LEGAL DICTIONARY

 

M

m. o. 
n. slang for modus operandi, the way or pattern in which a repeat criminal usually commits his/her crime.

 

magistrate 
n. 1) a generic term for any judge of a court, or anyone officially performing a judge's functions. 2) an official who conducts routine hearings assigned by the judges, including preliminary hearings in criminal cases.

 

magna carta 
n. Latin for "Great Charter," it was a document delineating a series of laws establishing the rights of English barons and major landowners and limiting the absolute authority of the King of England. It became the basis for the rights of English citizens. It was signed reluctantly by King John on June 15, 1215, at Runnymede, at a table set up in a field under a canopy surrounded by the armed gentry. The Magna Carta was confirmed by John's son, Henry III, and in turn by Henry's son, Edward I. As John Cowell would write four centuries later: "although this charter consists of not above thirty seven Charters or Lawes yet it is of such extent, as all the Law wee have, is thought in some form to depend on it." Essentially a document for the nobility, it became the basis of individual rights as a part of the English Constitution, which is generally more custom than written documents. It is also spelled Magna Charta.

 

mail box rule 
n. in contract law, making a written offer or acceptance of offer valid if sent in the mail, with postage, within the time in which the offer must be accepted, unless the offer requires acceptance by personal delivery on or before the specified date. The rule may also apply to mailing payments of insurance premiums when due. However, relying on this so-called "rule" can be dangerous, since the party awaiting the acceptance or payment may cancel the offer if there is no response in hand when the time runs out.

 

maim 
v. to inflict a serious bodily injury, including mutilation or any harm which limits the victim's ability to function physically. Originally, in English common law it meant to cut off or permanently cripple a body part like an arm, leg, hand or foot. In criminal law, such serious harm becomes an "aggravated" assault, which is a felony subject to a prison term.

 

majority 
n. 1) the age when a person can exercise all normal legal rights, including contracting and voting. It is 18. 2) 50 percent, plus one of votes cast.

 

make 
v. 1) to create something. 2) to sign a check, promissory note, bill of exchange or some other note which guarantees, promises or orders payment of money.

 

make one whole 
v. to pay or award damages sufficient to put the party who was damaged back into the position he/she would have been in without the fault of another. 

 

maker 
n. 1) the person who signs a check or promissory note, which makes him/her responsible for payment. 2) a person who endorses a check or note over to another person before it is delivered, making the endorser obligated to pay until it is delivered.

 

malfeasance 
n. intentionally doing something either legally or morally wrong which one had no right to do. It always involves dishonesty, illegality or knowingly exceeding authority for improper reasons. Malfeasance is distinguished from "misfeasance," which is committing a wrong or error by mistake, negligence or inadvertence, but not by intentional wrongdoing.

 

malice 
n. a conscious, intentional wrongdoing either of a civil wrong like libel (false written statement about another) or a criminal act like assault or murder, with the intention of doing harm to the victim. This intention includes ill-will, hatred or total disregard for the other's well-being. Often the mean nature of the act itself implies malice, without the party saying "I did it because I was mad at him, and I hated him", which would be express malice. Malice is an element in first degree murder. In a lawsuit for defamation (libel and slander) the existence of malice may increase the judgment to include general damages. Proof of malice is absolutely necessary for a "public figure" to win a lawsuit for defamation.

 

malice aforethought 
n. 1) the conscious intent to cause death or great bodily harm to another person before a person commits the crime. Such malice is a required element to prove first degree murder. 2) a general evil and depraved state of mind in which the person is unconcerned for the lives of others. Thus, if a person uses a gun to hold up a bank and an innocent bystander is killed in a shoot-out with police, there is malice aforethought.

 

malicious prosecution 
n. filing a lawsuit with the intention of creating problems for the defendant such as costs, attorneys' fees, anguish, or distraction when there is no substantial basis for the suit. If the defendant in the lawsuit wins and has evidence that the suit was filed out of spite and without any legal or factual foundation, he/she may, in turn, sue for damages against the person who filed the original action. If malice is clearly proved against the party who brought the original suit, punitive damages may be awarded along with special and general damages. In recent cases, courts have ruled that an attorney who knowingly assists a client in filing a worthless lawsuit out of malice or spite may be liable for damages along with the client. The suit by the victim to recover damages for a malicious prosecution cannot be filed until the original lawsuit is decided in favor of the victim.

 

malpractice 
n. An act or continuing conduct of a professional which does not meet the standard of professional competence and results in provable damages to his/her client or patient. Such an error or omission may be through negligence, ignorance (when the professional should have known), or intentional wrongdoing. However, malpractice does not include the exercise of professional judgment even when the results are detrimental to the client or patient. Except in cases of extremely obvious or intentional wrongs, in order to prove malpractice there must be testimony of an expert as to the acceptable standard of care applied to the specific act or conduct which is claimed to be malpractice and testimony of the expert that the professional did not meet that standard. The defendant then can produce his/her own expert to counter that testimony. Professions which are subject to lawsuits based on claims of malpractice include lawyers, physicians, dentists, hospitals, accountants, architects, engineers and real estate brokers.

