LEGAL DICTIONARY

 

J


n. abbreviation for Judge 

 

jd 
n. short for Juris Doctor, identifying the holder as having received that law degree.

 

jeopardy 
n. peril, particularly danger of being charged with or convicted of a particular crime. Once a person has been acquitted, he/she may not be charged again for that crime. However, if there was a mistrial, hung jury or reversal of conviction on appeal (but the defendant was not declared innocent in the ruling), the defendant may be charged with the crime again and tried again.

 

jobber 
n. a merchant who buys products (usually in bulk or lots) and then sells them to various retailers. This middleman generally specializes in specific types of products, such as auto parts, electrical and plumbing materials, or petroleum. A jobber differs from a broker or agent, who buys and acts for specific clients.

 

joinder 
n. the joining together of several lawsuits or several parties all in one lawsuit, provided that the legal issues and the factual situation are the same for all plaintiffs and defendants. Joinder requires a) that one of the parties to one of the lawsuits make a motion to join the suits and the parties in a single case; b) notice must be made to all parties; c) there must be a hearing before a judge to show why joinder will not cause prejudice (hurt) to any of the parties to the existing lawsuits; and d) an order of the judge permitting joinder. Joinder may be mandatory if a person necessary to a fair result was not included in the original lawsuit, or it may be permissive if joining the cases together is only a matter of convenience or economy.

 

joinder of issue 
n. that point in a lawsuit when the defendant has challenged (denied) some or all of plaintiff's allegations of facts, and/or when it is known which legal questions are in dispute. This is stated in the expression: "the issue is joined," in the same manner as a military man would say: "the battle has been joined," meaning the fight is underway. Thus, the pre-trial legal underbrush has been cleared away, the motions made, and the pre-trial discovery (depositions, requests for documents, written questions and answers, and other demands for information) sufficiently completed, all of which makes clear what matters are to be decided by trial.

 

joint adventure 
n. when two or more people go together on a trip or some other action, not necessarily for profit, which may make them all liable for an accident or debt arising out of the activity.

 

joint and several 
adj. referring to a debt or a judgment for negligence, in which each debtor (one who owes) or each judgment defendant (one who has a judgment against him/her) is responsible (liable) for the entire amount of the debt or judgment. Thus, in drafting a promissory note for a debt, it is important to state that if there is more than one person owing the funds to be paid, the debt is joint and several, since then the person owed money (creditor, promisee) can collect the entire amount from any of the joint signers of the note, and not be limited to a share from each debtor. If a party injured in an accident sues several parties for causing his/her damages, the court may find that several people were "jointly" negligent and contributed to the damages. The entire judgment may be collected from any of the defendants found responsible, unless the court finds different amounts of negligence of each defendant contributed to the injury. Defense attorneys should require the trier of fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) to break down the amount of negligence of each defendant and the plaintiff if there is contributory negligence. Often the court will refuse to do so, allowing the plaintiff to collect from whichever defendant has the "deep pocket" (lots of money), and letting the defendant who pays demand contributions from the other defendants.

 

joint custody 
n. in divorce actions, a decision by the court (often upon agreement of the parents) that the parents will share custody of a child. There are two types of custody, physical and legal. Joint physical custody (instead of one parent having custody with the other having visitation), does not mean exact division of time with each parent, but can be based on reasonable time with each parent either specifically spelled out (certain days, weeks, holidays, alternative periods) or based on stated guidelines and shared payment of costs of raising the child. Joint legal custody means that both parents can make decisions for the child, including medical treatment, but where possible they should consult the other. Upon the death or disability of either parent, legal custody will go to the remaining parent and will give the active parent the sole ability to act as parent for the child without further order of the court. The primary affect of this is a psychological benefit for the parent and the child, so that a child can be told that both parents cared for the child, even though the child had to live most of the time with one of them.

 

joint enterprise 
n. a generic term for an activity of two or more people, usually (but not necessarily) for profit, which may include partnership, joint venture or any business in which more than one person invests, works, has equal management control and/or is otherwise involved for an agreed upon goal or purpose. One significant factor is that if a court finds that two or more people are involved in a joint enterprise and there is negligent damage to an outside party by any one of the enterprisers, or breach of a contract made by the joint enterprise, each of those who are part of the enterprise will be liable for all the damages to the party. However, not all joint enterprises are partnerships or joint ventures, although the terms are often used improperly as if they were synonymous.

 

joint liability 
n. when two or more persons are both responsible for a debt, claim or judgment. It can be important to the person making the claim, as well as to a person who is sued, who can demand that anyone with joint liability for the alleged debt or claim for damages be joined in (brought into) the lawsuit.

 

joint powers agreement 
n. a contract between a city, a county and/or a special district in which the city or county agrees to perform services, cooperate with, or lend its powers to the special district or other government entity.

 

joint tenancy 
n. a crucial relationship in the ownership of real property, which provides that each party owns an undivided interest in the entire parcel, with both having the right to use all of it and the right of survivorship, which means that upon the death of one joint tenant, the other has title to it all. Procedurally, on the death of one joint tenant, title in the survivor is completed by recording an "affidavit of death of joint tenant," describing the property and the deceased tenant, with a death certificate attached, all of which is sworn to by the surviving joint tenant. This process avoids probate of the property, but may have some tax consequences which should be explored with an accountant at the time of recording the original deed. If the owners do not want full title to the property to pass to the survivor, then joint tenancy should not be used. Joint tenancy (as well as any other common ownership) between a parent and a minor child should be avoided since the property cannot be transferred in the future without the parent becoming appointed a guardian of the child's estate by court order, and the property and the proceeds therefrom will be under court control until the child is 18.

 

joint tortfeasors 
n. two or more persons whose negligence in a single accident or event causes damages to another person. In many cases the joint tortfeasors are jointly and severally liable for the damages, meaning that any of them can be responsible to pay the entire amount, no matter how unequal the negligence of each party was.

 

joint venture 
n. an enterprise entered into by two or more people for profit, for a limited purpose, such as purchase, improvement and sale or leasing of real estate. A joint venture has most of the elements of a partnership, such as shared management, the power of each venturer to bind the others in the business, division of profits and joint responsibility for losses. However, unlike a partnership, a joint venture anticipates a specific area of activity and/or period of operation, so after the purpose is completed, bills are paid, profits (or losses) are divided, and the joint venture is terminated.

