieces of real estate.

 

contingency 
n. an event that might not occur. 

 

contingent 
adj. possible, but not certain.

 

contingent beneficiary 
n. a person or entity named to receive a gift under the terms of a will, trust or insurance policy, who will only receive that gift if a certain event occurs or a certain set of circumstances happen.

 

contingent fee 
n. a fee to a lawyer which will be due and payable only if there is a successful conclusion of the legal work, usually winning or settling a lawsuit in favor of the client (particularly in negligence cases), or collecting funds due with or without filing a lawsuit. The fee is generally a percentage of the recovery (money won), but may be partly a fee for time worked and partly a percentage. 

 

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

 

contingent remainder 
n. an interest, particularly in real estate property, which will go to a person or entity only upon a certain set of circumstances existing at the time the title-holder dies. Examples of those potential circumstances include surviving one's brother or still operating the family farm next door.

 

continuance 
n. a postponement of a date of a trial, hearing or other court appearance to a later fixed date by order of the court, or upon a stipulation (legal agreement) by the attorneys and approved by the court or by the clerk of the court.

 

continuing objection 
n. an objection to certain questions or testimony during a trial which has been "overruled" by the judge, but the attorney who made the objection announces he/she is "continuing" the objection to all other questions on the same topic or with the same legal impropriety in the opinion of the attorney. Thus a "continuing" objection does not require an objection every time the same question or same subject is introduced. Example: the attorney for the plaintiff (the person suing) begins asking questions about emotional distress, which the defendant's attorney objects to as "immaterial," but the judge allows the first questions. The defense attorney states he has a "continuing" objection to all questions about the emotional distress.

 

continuing trespass 
n. the repeated unauthorized use of another's real property, as compared to an occasional illegal entry.

 

contra 
adj. Latin for "against" or "opposite to".

 

contract 
1) n. an agreement with specific terms between two or more persons or entities in which there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration. Since the law of contracts is at the heart of most business dealings, it is one of the three or four most significant areas of legal concern and can involve variations on circumstances and complexities. The existence of a contract requires finding the following factual elements: a) an offer; b) an acceptance of that offer which results in a meeting of the minds; c) a promise to perform; d) a valuable consideration (which can be a promise or payment in some form); e) a time or event when performance must be made (meet commitments); f) terms and conditions for performance, including fulfilling promises; g) performance, if the contract is "unilateral". A unilateral contract is one in which there is a promise to pay or give other consideration in return for actual performance. A bilateral contract is one in which a promise is exchanged for a promise. Contracts can be either written or oral, but oral contracts are more difficult to prove. In some cases a contract can consist of several documents, such as a series of letters, orders, offers and counteroffers. There are a variety of types of contracts: "conditional" on an event occurring; "joint and several," in which several parties make a joint promise to perform, but each is responsible; "implied," in which the courts will determine there is a contract based on the circumstances. Parties can contract to supply all of another's requirements, buy all the products made, or enter into an option to renew a contract. The variations are almost limitless. Contracts for illegal purposes are not enforceable at law. 2) v. to enter into an agreement.

 

contract of adhesion 
n. See also: adhesion contract 

 

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

 

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

 

contributory negligence 
n. a doctrine of common law that if a person was injured in part due to his/her own negligence (his/her negligence "contributed" to the accident), the injured party would not be entitled to collect any damages (money) from another party who supposedly caused the accident. Under this rule, a badly injured person who was only slightly negligent could not win in court against a very negligent defendant.

 

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

 

court-martial 
1) n. a military court for trying offenses in violation of army, navy or other armed service rules and regulations, made up of military officers, who act as both finders of fact (in effect, a jury) and as arbiters (judges) of the law applying to the case. 2) v. to charge a member of the military with an offense against military law or to find him/her guilty of such a violation.

 

covenant 
1) n. a promise in a written contract or a deed of real property. The term is used only for certain types of promises such as a covenant of warranty, which is a promise to guarantee the title (clear ownership) to property, a promise agreeing to joint use of an easement for access to real property, or a covenant not to compete, which is commonly included in promises made by a seller of a business for a certain period of time. Mutual covenants among members of a homeowners association are promises to respect the rules of conduct or restrictions on use of property to insure peaceful use, limitations on intrusive construction, etc., which are usually part of the recorded covenants, conditions and restrictions which govern a development or condominium project. Covenants which run with the land, such as permanent easement of access or restrictions on use, are binding on future title holders of the property. Covenants can be concurrent (mutual promises to be performed at the same time), dependent (one promise need be performed if the other party performs his/hers), or independent (a promise to be honored without reference to any other promise). 2) v. to promise.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

creditor 
n. a person or entity to whom a debt is owed. 

 

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

 

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

 

crime 
n. a violation of a law in which there is injury to the public or a member of the public and a term in jail or prison, and/or a fine as possible penalties. There is some sentiment for excluding from the "crime" category crimes without victims, such as consensual acts, or violations in which only the perpetrator is hurt or involved such as personal use of illegal drugs.

 

crime against nature 
n. an oldfashioned term for sodomy. 

 

crime of passion 
n. a defendant's excuse for committing a crime due to sudden anger or heartbreak, in order to eliminate the element of "premeditation." This usually arises in murder or attempted murder cases, when a spouse or sweetheart finds his/her "beloved" having sexual intercourse with another and shoots or stabs one or both of the coupled pair. To make this claim the defendant must have acted immediately upon the rise of passion, without the time for contemplation or allowing for "a cooling of the blood." The benefit of eliminating premeditation is to lessen the provable homicide to manslaughter with no death penalty and limited prison terms.