 

malum in se 
(mal-uhm in say) adv. Latin referring to an act that is "wrong in itself", in its very nature being illegal because it violates the natural, moral or public principles of a civilized society. In criminal law it is one of the collection of crimes which are traditional and not just created by statute, which are "malum prohibitum".

 

malum prohibitum 
(mal-uhm prohibit-uhm) adj. Latin meaning "wrong due to being prohibited", which refers to crimes made so by statute, compared to crimes based on English common law and obvious violations of society's standards which are defined as malum in se. Statutory crimes include criminal violations of regulatory acts, "white collar crimes" such as improper use of insider information, issuance of stocks without a permit which are intentionally not supported by real assets and tax avoidance.

 

mandamus 
(man-dame-us) n. Latin for "we order", a writ (more modernly called a "writ of mandate") which orders a public agency or governmental body to perform an act required by law when it has neglected or refused to do so.

 

mandate 
n. 1) any mandatory order or requirement under statute, regulation, or by a public agency. 2) order of an appeals court to a lower court (usually the original trial court in the case) to comply with an appeals court's ruling, such as holding a new trial, dismissing the case or releasing a prisoner whose conviction has been overturned. 3) same as the writ of mandamus, which orders a public official or public body to comply with the law.

 

mandatory 
adj., adv. absolutely demanded or required.

 

mandatory joinder 
n. the required inclusion of a party in a lawsuit whom the court finds is absolutely necessary to a resolution of all issues in the case. 

 

manifest 
1) adj., adv. completely obvious or evident. 2) n. a written list of goods in a shipment.

 

manslaughter 
n. the unlawful killing of another person without premeditation or so-called "malice aforethought" (an evil intent prior to the killing). It is distinguished from murder (which brings greater penalties) by lack of any prior intention to kill anyone or create a deadly situation. There are two levels of manslaughter: voluntary and involuntary. Voluntary manslaughter includes killing in heat of passion or while committing a felony. Involuntary manslaughter occurs when a death is caused by a violation of a non-felony, such as reckless driving (called "vehicular manslaughter").

 

marital deduction 
n. an estate tax deduction allowed a surviving spouse of half of the value of the estate of the deceased spouse. In trusts which a married couple creates, they can agree that on the death of the first to go, the amount of the property which is given to the survivor is limited to the amount which will not be subject to estate tax, thus delaying some or all estate tax until the death of the surviving spouse. Such trust provisions should be written only by an attorney and with consultation with an accountant or financial adviser.

 

marital rights 
n. an old-fashioned expression for the rights of a husband (not rights of a wife) to sexual relations with his wife and to control her operation of the household. 

 

maritime law 
n. Also called "admiralty law" or "the law of admiralty," the laws and regulations, including international agreements and treaties, which exclusively govern activities at sea or in any navigable waters.

 

mark 
n. an "X" made by a person who is illiterate or too weak to sign his/her full name. If the mark is intended as a signature to a will it should be formally witnessed (as signatures are) to make the will valid.

 

marked for identification 
adj. documents or objects presented during a trial before there has been testimony which confirms their authenticity and/or relevancy. Each item is given an exhibit identification letter or number and thus is marked for identification. The marked exhibits are actually introduced into evidence (made part of the official record) upon request of the lawyer offering the evidence and approval by the judge or by stipulation of both attorneys. Occasionally an exhibit marked for identification is rejected as evidence due to the judge agreeing (sustaining) with an opposing lawyer's objection such as for lack of relevancy or failure to show it is genuine or best evidence. 

 

market value 
n. the price which a seller of property would receive in an open market by negotiation, as distinguished from a "distress" price on a forced or foreclosure sale, or from an auction. Market value of real property is normally determined by a professional appraiser who makes comparisons to similar property sales in the area, which are often called "comparables".

 

marketable title 
n. the title to real property which has no encumbrances (mortgage, deed of trust, lien or claim) and which is free of any reasonable objection (excluding minor mistakes in the description or typographical errors). A court will enforce a contract to buy and sell real estate if there is marketable title.

 

marriage 
n. the joining of a male and female in matrimony by a person qualified by law to perform the ceremony (a priest, judge, or some similar official). The minimum age for marriage is 18. Marriages in which the age requirements are not met can be annulled.

 

marshal 
1) n. a court official who may serve papers and act as a law enforcement officer in keeping order in court, protecting officials, making arrests or participating in court-ordered police activities. 2) n. a law enforcement officer, who serves official documents and occasionally assists in police matters. 3) v. to collect the assets of the estate of a person who has died. This is a function of an executor or administrator of an estate. Sometimes the executor or administrator may ask the court to allow the sale or division of gifts in order to achieve the distribution the testator (writer of a will) desired. This is part of the marshaling process. 4) v. in bankruptcy, to establish priorities among creditors.

 

master 
n. 1) employer, in the area of law known as "master and servant", which more properly should be called employer and employee. 2) a person, supposedly with special expertise, appointed by a judge to investigate a problem (such as whether a parent's home is appropriate for child visitation) and report back to the judge his/her findings and recommendations.

 

master and servant 
n. the body of law, including statutes and legal decisions which are precedents, which relates to the relationship of an employer and employee.