 

judge 
1) n. an official with the authority and responsibility to preside in a court, try lawsuits and make legal rulings. Judges are almost always attorneys. 2) v. to rule on a legal matter, including determining the result in a trial if there is no jury.

 

judge advocate 
n. a military officer with legal training who has the mixed duties of giving advice on legal matters to the group of officers sitting as a court-martial (both judge and jury) and acting as the prosecutor of the accused serviceman or woman. A judge advocate holds responsibility to protect the accused from procedural improprieties such as questions from the members of the court which might incriminate the accused in violation of the Constitution. The accused person also has a military officer as counsel, who may not be an attorney.

 

judge advocate general 
(J.A.G.) n. a military officer who advises the government on courts-martial and administers the conduct of courts-martial. The officers who are judge advocates and counsel assigned to the accused come from the office of the judge advocate general or are appointed by it to work on certain courts-martial. 

 

judgment 
n. the final decision by a court in a lawsuit, criminal prosecution or appeal from a lower court's judgment, except for an "interlocutory judgment," which is tentative until a final judgment is made. The word "decree" is sometimes used as synonymous with judgment.

 

judgment by default 
n. See also: default judgment 

 

judgment creditor 
n. the winning plaintiff in a lawsuit to whom the court decides the defendant owes money. A judgment creditor can use various means to collect the judgment. The judgment is good for a specified number of years and then may be renewed by a filed request. If the defendant debtor files for bankruptcy, the judgment creditor will have priority (the right to share in assets) ahead of general creditors who are not secured by mortgages or deeds of trust and do not have judgments. However, if the bankrupt person has no assets, this becomes an empty advantage.

 

judgment debt 
n. the amount of money in a judgment award to the winning party, which is owed to the winner by the losing party.

 

judgment debtor 
n. the losing defendant in a lawsuit who owes the amount of the judgment to the winner. 

 

judgment notwithstanding the verdict 
(N.O.V.) n. reversal of a jury's verdict by the trial judge when the judge believes there was no factual basis for the verdict or it was contrary to law. The judge will then enter a different verdict as "a matter of law." Essentially the judge should have required a "directed verdict" (instruction to the jury to return with a particular verdict since the facts allowed no other conclusion), and when the jury "went wrong," the judge uses the power to reverse the verdict instead of approving it, to prevent injustice. This process is commonly called "judgment N.O.V." or simply "N.O.V.," for Latin non obstante veredicto.

 

judicial 
adj., adv. 1) referring to a judge, court or the court system. 2) fair.

 

judicial discretion 
n. the power of the judge to make decisions on some matters without being bound by precedent or strict rules established by statutes. On appeal a higher court will usually accept and confirm decisions of trial judges when exercising permitted discretion, unless capricious, showing a pattern of bias, or exercising discretion beyond his/her authority.

 

judicial foreclosure 
n. a judgment by a court in favor of foreclosure of a mortgage or deed of trust, which orders that the real property which secured the debt be sold under foreclosure proceedings to pay the debt. The party suing probably has chosen to seek a judicial foreclosure rather than use the foreclosure provisions of the mortgage or deed of trust. Usually this move is made to get a "deficiency judgment" for any amount still owed after the foreclosure sale.

 

judicial notice 
n. the authority of a judge to accept as facts certain matters which are of common knowledge from sources which guarantee accuracy or are a matter of official record, without the need for evidence establishing the fact.

 

judicial proceedings 
n. any action by a judge re: trials, hearings, petitions or other matters formally before the court.

 

judicial sale 
n. a sale of goods by an official (keeper, trustee) appointed by the court and ordered by a court, usually to satisfy a judgment or implement another order of the court. Such sales require public notice of time, place and a description of the goods to be sold.

 

jump bail 
v. to fail to appear for a court appearance after depositing (posting) bail with the intention of avoiding prosecution, sentencing or going to jail. Posting bail guarantees that the accused person will give up the money if he/she does not show up in court. It allows the accused person to remain free pending the final decision on his/her criminal case. In some circumstances a criminal defendant can be declared to have jumped bail even before missing an appearance in court, if it is discovered he/she has left the country, disappeared or made plans to flee. At that point the court can revoke the bail and issue a warrant for the defendant's arrest. It is also called "skipping" bail.

 

jurat 
(jur-at) n. Latin for "been sworn," the portion of an affidavit in which a person has sworn that the contents of his/her written statement are true, filled in by the notary public with the date, name of the person swearing, sometimes the place where sworn, and the name of the person before whom the oath was made. A jurat is not to be confused with an "acknowledgment" in which the signer of a document such as a deed to real property has sworn to the notary public that he/she executed the document, and the notary signs and seals the document to that effect.

 

jurisdiction 
n. the authority given by law to a court to try cases and rule on legal matters within a particular geographic area and/or over certain types of legal cases. It is vital to determine before a lawsuit is filed which court has jurisdiction. 

 

jurisdictional amount 
n. the range between the minimum and maximum amount of money or value in dispute in a lawsuit (generally based on the amount demanded in the lawsuit), which determines which court has jurisdiction to try the case.

 

jurisprudence 
n. the entire subject of law, the study of law and legal questions.

 

jurist 
n. although it means any attorney or legal scholar, jurist popularly refers to a judge.

 

juror 
n. any person who actually serves on a jury. Lists of potential jurors are chosen from various sources such as registered voters. The names are drawn by lot (more often by computer random selection) and requested to appear for possible service. Before a trial begins the names of jurors are assigned to a trial court, and a further selection process is made. A member of a Grand Jury is called a grand juror.

 

jury 
n. one of the remarkable innovations of the English common law (from the Angles and Saxons, but also employed in Normandy prior to the Norman Conquest in 1066), it is a group of citizens called to hear a trial of a criminal prosecution or a lawsuit, decide the factual questions of guilt or innocence or determine the prevailing party (winner) in a lawsuit and the amount to be paid, if any, by the loser. Once selected, the jury is sworn to give an honest and fair decision.

 

jury box 
n. the enclosed area in which the jury sits in assigned seats during a jury trial. 