 

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

 

criminal attorney 
n. a popular term for an attorney who specializes in defending people charged with crimes. Many lawyers handle criminal defense but also have other clientele. 

 

criminal calendar 
n. the list of criminal cases to be called in court on a particular time and date. The parties charged and their attorneys are given a written notice of the time and place to appear. The criminal calendar may list arraignments, bail settings, cases continued (put off) awaiting a plea of guilt or innocence, changes of pleas, setting of hearing or trial dates, motions brought by attorneys, pronouncing sentences, hearing reports of probation officers, appointment of public defenders or other attorneys, and other business concerning criminal cases.

 

criminal justice 
n. a generic term for the procedure by which criminal conduct is investigated, evidence gathered, arrests made, charges brought, defenses raised, trials conducted, sentences rendered and punishment carried out.

 

criminal law 
n. those statutes dealing with crimes against the public and members of the public, with penalties and all the procedures connected with charging, trying, sentencing and imprisoning defendants convicted of crimes

 

cross-complaint 
n. after a complaint has been filed against a defendant for damages or other orders of the court, the defendant may file a written complaint against the party suing him/her or against a third party as long as the subject matter is related to the original complaint. The defendant's filing of a complaint is called a cross-complaint, and the defendant is then called a cross-complainant and the party he/she sues is called a cross-defendant. The defendant must still file an answer or other response to the original complaint. If the cross-complaint is against the original plaintiff (original suer) then it can be served on the plaintiff's attorney by mail, but a third party must be served in person with the cross-complaint and a new summons issued by the clerk of the court. The cross-defendants must then file answers or other responses. These are called pleadings and must be carefully drafted (usually by an attorney) to properly state the factual as well as legal basis for the claim and contain a prayer for damages or other relief.

 

cross-examination 
n. the opportunity for the attorney (or an unrepresented party) to ask questions in court of a witness who has testified in a trial on behalf of the opposing party. The questions on cross-examination are limited to the subjects covered in the direct examination of the witness, but importantly, the attorney may ask leading questions, in which he/she is allowed to suggest answers or put words in the witness's mouth. (For example, "Isn't it true that you told Mrs. Jones she had done nothing wrong?" which is leading, as compared to "Did you say anything to Mrs. Jones?") A strong cross-examination (often called just "cross" by lawyers and judges) can force contradictions, expressions of doubts or even complete obliteration of a witness's prior carefully rehearsed testimony. On the other hand, repetition of a witness' s story, vehemently defended, can strengthen his/her credibility.

 

cruel and unusual punishment 
n. governmental penalties against convicted criminal defendants which are barbaric, involve torture and/or shock the public morality. Tortures like the rack (stretching the body inch by inch) or the thumbscrew, dismemberment, breaking bones, maiming, actions involving deep or long-lasting pain are all banned. But solitary confinement, enforced silence, necessary force to prevent injury to fellow prisoners or guards, psychological humiliation and bad food are generally allowed. In short, there is a large gray area, in which "cruel and unusual" is definitely subjective based on individual sensitivities and moral outlook. 

 

cruelty 
n. the intentional and malicious infliction of physical or psychological pain on another. 

 

cruelty to animals 
n. the crime of inflicting physical pain, suffering or death on an animal, usually a tame one, beyond necessity for normal discipline. It can include neglect that is so monstrous (withholding food and water) that the animal has suffered, died or been put in imminent danger of death.

 

culpability 
culpable 

 

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

 

cumis counsel 
n. an attorney employed by a defendant in a lawsuit when there is an insurance policy supposedly covering the claim, but there is a conflict of interest between the insurance company and the insured defendant. Such a conflict might arise if the insurance company is denying full coverage. 

 

cumulative sentence 
n. when a criminal defendant has been found guilty of more than one offense, the judge may sentence him/her to prison for successive terms for each crime (e.g. five years for burglary, three years for possession of stolen property, which add up and accumulate to eight years). The other choice would be to sentence the defendant to a concurrent sentence, in which the lesser term would be merged with the longer, they would run at the same time, and thus result in a five-year term in the example.

 

cumulative voting 
n. in corporations, a system of voting by shareholders for directors in which the shareholder can multiply his voting shares by the number of candidates and vote them all for one person for director. This is intended to give minority shareholders a chance to elect at least one director whom they favor. For example, there are five directors to be elected, and 10,000 shares issued, a shareholder with 1,000 shares could vote 5,000 for his candidate rather than being limited to 1,000 for each of five candidates, always outvoted by shareholders with 1,001 or more shares.

 

curtesy 
n. in old common law, the right of a surviving husband to a life estate in the lands of his deceased wife, if they had a surviving child or children who would inherit the land.

 

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

 

cut a check 
v. to write (prepare) and sign a check. 

 

cy pres doctrine 
n. (see-pray doctrine) from French, meaning "as close as possible." When a gift is made by will or trust (usually for charitable or educational purposes), and the named recipient of the gift does not exist, has dissolved or no longer conducts the activity for which the gift is made, then the estate or trustee must make the gift to an organization which comes closest to fulfilling the purpose of the gift. Sometimes this results in heated court disputes in which a judge must determine the appropriate substitute to receive the gift.