 

material 
adj. relevant and significant. In a lawsuit, "material evidence" is distinguished from totally irrelevant or of such minor importance that the court will either ignore it, rule it immaterial if objected to, or not allow lengthy testimony upon such a matter. A "material breach" of a contract is a valid excuse by the other party not to perform. However, an insignificant divergence from the terms of the contract is not a material breach.

 

material representation 
n. a convincing statement made to induce someone to enter into a contract to which the person would not have agreed without that assertion. Thus, if the material representation proves not to be true or to be misleading, the contract can be rescinded or cancelled without liability.

 

material witness 
n. a person who apparently has information about the subject matter of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which is significant enough to affect the outcome of the case or trial. Thus, the court must make every reasonable effort to allow such a witness to testify, including a continuance (delay in a trial) to accommodate him/her if late or temporarily unavailable.

 

matter of record 
n. anything, including testimony, evidence, rulings and sometimes arguments, which has been recorded by the court reporter or court clerk. It is an expression often heard in trials and legal arguments that "such and such is a matter of record" as distinguished from actions outside the court or discussions not written down or taped.

 

maturity 
n. 1) the date when the payment of the principal amount owed under the terms of a promissory note or bill of exchange becomes due. Quite often a note states that failure to pay interest or installment payments when due "accelerates" the note, making the "maturity date" immediate if such payments are demanded and not paid. 2) the age when one becomes an adult, which is 18 for most purposes.

 

maxims 
n. a collection of legal truisms which are used as "rules of thumb" by both judges and lawyers. They are listed in the codified statutes, and include: "When the reason of a rule ceases, so should the rule itself".

 

may 
v. a choice to act or not, or a promise of a possibility, as distinguished from "shall," which makes it imperative. 2) in statutes, and sometimes in contracts, the word "may" must be read in context to determine if it means an act is optional or mandatory, for it may be an imperative. The same careful analysis must be made of the word "shall". Non-lawyers tend to see the word "may" and think they have a choice or are excused from complying with some statutory provision or regulation.

 

mayhem 
1) n. the criminal act of disabling, disfiguring or cutting off or making useless one of the members (leg, arm, hand, foot, eye) of another either intentionally or in a fight, called maiming. The serious nature of the injury makes mayhem a felony, which is called "aggravated assault". 2) v. to commit mayhem is to cause gross harm in an uncontrolled fashion.

 

mechanic's lien 
n. the right of a craftsman, laborer, supplier, architect or other person who has worked upon improvements or delivered materials to a particular parcel of real estate (either as an employee of the owner or as a sub-contractor to a general contractor) to place a lien on that real property for the value of the services and/or materials if not paid. Numerous other technical laws surround mechanic's liens, including requirements of prompt written notice to the owner of the property (even before the general contractor has been tardy in making payment), limits on the amount collectable, and various time limitations to enforce the lien. Ultimate, last-resort enforcement of the mechanic's lien is accomplished by filing a lawsuit to foreclose the lien and have the property sold in order to be paid. Property owners should make sure that their general contractors pay their employees or subcontractors to avoid a mechanic's lien, since the owner could be forced to pay the debts of a general contractor even though the owner has already paid the contractor. If the worker or supplier does not sue to enforce the mechanic's lien, he/she may still sue for the debt.

 

mediation 
n. the attempt to settle a legal dispute through active participation of a third party (mediator) who works to find points of agreement and make those in conflict agree on a fair result. Mediation differs from arbitration, in which the third party (arbitrator) acts much like a judge in an out-of-court, less formal setting but does not actively participate in the discussion. Mediation has become very common in trying to resolve domestic relations disputes (divorce, child custody, visitation) and is often ordered by the judge in such cases. Mediation also has become more frequent in contract and civil damage cases. There are professional mediators or lawyers who do some mediation for substantial fees, but the financial cost is less than fighting the matter out in court and may achieve early settlement and an end to anxiety. However, mediation does not always result in a settlement.

 

mediator 
n. a person who conducts mediation. A mediator is usually a lawyer or retired judge but can be a non-attorney specialist in the subject matter (like child custody) who tries to bring people and their disputes to early resolution through a conference. The mediator is an active participant in the discussions and attempts to work out a solution, unlike an arbitrator, who sits as a judge.

 

meet and confer 
n. a requirement of courts that before certain types of motions and/or petitions will be heard by the judge, the lawyers (and sometimes their clients) must "meet and confer" to try to resolve the matter or at least determine the points of conflict. This has the beneficial effect of resolving many matters, reducing the time for arguments and making the lawyers and clients face up to the realities of their positions. On the other hand, it also can be a total waste of time for the parties and their attorneys. The meet and confer rule is particularly common (and useful) in domestic relations disputes over temporary support, custody, visitation and such issues which are freighted with emotion.

 

meeting of the minds 
n. when two parties to an agreement (contract) both have the same understanding of the terms of the agreement. Such mutual comprehension is essential to a valid contract. It is provable by the express provisions of a written contract, without reference to any statements or hidden thoughts outside the writing.