 

jury fees 
n. the rather minimal amount paid each day to jurors. In criminal trials this amount is paid by the government, but in civil lawsuits the jury fees are paid by the parties to the lawsuit in equal amounts. It is important for a party requesting a jury trial to deposit ("post") the first day's jury fees with the clerk of the court a set time in advance of the trial date, or the right to a jury trial may be lost on the basis that he/she/it has "waived" the right to a jury. The winner of the lawsuit (prevailing party) is usually entitled to reimbursement (payment by the loser) of jury fees as a court cost.

 

jury of one's peers 
n. a guaranteed right of criminal defendants, in which "peer" means an "equal." This has been interpreted by courts to mean that the available jurors include a broad spectrum of the population, particularly of race, national origin and gender. Jury selection may include no process which excludes those of a particular race or intentionally narrows the spectrum of possible jurors. See also: jury

 

jury panel 
n. the list from which jurors for a particular trial may be chosen. 

 

jury selection 
n. the means by which a jury is chosen, with a panel of potential jurors called, questioning of the jury by the judge and attorneys (voir dire), dismissal for cause, peremptory challenges by the attorneys without stating a cause and finally impaneling of the jury.

 

jury stress 
n. a form of mental, emotional, psychological, physical and sexual tension found to affect juries in long trials due to exhaustion, sequestration, the mountain of evidence and the desire to do the right thing.

 

jury tampering 
n. the crime of attempting to influence a jury through any means other than presenting evidence and argument in court, including conversations about the case outside the court, offering bribes, making threats or asking acquaintances to intercede with a juror.

 

jury trial 
n. a trial of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution in which the case is presented to a jury and the factual questions and the final judgment are determined by a jury. This is distinguished from a "court trial" in which the judge decides factual as well as legal questions, and makes the final judgment.

 

just compensation 
n. 1) in general a fair and reasonable amount of money to be paid for work performed or to make one "whole" after loss due to damages. 2) the full value to be paid for property taken by the government for public purposes. 

 

justice 
n. 1) fairness. 2) moral rightness. 3) a scheme or system of law in which every person receives his/her/its due from the system, including all rights, both natural and legal. One problem is that attorneys, judges and legislatures often get caught up more in procedure than in achieving justice for all. Example: the adage "justice delayed is justice denied," applies to the burdensome procedures, lack of sufficient courts, the clogging of the system with meritless cases and the use of the courts to settle matters which could be resolved by negotiation. The imbalance between court privileges obtained by attorneys for the wealthy and for the person of modest means, the use of delay and "blizzards" of unnecessary paper by large law firms, and judges who fail to cut through the underbrush of procedure all erode justice. 4) an appellate judge, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

 

justice of the peace 
(JP) n. a judge who handles minor legal matters such as misdemeanors, small claims actions and traffic matters in "justice courts." Dating back to early English common law, "JPs" were very common up to the 1950s, but they now exist primarily in rural "justice districts" from which it is unreasonable for the public to travel to the county seat for trials of minor matters.

 

justiciable 
n. referring to a matter which is capable of being decided by a court. Usually it is combined in such terms as: "justiciable issue," "justiciable cause of action" or "justiciable case."

 

justifiable homicide 
n. a killing without evil or criminal intent, for which there can be no blame, such as self-defense to protect oneself or to protect another or the shooting by a law enforcement officer in fulfilling his/her duties. This is not to be confused with a crime of passion or claim of diminished capacity, which refer to defenses aimed at reducing the penalty or degree of crime.

 

juvenile court 
n. a special court or department of a trial court which deals with under-age defendants charged with crimes or who are neglected or out of the control of their parents. The normal age of these defendants is under 18, but juvenile court does not have jurisdiction in cases in which minors are charged as adults. The procedure in juvenile court is not always adversarial (although the minor is entitled to legal representation by a lawyer). It can be an attempt to involve parents or social workers and probation officers in the process to achieve positive results and save the minor from involvement in future crimes. However, serious crimes and repeated offenses can result in sentencing juvenile offenders to prison, with transfer to prison upon reaching adulthood with limited maximum sentences. Where parental neglect or loss of control is a problem, the juvenile court may seek out foster homes for the juvenile, treating the child as a ward of the court.

 

juvenile delinquent 
n. a person who is under age (usually below 18), who is found to have committed a crime which have declared by law that a minor lacks responsibility and thus may not be sentenced as an adult.

 

K


n. the shorthand symbol for "contract" used almost universally by lawyers and law students.

 

kangaroo court 
n. 1) a mock court set up without legal basis, such as a fraternity, sports team or army squad might set up to punish minor violations of organizational decorum. 2) slang for a court of law in which the violations of procedure, precedents, and due process are so gross that fundamental justice is denied. It usually means that the judge is incompetent or obviously biased.

 

kidnapping 
(also spelled kidnaping) n. the taking of a person against his/her will (or from the control of a parent or guardian) from one place to another under circumstances in which the person so taken does not have freedom of movement, will, or decision through violence, force, threat or intimidation. Although it is not necessary that the purpose be criminal (since all kidnapping is a criminal felony) the capture usually involves some related criminal act such as holding the person for ransom, sexual and/or sadistic abuse, or rape. It includes taking due to irresistible impuls. Originally it meant the stealing of children, since "kid" is child in Scandinavian languages, but now applies to adults as well.

 

kin 
n. blood relative. 

 

L

labor and materials 
(time and materials) n. what some builders or repair people contract to provide and be paid for, rather than a fixed price or a percentage of the costs.

 

laches 
n. the legal doctrine that a legal right or claim will not be enforced or allowed if a long delay in asserting the right or claim has prejudiced the adverse party (hurt the opponent) as a sort of "legal ambush." Examples: a) knowing the correct property line, Mathew fails to bring a lawsuit to establish title to a portion of real estate until Riya has built a house which encroaches on the property in which Owner has title; b) Robin learns that his father has died, but waits four years to come forward until the entire estate has been distributed on the belief that Robin was dead; c) Susan has a legitimate claim against her old firm for sexual harassment, but waits three years to come forward and file a lawsuit, after the employee who caused the problem has died, and the witnesses have all left the company and scattered around the country. The defense of laches is often raised in the list of "affirmative defenses" in answers filed by defendants, but is seldom applied by the courts. Laches is not to be confused with the "statute of limitations," which sets specific periods to file a lawsuit for types of claims (negligence, breach of contract, fraud, etc).