 

memorandum 
n. 1) a brief writing, note, summary or outline. 2) A "memorandum of decision," or "memorandum opinion," is a brief statement by a judge announcing his/her ruling without detail or giving extensive reasons, which may or may not be followed by a more comprehensive written decision. Such memoranda (plural) are issued by appeals courts in language such as: "The decision below is affirmed".

 

mens rea 
(menz ray-ah) n. Latin for a "guilty mind," or criminal intent in committing the act.

 

mental anguish 
n. mental suffering which includes fright, feelings of distress, anxiety, depression, grief and/or psychosomatic physical symptoms. It is distinguished from physical pain due to an injury, but it may be considered in awarding damages for physical injury due to a defendant's negligence or intentional infliction of harm. Where there is no physical injury, damages can still be awarded for mental anguish if it is reasonable to presume such would naturally flow from the incident. Examples: holding a pistol to one's head, any threat of bodily harm when it appears it could be carried out, swinging with a scythe even though the assailant missed, or witnessing injury or death to a loved one. There are also situations in which the obvious result of the alleged wrongdoing would be mental distress due to embarrassment or damage to one's reputation through libel, and therefore damages can be awarded to the distressed party. However, there are limits: in general, breach of contract judgments cannot include damages for mental anguish due to the loss of a deal or employment.

 

mental competency 
n. See also: competent 

 

mental cruelty 
n. a term, rapidly going out of fashion and out of the statutes, which has been used to justify granting a divorce when the law required that some wrong had to be found in the defending spouse. In absence of actual physical cruelty (or unwillingness to discuss it) the person wanting the divorce could testify to a list of indignities ("he swore at me, he came home late, he humiliated me in front of friends, he was hateful to my mother" or similar tales told about the wife) which would be verified by a relative or a friend to satisfy the judge that the petitioning spouse would suffer mental harm if the marriage continued and proved that there were grounds for a divorce.

 

mental suffering 
n. emotional pain synonymous with "mental anguish".

 

mercantile law 
n. that broad area of the law (also called commercial law), statutes, cases and customs which deal with trade, sales, buying, selling, transportation, contracts and all forms of business transactions.

 

merchantable 
adj. a product of a high enough quality to make it fit for sale. To be merchantable an article for sale must be usable for the purpose it is made. It must be of average worth (not necessarily special) in the marketplace and must not be broken, unworkable, damaged, contaminated or flawed.

 

merger 
n. 1) in corporate law, the joining together of two corporations in which one corporation transfers all of its assets to the other, which continues to exist. In effect one corporation "swallows" the other, but the shareholders of the swallowed company receive shares of the surviving corporation. A merger is distinguished from a "consolidation," in which both companies join together to create a new corporation. 2) in real property law, when an owner of an interest in property acquires a greater or lesser interest in the same property, the two interests become one. Examples: a person with a life estate is given the title to the property by inheritance, the life estate is merged with the titled interest. 3) another important form of merger occurs when a person acquires two parcels of land which were once a single lot that had been divided into two lots by a "lot split" granted by the city or county. If the minimum lot size has been increased by changes in local ordinances and the two lots are now sub-standard size, the buyer who acquires title in the two lots may find that they are "merged" into one lot and he or she has lost the right to build a house on each lot. To avoid this problem, the buyer should make sure title in each lot is obtained under a different name, i.e. husband taking one, and wife the other.

 

mesne 
(mean, with a silent s) adj. from Norman French for intermediate, the middle point between two extremes. It is seldom used, except in reference to "mesne profits."

 

mesne profits 
n. profits which have accrued while there was a dispute over land ownership. If it is determined the party using the land did not have legal ownership, the true owner can sue for some or all of the profits made in the interim by the illegal tenant, which are thus called "mesne profits".

 

metes and bounds 
(meets and bounds) n. a surveyor's description of a parcel of real property, using carefully measured distances, angles and directions, which results in what is called a "legal description" of the land, as distinguished from merely a street address or parcel number. Such a metes and bounds description is required to be recorded in official county records on a subdivision map and in the deeds when the boundaries of a parcel or lot are first drawn.

 

military law 
n. regulations governing the conduct of men and women in the armed services in relation to their military (not civilian) activities. 

 

mining claim 
n. a description by boundaries of real property in which metal ore and/or minerals may be located. 

 

minor 
n. someone under legal age, which is generally 18, except for certain purposes such as drinking alcoholic beverages.

 

minority 
n. 1) in voting, a side with less than half the votes. 2) a term for people who are less in number by population in a particular region. 3) the period of life under legal age.

 

minutes 
n. 1) the written record of meetings, particularly of boards of directors and/or shareholders of corporations, kept by the secretary of the corporation or organization. 2) the record of courtroom proceedings, such as the start and recess of hearings and trials, names of attorneys, witnesses and rulings of the court, kept by the clerk of the court or the judge. Such court minutes are not a transcript of everything that is said, which is taken down by the court reporter if recorded at all.

 

mirror wills 
n. the wills of a husband and wife which are identical except that each leaves the same gifts to the other, and each names the other as executor.

 

misadventure 
n. a death due to unintentional accident without any violation of law or criminal negligence. Thus, there is no crime.

 

misappropriation 
n. the intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one's own use or other unauthorized purpose, particularly by a public official, a trustee of a trust, an executor or administrator of a dead person's estate or by any person with a responsibility to care for and protect another's assets (a fiduciary duty). It is a felony (a crime punishable by a prison sentence).

 

misdemeanor 
n. a lesser crime punishable by a fine and/or county jail time for up to one year. Misdemeanors are distinguished from felonies, which can be punished by a prison term. They are tried in the lowest local court such as municipal courts. Typical misdemeanors include: petty theft, disturbing the peace, simple assault and battery, drunk driving without injury to others, drunkenness in public, various traffic violations, public nuisances.

 

misfeasance 
n. management of a business, public office or other responsibility in which there are errors and an unfortunate result through mistake or carelessness, but without evil intent and/or violation of law. Misfeasance is distinguished from "malfeasance", which is intentional conduct in violation of the law.

 

misjoinder 
n. the inclusion of parties (plaintiffs or defendants) or causes of action (legal claims) in a single lawsuit contrary to statute. Reasons for a court ruling that there is misjoinder include: a) the parties do not have the same rights to a judgment; b) they have conflicting interests; c) the situations in each claim (cause of action) are different or contradictory; or d) the defendants are not involved (even slightly) in the same transaction. In a criminal prosecution the most common cause for misjoinder is that the defendants were involved in different alleged crimes, or the charges are based on different transactions.

 

misnomer 
n. the wrong name. 

 

misprision of a felony 
n. the crime of concealing another's felony (serious crime) from law enforcement officers. 

 

misrepresentation 
n. the crime of mis-stating facts to obtain money, goods or benefits of another to which the accused is not entitled. Examples: a person a) falsely claims to represent a charity to obtain a donation which he/she keeps; b) says a painting is a genuine when it is a fake and thus is able to sell it for a price much greater than its true value. Misrepresentation is also called "false pretenses".

 

mistake 
n. 1) an error in comprehending facts, meaning of words or the law, which causes one party or both parties to enter into a contract without understanding the obligations or results. Such a mistake can entitle one party or both parties to a rescission (cancellation) of the contract. A mistaken understanding of the law (as distinguished from facts) by one party only is usually no basis for rescission since "ignorance of the law is no excuse". 2) an error discovered to be incorrect at a later time.

 

mistrial 
n. the termination of a trial before its normal conclusion because of a procedural error, statements by a witness, judge or attorney which prejudice a jury, a deadlock by a jury without reaching a verdict after lengthy deliberation (a "hung" jury), or the failure to complete a trial within the time set by the court. When such situations arise, the judge, either on his own initiative or upon the motion (request) of one of the parties will "declare a mistrial", dismiss the jury if there is one and direct that the lawsuit or criminal prosecution be set for trial again, starting from the beginning.

 

mitigating circumstances 
n. in criminal law, conditions or happenings which do not excuse or justify criminal conduct, but are considered out of mercy or fairness in deciding the degree of the offense the prosecutor charges or influencing reduction of the penalty upon conviction. Example: a young man shoots his father after years of being beaten, belittled, sworn at and treated without love. "Diminished capacity" are forms of such mitigating circumstances.

 

mitigation of damages 
n. the requirement that someone injured by another's negligence or breach of contract must take reasonable steps to reduce the damages, injury or cost, and to prevent them from getting worse. Thus, a person claiming to have been injured by another motorist should seek medical help and not let the problem worsen. If a tenant moves out before a lease has expired, a landlord must make reasonable attempts to re-let the property and take in some rents (which are credited against the amount remainder of the lease) to mitigate his/her loss.

 

modification 
n. a change in an existing court order or judgment made necessary by a change in circumstances since the order or judgment was made or to cure an error. A motion (petition) to the court for modification is common after divorce judgments because the courts "retain jurisdiction" over matters concerning the children which may need changes such as terms of child support and custody.

 

modus operandi 
(mode-us ah-purr-and-ee or ah-purr-and-eye) n. from Latin, a criminal investigation term for "way of operating", which may prove the accused has a pattern of repeating the same criminal acts using the same method. Examples: a repeat offender always wore a blue ski mask and used a sawed-off shotgun, climbed up trellises to burglarize, pretended to be a telephone repairman to gain entrance or set up phoney companies to disguise a fraudulent scheme.

 

moiety 
(moy-et-tee) n. half. Generally a reference to interest in real property, moiety is seldom used today.

 

molestation 
n. the crime of sexual acts with children up to the age of 18, including touching of private parts, exposure of genitalia, taking of pornographic pictures, rape, inducement of sexual acts with the molester or with other children and variations of these acts by pedophiles. Molestation also applies to incest by a relative with a minor family member and any unwanted sexual acts with adults short of rape.

 

monopoly 
n. a business or inter-related group of businesses which controls so much of the production or sale of a product or kind of product as to control the market, including prices and distribution. Business practices, combinations and/or acquisitions which tend to create a monopoly may violate various statutes which regulate or prohibit business trusts and monopolies or prohibit restraint of trade. However, limited monopolies granted by a manufacturer to a wholesaler in a particular area are usually legal, since they are like "licenses". Public utilities such as electric, gas and water companies may also hold a monopoly in a particular geographic area since it is the only practical way to provide the public service, and they are regulated by state public utility commissions.