 

land 
n. real property, real estate (and all that grows thereon), and the right to minerals underneath and the airspace over it. It may include improvements like buildings, but not necessarily. The owner of the land may give a long-term (like 99 years) lease to another with the right to build on it. The improvement is a "leasehold" for ownership of the right to use without ownership of the underlying land. The right to use the air above a parcel of land is subject to height limitations by local ordinance, state laws.

 

landlady 
n. female of landlord or owner of real property from whom one rents or leases. 

 

landlocked 
adj. referring to a parcel of real property which has no access or egress (entry or exit) to a public street and cannot be reached except by crossing another's property. In such a case there is an "implied easement" over the adjoining lot from which it was created (carved out).

 

landlord 
n. a person who owns real property and rents or leases it to another, called a "tenant."

 

landlord and tenant 
n. the name for the area of law concerning renting and leasing property and the rights of both the owner and the renter or lessee. 

 

landlord's lien 
n. the right of a landlord to sell bandoned personal property left on rented or leased premises by a former tenant to cover unpaid rent or damages to the property. However, to exercise this lien the landlord must carefully follow procedures which generally require written notice to the ex-tenant and a public sale.

 

lapse 
1) v. to fail to occur, particularly a gift made in a will. 2) v. to become non-operative. 3) n. the termination of a gift made by will or for future distribution from a trust, caused by the death of the person to whom the gift was intended (the beneficiary, legatee, devisee) prior to the death of the person making the will or creating the trust (the testator, trustor or settlor).

 

larceny 
n. the crime of taking the goods of another person without permission (usually secretly), with the intent of keeping them. It is one form of theft.

 

last antecedent rule 
n. a doctrine of interpretation (construction) of statutes that any qualifying words or phrases refer to the language immediately preceding the qualifier, unless common sense shows that it was meant to apply to something more distant or less obvious. Example: "The commercial vehicular license shall not apply to boats, tractors, and trucks, with only four wheels and under three tons…," the qualifier "only four wheels and under three tons" applies only to trucks and not boats or tractors.

 

last clear chance 
n. a rule of law in determining responsibility for damages caused by negligence, which provides that if the plaintiff (the party suing for damages) is negligent, that will not matter if the defendant (the party being sued for damages caused by his/her negligence) could have still avoided the accident by reasonable care in the final moments (no matter how slight) before the accident. The theory is that although the plaintiff may have been negligent, his/her negligence no longer was the cause of the accident because the defendant could have prevented the accident. Most commonly applied to auto accidents, a typical case of last clear chance would be when one driver drifts over the center line, and this action was noted by an oncoming driver who proceeds without taking simple evasive action, crashes into the first driver and is thus liable for the injuries to the first driver who was over the line.

 

last will and testament 
n. a fancy and redundant way of saying "will." Lawyers and clients like the formal resonance of the language. Will and testament mean the same thing. A document will be the "last" will if the maker of it dies before writing another one.

 

latent defect 
n. a hidden flaw, weakness or imperfection in an article which a seller knows about, but the buyer cannot discover by reasonable inspection. It includes a hidden defect in the title to land, such as an incorrect property description. Generally, this entitles the purchaser to get his/her money back (rescind the deal) or get a replacement without a defect on the basis of "implied" warranty of quality that a buyer could expect ("merchantability"). Even an "as is" purchase could be rescinded if it could be shown the seller knew of the flaw.

 

lateral support 
n. the right of a land owner to assurance that his/her neighbor's land will provide support against any slippage, cave-in or landslide. Should the adjoining owner excavate into the soil for any reason (foundation, basement, leveling) then there must be a retaining wall constructed (or other protective engineering) to prevent a collapse. A classic example: a developer excavated into a hill along both the western and southern lines to create a pad for an apartment building and delayed putting in the retaining wall. Cracks appeared in the buildings next to the digging site, and the owners filed a lawsuit asking for an injunction to require the developer to build a wall. The judge so ordered, but the cave-in occurred anyway, the neighboring buildings toppled into the hole, and, in the subsequent lawsuit by the owners of the neighboring fallen buildings, the developer had to pay the entire value of the buildings which were destroyed. Most lateral support problems are less dramatic.

 

law 
n. 1) any system of regulations to govern the conduct of the people of a community, society or nation, in response to the need for regularity, consistency and justice based upon collective human experience. Custom or conduct governed by the force of the local king were replaced by laws almost as soon as man learned to write. The earliest lawbook was written about 2100 B.C. for Ur-Nammu, king of Ur, a Middle Eastern city-state. Within three centuries Hammurabi, king of Babylonia, had enumerated laws of private conduct, business and legal precedents. It took another thousand years before written law codes developed among the Greek city-states (particularly Athens) and Israel. China developed similar rules of conduct, as did Egypt. William the Conqueror 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. 2) n. a statute, ordinance or regulation enacted by the legislative branch of a government and signed into law, or in some nations created by decree without any democratic process. This is distinguished from "natural law," which is not based on statute, but on alleged common understanding of what is right and proper (often based on moral and religious precepts as well as common understanding of fairness and justice). 3) n. a generic term for any body of regulations for conduct, including specialized rules (military law), moral conduct under various religions and for organizations, usually called "bylaws."

 

law and motion calendar 
n. a court calendar in which only motions and special legal arguments are heard. 

 

law book 
n. any of numerous volumes dealing with law, including statutes, reports of cases, digests of cases, commentaries on particular topics, encyclopedias, textbooks, summaries of the law, dictionaries, legal forms and various combinations of these such as case reports with commentaries. Statutes are published, usually with comments, "annotations" and brief statements of decisions which contribute to the interpretations of each particular statute. Collections of digests (brief summaries) of case decisions divided by topics are available for each of the court rulings. There are books on almost every legal subject. Almost all collections of statutes, digests, form books and commentaries are regularly updated with the latest decisions, legislative enactments and recent comments, often with loose-leaf "pocket parts" added each year, and completely new volumes when numerous changes have accumulated. Many of the books are now being replaced or supplemented by computer disks or computer modem services. The earliest known law book was written in 2100 B.C. for the king of Ur.

 

law of admiralty 
n. statutes, customs and treaties dealing with actions on navigable waters. It is synonymous with maritime law.

 

law of the case 
n. once a judge has decided a legal question during the conduct of a lawsuit, he/she is unlikely to change his/her views and will respond that the ruling is the "law of the case."

 

law of the land 
n. a slang term for existing laws. 

 

lawsuit 
n. a common term for a legal action by one person or entity against another person or entity, to be decided in a court of law, sometimes just called a "suit." The legal claims within a lawsuit are called "causes of action."

 

lay a foundation 
v. in evidence, to provide to the judge the qualification of a witness (particularly an expert witness) or a document or other piece of evidence which assures the court of the talent and experience of a witness or the authenticity of the document or article. Example: a medical report cannot be introduced unless the physician who wrote it testifies that he wrote it, or a photograph must be authenticated by the photographer or by testimony that it truly reflects a particular place or event. An expert witness is qualified by testimony as to his/her experience and training.

 

leading 
1) v. short for "leading the witness," in which the attorney during a trial or deposition asks questions in a form in which he/she puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer. Leading is improper if the attorney is questioning a witness called by that attorney and presumably friendly to the attorney's side of the case. Thus, the opposing attorney will object that a question is "leading," and if so the judge will sustain (uphold) the objection and prohibit the question in that form. However, leading questions are permissible in cross-examination of a witness called by the other party or if the witness is found to be hostile or adverse to the position of the attorney conducting the questioning. 2) adj. referring to a question asked of a witness which suggests the answer.

 

leading question 
n. a question asked of a witness by an attorney during a trial or a deposition (questioning under oath outside of court), suggesting an answer or putting words in the mouth of the witness. Such a question is often objected to, usually with the simple objection: "leading." A leading question is allowable only when directed to the opposing party to the lawsuit or to an "adverse witness" during cross-examination (the chance to question after direct testimony) on the basis that such a witness can readily deny the proposed wording. Typical improper leading question: "Didn't the defendant appear to you to be going too fast in the limited visibility?" The proper question would be: "How fast do you estimate the defendant was going?" followed by "What was the visibility?" and "How far could you see?"

 

leading the witness 
n. asking a question during a trial or deposition which puts words in the mouth of the witness or suggests the answer, which is improper questioning of a witness called by that attorney, but is proper in cross-examination or allowed if a witness is declared by the judge to be a hostile or adverse witness.

 

lease 
1) n. a written agreement in which the owner of property (either real estate or some object like an automobile) allows use of the property for a specified period of time (term) for specific periodic payments (rent), and other terms and conditions. Leases of real property describe the premises (often by address); penalties for late payments, termination upon default of payment or breach of any significant conditions; increases in rent based on cost of living or some other standard; inclusion or exclusion of property taxes and insurance in rent; limitations on use (a residence for the family only, no pets); charges for staying on beyond the term (holding over); any right to renew the lease for another period; and/or a requirement for payment of attorneys' fees and costs in case of the need to enforce the lease (including eviction). A lease is distinguished from a mere renting of the premises on a month-to-month basis and cannot exceed a year unless agreed to in writing. A "triple net" lease includes both taxes and insurance in the rent. 2) v. to rent out real property or an object pursuant to a written agreement.

 

leasehold 
n. the real estate which is the subject of a lease (a written rental agreement for an extended period of time). The term is commonly used to describe improvements on real property when the improvements are built on land owned by one party which is leased for a long term (such as 99 years) to the owner of the building. For example, the SK Land Company owns a lot and leases it for 99 years to the Highrise Development Corporation, which builds a 20-story apartment building and sells each apartment to individual owners as condominiums. At the end of the 99 years the building has to be moved (impossible), torn down, sold to SK Land Company (which need not pay much since the building is old and Highrise has no choice), or a new lease negotiated. Obviously, toward the end of the 99 years the individual condominiums will go down in value, partly from fear of lessened resale potential. This is generally theoretical (except to lending companies because the security does not include the land) since there are few buildings with less than 50 or 60 years to go on the leases or their expected lifetimes, although there are some commercial buildings which are within 20 years of termination of such leases. In most cases the buildings are obsolete by the end of the leasehold

 

legacy 
n. a gift of personal property or money to a beneficiary (legatee) of a will. While technically legacy does not include real property (which is a "devise"), legacy usually refers to any gift from the estate of one who has died. It is synonymous with the word "bequest."

 

legal 
adj., adv. according to law, not in violation of law or anything related to the law.

 

legal action 
n. any lawsuit, petition or prosecution.

 

legal advertising 
n. 1) notices of probate sales and other documents required by law to be published in court-approved local newspapers of general circulation. 2) commercials for the legal services of lawyers and law firms. 

 

legal age 
n. the age at which a person is responsible for his/her own actions (including the capacity to enter into a contract which is enforceable by the other party), for damages for negligence or intentional wrongs without a parent being liable and for punishment as an adult for a crime. The basic legal age defined is 18 years.

 

legal aid society 
n. an organization formed to assist persons who have limited or no financial means but need legal help, usually sponsored by the local bar association's donations, sometimes with some local governmental financial support. Such societies examine the assets and income of the applicant, decide if the person has a legitimate need for legal services, give counselling, provide mediation, prepare simple documents, and if absolutely necessary give free legal assistance from a panel of volunteer attorneys.

 

legal duty 
n. the responsibility to others to act according to the law. Proving the duty (such as not to be negligent, to keep premises safe) and then showing that the duty was breached are required elements of any lawsuit for damages due to negligence or intentional injuries.

 

legal fiction 
n. a presumption of fact assumed by a court for convenience, consistency or to achieve justice. There is an old adage: "Fictions arise from the law, and not law from fictions."

 

legal separation 
n. a court-decreed right to live apart, with the rights and obligations of divorced persons, but without divorce. The parties are still married and cannot remarry. A spouse may petition for a legal separation usually on the same basis as for a divorce, and include requests for child custody, alimony, child support and division of property. For people who want to avoid the supposed stigma of divorce, who hold strong religious objections to divorce or who hope to save a marriage, legal separation is an apparent solution.

 

legal services 
n. the work performed by a lawyer for a client. 

 

legal tender 
n. all money issued by the government. 

 

legalese 
n. slang for the sometimes arcane, convoluted and specialized jargon of lawyers and legal scholars.

 

legatee 
n. a person or organization receiving a gift or money under the terms of the will of a person who has died. Although technically a legatee does not receive real property (a devisee), "legatee" is often used to designate a person who takes anything pursuant (according) to the terms of a will. The best generic term is beneficiary, which avoids the old-fashioned distinctions between legatees taking legacies (personal property) and devisees taking devises (real property), terms which date from the Middle Ages.