 

month-to-month 
adj. referring to a tenancy in which the tenant pays monthly rent and has no lease, and the tenancy can be terminated by the landlord at any time on thirty days notice.

 

monument 
n. 1) an established landmark which a surveyor uses as part of a legal description of real property. 2) a building or other structure of historic importance, which may be recognized formally and marked by central, state or local agencies, and therefore may not be torn down or substantially altered.

 

moot 
adj. 1) unsettled, open to argument or debatable, specifically about a legal question which has not been determined by any decision of any court. 2) an issue only of academic interest.

 

moot court 
n. law school exercise in which students argue both sides of an appeal from a fictitious lawsuit in a mock court. There are also moot court contests between teams from different law schools. 

 

moot point 
n. 1) a legal question which no court has decided, so it is still debatable or unsettled. 2) an issue only of academic interest.

 

moral certainty 
n. in a criminal trial, the reasonable belief (but falling short of absolute certainty) of the trier of the fact (jury or judge sitting without a jury) that the evidence shows the defendant is guilty. Moral certainty is another way of saying "beyond a reasonable doubt". Since there is no exact measure of certainty it is always somewhat subjective and based on "reasonable" opinions of judge and/or jury.

 

moral turpitude 
n. gross violation of standards of moral conduct, vileness. An act involving moral turpitude is considered intentionally evil, making the act a crime. The existence of moral turpitude can bring a more severe criminal charge or penalty for a criminal defendant.

 

moratorium 
n. 1) any suspension of activity, particularly voluntary suspension of collections of debts by a private enterprise or by government or pursuant to court order. 2) in bankruptcy, a halt to the right to collect a debt. In times of economic crisis or a natural disaster like a flood or earthquake, there may be a moratorium on foreclosures or mortgage payments until the public can get back to normal activities and earnings.

 

mortgage 
n. a document in which the owner pledges his/her/its title to real property to a lender as security for a loan described in a promissory note. Mortgage is an old English term derived from two French words "mort" and "gage" meaning "dead pledge." To be enforceable the mortgage must be signed by the owner (borrower), acknowledged before a notary public, and recorded with the Recorder of Deeds. If the owner (mortgagor) fails to make payments on the promissory note (becomes delinquent) then the lender (mortgagee) can foreclose on the mortgage to force a sale of the real property to obtain payment from the proceeds, or obtain the property itself at a court sale upon foreclosure. However, catching up on delinquent payments and paying costs of foreclosure ("curing the default") can save the property. A purchase-money mortgage is one given by a purchaser to a seller of real property as partial payment. A mortgagor may sell the property either "subject to a mortgage" in which the property is still security and the seller is still liable for payment, or the buyer "assumes the mortgage" and becomes personally responsible for payment of the loan. Under English common law a mortgage was an actual transfer of title to the lender, with the borrower having the right to occupy the property while it was in effect, but non-payment ended the right of occupation.

 

mortgagee 
n. the person or business making a loan that is secured by the real property of the person (mortgagor) who owes him/her/it money. 

 

mortgagor 
n. the person who has borrowed money and pledged his/her real property as security for the money provided by the lender (mortgagee). 

 

motion 
n. a formal request made to a judge for an order or judgment. Motions are made in court all the time for many purposes: to continue (postpone) a trial to a later date, to get a modification of an order, for temporary child support, for a judgment, for dismissal of the opposing party's case, for a rehearing, for sanctions (payment of the moving party's costs or attorney's fees), or for dozens of other purposes. Most motions require a written petition, a written brief of legal reasons for granting the motion (often called "points and authorities"), written notice to the attorney for the opposing party and a hearing before a judge. However, during a trial or a hearing, an oral motion may be permitted.

 

motion for a new trial 
n. a request made by the loser for the case to be tried again on the basis that there were significant legal errors in the way the trial was conducted and/or the jury or the judge sitting without a jury obviously came to an incorrect result. This motion must be made within a few days after the judgment is formally entered and is usually heard by the same judge who presided at the trial. 

 

motion for a summary judgment 
n. a written request for a judgment in the moving party's favor before a lawsuit goes to trial and based on testimony recorded outside court, affidavits (declarations under penalty of perjury), depositions, admissions of fact and/or answers to written interrogatories, claiming that all factual and legal issues can be decided in the moving party's favor. These alleged facts are accompanied by a written legal brief (points and authorities) in support of the motion. The opposing party needs to show by affidavits, written declarations or points and authorities (written legal argument in support of the motion) that there are "triable issues of fact" and/or of law by points and authorities. If there are any triable issues the motion must be denied and the case can go to trial. Sometimes, if there are several claims (causes of action) such a motion may cause the judge to find (decide) that some causes of action can be decided under the motion, leaving fewer matters actually to be tried.

 

motion for dismissal 
(non-suit) n. application by a defendant in a lawsuit or criminal prosecution asking the judge to rule that the plaintiff (the party who filed the lawsuit) or the prosecution has not and cannot prove its case. Attorneys most often make this motion after the plaintiff or prosecutor has presented all the evidence they have, but they can make it at the end of the evidence presentation but before judgment or upon evidence being presented that proves to the judge that the defendant cannot lose. Quite often this is an oral motion, and arguments are made in the judge's chambers where the jury cannot hear. It is also sometimes called a motion for nonsuit.