 

legitimate 
adj., adv1) legal, proper, real. 2) referring to a child born to parents who are married. A baby born to parents who are not married is illegitimate, but can be made legitimate (legitimatized) by the subsequent marriage of the parents. 3) v. to make proper and/or legal.

 

lessee 
n. the person renting property under a written lease from the owner (lessor). He/she/it is the tenant and the lessor is the landlord. 

 

lesser crime 
n. See also: lesser-included offense 

 

lesser-included offense 
n. in criminal law, a crime which is proved by the same facts as a more serious crime. Example: Edward is charged with armed robbery, but the prosecution fails to prove Edward used his pistol since the victims do not recall the gun, but does prove he took the jewels. Thus, he is convicted of larceny, which is a lesser form of theft and he will receive a lighter sentence.

 

lessor 
n. the owner of real property who rents it to a lessee pursuant to a written lease. Thus, he/she/it is the landlord and the lessee is the tenant.

 

let 
v. 1) to allow or permit. This is distinguished from "against one's will." 2) to lease or rent real property, particularly a room or apartment, to another person.

 

letter of credit 
n. a document issued by a bank guaranteeing to provide a customer a line of credit (automatic loan up to a certain amount) for money or security for a loan. Such a letter is used primarily to facilitate long-distance business transactions. 

 

letters 
n. shorthand for letters testamentary or letters of administration. 

 

letters of administration 
n. a document issued by the court clerk which states the authority of the administrator of an estate of a person who has died, when there is no will or no available executor named by a will and an administrator has been appointed by the court. It is issued during probate of the estate as soon as the court approves the appointment of the administrator, who files a security bond if one is required. Certified copies of the letters are often required by banks and other financial institutions, the government, stock transfer agents or other courts before transfer of money or assets to the administrator of the estate.

 

letters testamentary 
n. a document issued by the court clerk which states the authority of the executor of an estate of a person who has died. It is issued during probate of the estate as soon as the court approves the appointment of the executor named in the will and the executor files a security bond if one is necessary (most well-drafted wills waive the need for a bond). Certified copies of the letters are often required by banks and other financial institutions, the government, stock transfer agents or other courts before transfer of money or assets to the executor of the estate.

 

leverage 
1) n. the use of borrowed money to purchase real estate or business assets, usually involving money equaling a high percentage of the value of the purchased property. 2) v. to borrow most of the funds necessary as a loan against real estate to buy other real estate or business assets. The dangers of high leverage are over-appraisal of the property to satisfy a lender, a decline in the value of the property (which may have been purchased during a period of high inflation), high carrying costs (interest, insurance, taxes, maintenance) which exceed income, vacancies and/or inability to finance improvements to increase profits. Too often the result is the collapse of "paper" real estate empires which have been created by risky leveraging.

 

levy 
1) v. to seize (take) property upon a writ of execution (an order to seize property) issued by the court to pay a money judgment granted in a lawsuit. 2) v. the act of a governmental legislative body, such as a board of supervisors or commissioners assessing a tax on all property, all sales, business licenses or any thing or transaction which may be taxed. Thus, the county "levies" a tax on businesses. 3) n. the seizure of property to satisfy a judgment.

 

lewd and lascivious 
adj., adv. references to conduct which includes people living together who are known not to be married, entertainment which aims at arousing the libido or primarily sexual sensation, open solicitation for prostitution or indecent exposure of genitalia (which is itself a crime). Due to the tendency of judges to be overly careful in writing about moral and/or sexual matters, the definitions have been cloaked in old-fashioned modesty. Today the term usually applies to pornography, prostitution and indecent acts.

 

liability 
n. one of the most significant words in the field of law, liability means legal responsibility for one's acts or omissions. Failure of a person or entity to meet that responsibility leaves him/her/it open to a lawsuit for any resulting damages or a court order to perform (as in a breach of contract or violation of statute). In order to win a lawsuit the suing party (plaintiff) must prove the legal liability of the defendant if the plaintiff's allegations are shown to be true. This requires evidence of the duty to act, the failure to fulfill that duty and the connection (proximate cause) of that failure to some injury or harm to the plaintiff. Liability also applies to alleged criminal acts in which the defendant may be responsible for his/her acts which constitute a crime, thus making him/her subject to conviction and punishment. Example: A signer of a promissory note has liability for money due if it is not paid and so would a co-signer who guarantees it. A contractor who has agreed to complete a building has liability to the owner if he fails to complete on time.

 

liable 
adj. responsible or obligated. Thus, a person or entity may be liable for damages due to negligence, liable to pay a debt, liable to perform an act which he/she/it contracted to do, or liable to punishment for commission of a crime. Failure to meet the responsibility or obligation opens one up to a lawsuit, and committing a crime can lead to a criminal prosecution.

 

libel 
1) n. to publish in print (including pictures), writing or broadcast through radio, television or film, an untruth about another which will do harm to that person or his/her reputation, by tending to bring the target into ridicule, hatred, scorn or contempt of others. Libel is the written or broadcast form of defamation, distinguished from slander, which is oral defamation. It is a tort (civil wrong) making the person or entity (like a newspaper, magazine or political organization) open to a lawsuit for damages by the person who can prove the statement about him/her was a lie. Publication need only be to one person, but it must be a statement which claims to be fact and is not clearly identified as an opinion. While it is sometimes said that the person making the libelous statement must have been intentional and malicious, actually it need only be obvious that the statement would do harm and is untrue. Proof of malice, however, does allow a party defamed to sue for general damages, for damage to reputation, while an inadvertent libel limits the damages to actual harm (such as loss of business) called special damages. Libel per se involves statements so vicious that malice is assumed and does not require a proof of intent to get an award of general damages. Libel against the reputation of a person who has died will allow surviving members of the family to bring an action for damages. 2) v. to broadcast or publish a written defamatory statement.

 

libel per se 
n. broadcast or written publication of a false statement about another which accuses him/her of a crime, immoral acts, inability to perform his/her profession, having a loathsome disease or dishonesty in business. Such claims are considered so obviously harmful that malice need not be proved to obtain a judgment for "general damages," and not just specific losses.

 

liberty 
n. freedom from restraint and the power to follow one's own will to choose a course of conduct. Liberty, like freedom, has its inherent restraint to act without harm to others and within the accepted rules of conduct for the benefit of the general public.

 

license 
1) n. governmental permission to perform a particular act (like getting married), conduct a particular business or occupation, operate machinery or vehicles after proving ability to do so safely or use property for a certain purpose. 2) n. the certificate that proves one has been granted authority to do something under governmental license. 3) n. a private grant of right to use real property for a particular purpose, such as putting on a concert. 4) n. a private grant of the right to use some intellectual property such as a patent or musical composition. 5) v. to grant permission by governmental authority or private agreement.

 

licensee 
n. a person given a license by the government or under private agreement. 

 

licensor 
n. a person who gives another a license, particularly a private party doing so, such as a business giving someone a license to sell its products.

 

lie detector test 
n. a popular name for a polygraph which tests the physiological reaction of a person to questions asked by a testing expert. A potential or actual criminal defendant or possible witness cannot be forced or ordered to take a lie detector test. Some habitual liars pass lie detector tests, and innocent, honest people fail them due to nervousness and other factors. However, law enforcement authorities usually believe the results, which occasionally exonerate (clear) a suspect. Since the results are sometimes unreliable, they are not admissible in a trial and may not be referred to.

 

lien 
n. any official claim or charge against property or funds for payment of a debt or an amount owed for services rendered. A lien is usually a formal document signed by the party to whom money is owed and sometimes by the debtor who agrees to the amount due. A lien carries with it the right to sell property, if necessary, to obtain the money. A mortgage or a deed of trust is a form of lien, and any lien against real property must be recorded to be enforceable, including an abstract of judgment which turns a judgment into a lien against the judgment debtor's property. There are numerous types of liens including: a mechanic's lien against the real property upon which a workman, contractor or supplier has provided work or materials, an attorney's lien for fees to be paid from funds recovered by his/her efforts, a medical lien for medical bills to be paid from funds recovered for an injury, a landlord's lien against a tenant's property for unpaid rent or damages, a tax lien to enforce the government's claim of unpaid taxes.

 

lienor 
n. a person who holds a lien on another's property or funds. 

 

life estate 
n. the right to use or occupy real property for one's life. Often this is given to a person (such as a family member) by deed or as a gift under a will with the idea that a younger person would then take the property upon the death of the one who receives the life estate. Title may also return to the person giving or deeding the property or to his/her surviving children or descendants upon the death of the life tenant-this is called "reversion".

 

life without possibility of parole 
n. a sentence sometimes given for particularly vicious criminals in murder cases or to repeat felons, the jury chooses not to impose the death penalty, or the judge feels it is simpler to lock the prisoner up and "throw away the key" rather than invite years of appeals while the prisoner languishes on death row. Opponents of capital punishment often advocate this penalty as a substitute for execution. It guarantees the criminal will not endanger the public, and the prospect of never being outside prison is severe punishment. Contrary arguments are that this penalty does not deter murderers, there is always the possibility of escape or killing a guard or fellow prisoner, or some soft-hearted Governor may someday reduce the sentence.

 

limitation of actions 
n. the period of time in which a person has to file with the clerk of the court or appropriate agency what he/she believes is a valid lawsuit or claim. The period varies greatly depending on what type of case is involved, whether the suit is against the government, whether it is by a minor, and most importantly, in what jurisdiction the right to sue arose.

 

limited jurisdiction 
n. courts' authority over certain types of cases such as bankruptcy, claims against the government, probate, family matters, immigration and customs or limitations on courts' authority to try cases involving maximum amounts of money or value.

 

limited liability 
n. the maximum amount a person participating in a business can lose or be charged in case of claims against the company or its bankruptcy. A stockholder in a corporation can only lose his/her investment, and a limited partner can only lose his/her investment, but a general partner can be responsible for all the debts of the partnership. Parties to a contract can limit the amount each might owe the other, but cannot contract away the rights of a third party to make a claim.

 

limited partnership 
n. a special type of partnership which is very common when people need funding for a business, or when they are putting together an investment in a real estate development. A limited partnership requires a written agreement between the business management, who is (are) general partner or partners, and all of the limited partners. Each limited partner makes an investment of funds into the partnership and is supposed to receive a pre-stated share of the profit, which is ordinarily greater than that of each of the general partners up to a point (such as return of the investment), and, thereafter, the limited partners will receive a lesser share than the general partner(s). The limited partners also will receive the tax benefit of a "passed through" loss (a personal income tax deduction for part of the loss) during the development stages of the partnership when the expenses exceed any receipts. Quite often there is also a provision for eventual buy-out of the limited partners by the general partner(s). The limited partners may not participate in the management decisions of the partnership or they will lose their limited partnership status. They do have the power to vote to remove the general partner(s), although usually the partnership agreement is structured so that such removal is virtually impossible unless the general partner in question has committed fraud. Since the limited investors have no control of the conduct over the partnership, they should make sure they have considerable knowledge about the reputation and record of the general partner(s) and the type of business. In fact, it require that there be some pre-existing acquaintanceship between the general and the limited partners or a detailed prospectus provided by the general partner(s) meeting very stringent and specific requirements of disclosure. In addition to priority in profit, tax deductions, and potential share in the success of the enterprise, the limited partner is "limited" in potential loss, since all he/she can lose is his/her investment, and the general partners alone are subject to claims, debts in bankruptcy and lawsuits against the partnership. Limited partnerships must file their name and names and addresses of general partners with the Secretary of State or other designated officer in the state in which the partnership is created so the public can find out who the responsible parties are. Like a corporation, a limited partnership may not have a name which is too similar to another limited partnership or corporation.

 

lineal descendant 
n. a person who is in direct line to an ancestor, such as child, grandchild, great-grandchild and on forever. A lineal descendant is distinguished from a "collateral" descendant, which would be from the line of a brother, sister, aunt or uncle.

 

lineup 
n. a law enforcement method used in an attempt to have a witness or victim identify a person suspected of committing a crime. The suspect is included in a line of people, including non-criminals and others (such as plainclothesmen, office clerks, etc.). Law enforcement officials ask each person in the lineup to speak and turn to profile, while the witness or victim studies each of them and then is asked which person in the lineup, if any, committed the crime in his/her presence. One danger with this system is that the officers will suggest by manner or tone which is the suspect, or that one person in the lineup appears, by dress or conduct, to seem more suspicious. This type of identification is precarious at best.