 

motion in limine 
(lim-in-nay) n. Latin for "threshold," a motion made at the start of a trial requesting that the judge rule that certain evidence may not be introduced in trial.

 

motion to strike 
n. a request for a judge's order to eliminate all or a portion of the legal pleading (complaint, answer) of the opposition on any one of several grounds. It is often used in an attempt to have an entire cause of action removed ("stricken") from the court record. A motion to strike is also made orally during trial to ask the judge to order "stricken" answers by a witness in violation of rules of evidence (laws covering what is admissible in trial). Even though the jury is admonished to ignore such an answer or some comment, the jury has heard it, and "a bell once rung, cannot be unrung".

 

motion to suppress 
n. a motion (usually on behalf of a criminal defendant) to disallow certain evidence in an upcoming trial. 

 

motive 
n. in criminal investigation the probable reason a person committed a crime, such as jealousy, greed, revenge or part of a theft. While evidence of a motive may be admissible at trial, proof of motive is not necessary to prove a crime.

 

mouthpiece 
n. old-fashioned slang for one's lawyer. 

 

movant 
n. the party in a lawsuit or other legal proceeding who makes a motion (application for a court order or judgment). 

 

move 
v. to make a motion in court applying for a court order or judgment. 

 

multifarious 
adj., adv. reference to a lawsuit in which either party or various causes of action (claims based on different legal theories) are improperly joined together in the same suit. This is more commonly called misjoinder.

 

multiplicity of suits 
n. several actual or potential lawsuits which should be joined together in one suit and one trial. It is a basic principle of law that multiplicity is to be avoided when possible, practical and fair. Example: several suits are filed by different people against the same person or entity, based on the same set of facts and the same legal issues. On motion of either party or by the judge's own determination, the judge can order the cases consolidated.

 

municipal 
adj. referring to an incorporated or chartered city or town. 

 

municipal court 
n. a lower court which usually tries criminal misdemeanors and civil lawsuits involving lesser amounts of money than district courts. 

 

muniment of title 
n. documentary evidence of title to real property. A muniment could be a deed, a decree of distribution proving inheritance, or a contract of sale.

 

murder 
n. the killing of a human being by a sane person, with intent, malice aforethought (prior intention to kill the particular victim or anyone who gets in the way) and with no legal excuse or authority. In those clear circumstances, this is first degree murder. By statute, a killing in which there is torture, movement of the person before the killing (kidnapping) or the death of a police officer or prison guard, or it was as an incident to another crime (as during a hold-up or rape), to be first degree murder, with or without premeditation and with malice presumed. Second degree murder is such a killing without premeditation, as in the heat of passion or in a sudden quarrel or fight. Malice in second degree murder may be implied from a death due to the reckless lack of concern for the life of others (such as firing a gun into a crowd or bashing someone with any deadly weapon). Depending on the circumstances and law, murder in the first or second degree may be chargeable to a person who did not actually kill, but was involved in a crime with a partner who actually did the killing or someone died as the result of the crime. A charge of murder requires that the victim must die within a year of the attack. Death of an unborn child who is "quick" (fetus is moving) can be murder, provided there was premeditation, malice and no legal authority. Thus, abortion is not murder under the law.

 

mutual 
adj., adv. referring to anything in which both parties have reciprocal rights, understanding or agreement.

 

mutual wills 
n. wills made by two people (usually spouses, but could be "partners") in which each gives his/her estate to the other, or with dispositions they both agree upon. A later change by either is not invalid unless it can be proved that there was a contract in which each makes the will in the consideration for the other person making the will.

 

N

n.o.v. 
adj. shorthand acronym of Latin for non obstante veredicto (nahn ahb-stan-tuh very-dick-toe) meaning "notwithstanding the verdict," referring to a decision of a judge to set aside (reverse) a jury's decision in favor of one party in a lawsuit or a guilty verdict when the judge is convinced the judgment is not reasonably supported by the facts and/or the law. The result is called a "judgment N.O.V." Granting a motion for such a ruling means the court realizes it should have directed the jury to reach an opposite verdict in the first place.

 

natural person 
n. a real human being, as distinguished from a corporation, which is often treated at law as a fictitious person.

 

necessary 
adj., adv. 1) essential. 2) less forcefully, it can mean convenient, useful or making good sense.

 

necessary inference 
n. 1) a conclusion militated by reason and logic applied to known facts. 2) unavoidable meaning. 

 

necessary party 
n. a person or entity whose interests will be affected by the outcome of a lawsuit, whose absence as a party in the suit prevents a judgment on all issues, but who cannot be joined in the lawsuit because that would deny jurisdiction to the particular court. In this rare technical situation, a necessary party who is not in the suit differs from an "indispensable party," who must be joined if the lawsuit is to proceed, and from a "proper party," who could be joined but is not essential.

 

negative declaration 
n. a finding by a city council or other local government that a proposed development or project would have no effect on the environment and therefore the developer need not prepare and file an "environmental impact report."