 

liquidate 
v. to sell the assets of a business, paying bills and dividing the remainder among shareholders, partners or other investors.

 

liquidated damages 
n. an amount of money agreed upon by both parties to a contract which one will pay to the other upon breaching (breaking or backing out of) the agreement or if a lawsuit arises due to the breach. Sometimes the liquidated damages are the amount of a deposit or a down payment, or are based on a formula (such as 10% of the contract amount). The non-defaulting party may obtain a judgment for the amount of liquidated damages, often based on a stipulation (clear statement) contained in the contract, unless the party who has breached the contract can make a strong showing that the amount of liquidated damages was so "unconscionable" (far too high under the circumstances) that it appears there was fraud, misunderstanding or basic unfairness.

 

lis pendens 
(lease pen-dense) n. Latin for "a suit pending," a written notice that a lawsuit has been filed which concerns the title to real property or some interest in that real property. The lis pendens (or notice of pending action) is filed with the clerk of the court, certified that it has been filed, and then recorded. This gives notice to the defendant who owns real estate that there is a claim on the property, and the recording informs the general public (and particularly anyone interested in buying or financing the property) that there is this potential claim against it. The lis pendens must include a legal description of the real property, and the lawsuit must involve the property. Otherwise, if there is a petition to remove the lis pendens from real property not involved in the lawsuit, the plaintiff who originally recorded a false lis pendens will be subject to payment of attorney's fees as a penalty.

 

literary property 
n. the writings of an author which entitles him/her to the use of the work, including publication, and sale or license for a profit to others who will then have the right to publish it. Literary property includes books, articles, poetry, movie scripts, computer programs and any writing which lends itself to publication or use. A close question can arise when a professional writer sends letters to others: are they literary property? Probably not if they were intended to be just personal communications. To protect any literary work and profits from it, the writer should mark it as copyrighted.

 

litigant 
n. any party to a lawsuit. This means plaintiff, defendant, petitioner, respondent, cross-complainant and cross-defendant, but not a witness or attorney.

 

litigious 
adj. referring to a person who constantly brings or prolongs legal actions, particularly when the legal maneuvers are unnecessary or unfounded. Such persons often enjoy legal battles, controversy, the courtroom, the spotlight, use the courts to punish enemies, seek profit, and pursue minor matters which do not deserve judicial attention. Some of these people are called "professional plaintiffs."

 

living trust 
n. sometimes called an inter vivos (Latin for "within one's life") trust, a trust created by a declaration of trust executed by the trustor or trustors (also called settlor or settlors) during his/her/their lifetime, as distinguished from a "testamentary trust," which is created by a will and only comes into force upon the death of the person who wrote the will. A living trust should not be confused with a "living will," which provides for medical care decisions when a person is terminally ill. While a living trust is a generic name for any trust which comes into existence during the lifetime of the person or persons creating the trust, most commonly it is a trust in which the trustor(s) or settlor(s) receive benefit(s) from the profits of the trust during their lifetimes, followed by a distribution upon the death of the last trustor (settlor) to die, or the trust continues on for the benefit of others (such as the next generation) with profits distributed to them. There are other types of living trusts including irrevocable trust, insurance trust, charitable remainder trust and some specialized trusts to manage some parts of the assets of a person or persons.

 

living will 
n. also called "a durable power of attorney," it is a document authorized by statutes in which a person appoints someone as his/her proxy or representative to make decisions on maintaining extraordinary life support if the person becomes too ill, is in a coma or is certain to die. The basic language has been developed by medical associations or other experts and may provide various choices as to when such maintenance of life can be terminated. The decision must be made in consultation with the patient's doctor. The living will permits a terminal patient to die in dignity and protects the physician or hospital from liability for withdrawing or limiting life support.

 

locus 
(low-cuss) n. Latin for "place," it means "place which" this or that occurred.

 

loiter 
v. to linger or hang around in a public place or business where one has no particular or legal purpose. There are statutes or ordinances against loitering by which the police can arrest someone who refuses to "move along." There is a question as to whether such laws are constitutional. However, there is often another criminal statute or ordinance which can be applied specifically to control aggressive begging, soliciting prostitution, drug dealing, blocking entries to stores, public drunkenness or being a public nuisance.

 

long cause 
n. a lawsuit in which it is estimated that a trial will take more than one day. In many courts the so-called "short cause" cases will be scheduled more quickly than long cause cases, since "short cause" cases are easier to fit into busy court calendars. If a trial estimated as a "short cause" turns out to take longer than one day, the judge may declare a mistrial and force the parties to try the case over again from scratch at a later date as a "long cause."

 

loss 
n. 1) the value placed on injury or damages due to an accident caused by another's negligence, a breach of contract or other wrong doing. The amount of monetary damages can be determined in a lawsuit. 2) when expenses are greater than profits, the difference between the amount of money spent and the income earned.

 

loss of bargain 
n. the inability to complete a sale or other business deal, caused by another's breach of contract, intentional interference with one's business, negligence or some other wrong doing. The amount of monetary damages resulting from this loss can be determined in a lawsuit.

 

loss of consortium 
n. the inability of one's spouse to have normal marital relations, which is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. Such loss arises as a claim for damages when a spouse has been injured and cannot participate in sexual relations for a period of time or permanently due to the injury, or suffers from mental distress, due to a defendant's wrong doing, which interferes with usual sexual activity. Thus, the uninjured spouse can join in the injured mate's lawsuit on a claim of loss of consortium, the value of which is speculative, but can be awarded if the jury (or judge sitting as trier of fact) is sufficiently impressed by the deprivation.

 

loss of use 
n. the inability to use an automobile, premises or some equipment due to damage to the vehicle, premises or articles caused by the negligence or other wrong doing of another. Examples: compensation for each day a car is out of commission during repairs or for the period of non-occupancy while a burned building is restored. A common standard of compensation (payment) is rental value of the automobile or premises, but the period of loss must be "reasonable," meaning the damages will be limited to a period in which a person would normally and promptly proceed to have the vehicle repaired or arrange reconstruction of the building or premises.

 

lower court 
n. 1) any court of lesser rank, 2) a reference in an appeal to the trial court which originally heard the case. Typical language in an appeals decision: "In the lower court, the judge ruled defendant had no basis for…."