 

negative pregnant 
n. a denial of an allegation in which a person actually admits more than he/she denies by denying only a part of the alleged fact. Example: Plaintiff alleges Defendant "misused more than a hundred thousand rupees placed in his trust in 1994." Defendant denies the amount was more than a hundred thousand, and denies it was given to him in 1994. Thus, he did not deny the misuse, just the amount and the date.

 

negligence 
n. failure to exercise the care toward others which a reasonable or prudent person would do in the circumstances, or taking action which such a reasonable person would not. Negligence is accidental as distinguished from "intentional torts" (assault or trespass, for example) or from crimes, but a crime can also constitute negligence, such as reckless driving. Negligence can result in all types of accidents causing physical and/or property damage, but can also include business errors and miscalculations, such as a sloppy land survey. In making a claim for damages based on an allegation of another's negligence, the injured party (plaintiff) must prove: a) that the party alleged to be negligent had a duty to the injured party-specifically to the one injured or to the general public, b) that the defendant's action (or failure to act) was negligent-not what a reasonably prudent person would have done, c) that the damages were caused ("proximately caused") by the negligence. An added factor in the formula for determining negligence is whether the damages were "reasonably foreseeable" at the time of the alleged carelessness. If the injury is caused by something owned or controlled by the supposedly negligent party, but how the accident actually occurred is not known (like a ton of bricks falls from a construction job), negligence can be found based on the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor (Latin for "the thing speaks for itself").

 

negligence per se 
(purr say) n. negligence due to the violation of a public duty, such as high speed driving.

 

negligent 
adj., adv. careless in not fulfilling responsibility.

 

negotiable instrument 
n. check, promissory note, bill of exchange, security or any document representing money payable which can be transferred to another by handing it over (delivery) and/or endorsing it (signing one's name on the back either with no instructions or directing it to another, such as "pay to the order of Ravi Shankar").

 

negotiation 
n. 1) the transfer of a check, promissory note, bill of exchange or other negotiable instrument to another for money, goods, services or other benefit. 2) give-and-take discussion or conference in an attempt to reach an agreement or settle a dispute.

 

net 
n., adj. the amount of money or value remaining after all costs, losses, taxes, depreciation of value and other expenses and deductions have been paid and/or subtracted. Thus the term is used in net profit, net income, net loss, net worth or net estate.

 

net estate 
n. the remaining estate of a person who has died, calculated by taking the value of all assets and subtracting all debts of the person who died, including funeral costs, expenses of administering the estate and any other allowable deductions.

 

new matter 
n. newly claimed facts or legal issues raised (brought up) by a defendant (the party being sued) to defend himself/herself/itself beyond just denying the allegations in the complaint filed by the person bringing the lawsuit (plaintiff). Such new matters are called "affirmative defenses."

 

next friend 
n. a person (often a relative) who voluntarily helps a minor or incompetent in legal matters, particularly by filing a lawsuit.

 

next of kin 
n. 1) the nearest blood relatives of a person who has died, including the surviving spouse. 2) anyone who would receive a portion of the estate by the laws of descent and distribution if there is no will.

 

nihil 
(ni [as in it]-hill) n. from Latin for nothing. 

 

nil 
n. from Latin nihil, nothing or zero.

 

nisi prius 
(nee-see pree-us) adj. Latin for "unless first," in some jurisdictions it means the original trial court which heard a case as distinguished from a court of appeals, as in court nisi prius. "Court of original jurisdiction" is often substituted for the term nisi prius.

 

no contest 
n. in criminal law, a defendant's plea in court that he/she will not contest the charge of a particular crime, also called nolo contendere. While technically not an admission of guilt for commission of the crime, the judge will treat a plea of "no contest" as such an admission and proceed to find the defendant guilty as charged. A "no contest" plea is often made in cases in which there is also a possible lawsuit for damages by a person injured by the criminal conduct (such as reckless driving, assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated assault), because it cannot be used in the civil lawsuit as an admission of fault. "No contest" is also used where there has been a "plea bargain" in which the defendant does not want to say he/she is guilty but accepts the sentence recommended by the prosecutor in exchange for not contesting the charge (which is often reduced to a lesser crime). It is standard practice for the judge to ask either the attorneys or the defendant, "Is there a factual basis for the plea?" before accepting it and finding the defendant guilty.

 

no fault divorce 
n. divorces (dissolutions) in which neither spouse is required to prove "fault" or marital misconduct on the part of the other. To obtain a divorce a spouse must merely assert incompatibility or irreconcilable differences, meaning the marriage has irretrievably broken down. This means there is no defense to a divorce petition (so a spouse cannot threaten to "fight" a divorce), there is no derogatory testimony, and marital misconduct cannot be used to achieve a division of property favorable to the "innocent" spouse.

 

no-par stock 
n. shares in a corporation which are issued without a price per share stated on the stock certificate. 

 

nolle prosequi 
(no-lay pro-say-kwee) n. Latin for "we shall no longer prosecute," which is a declaration made to the judge by a prosecutor in a criminal case (or by a plaintiff in a civil lawsuit) either before or during trial, meaning the case against the defendant is being dropped. The statement is an admission that the charges cannot be proved, that evidence has demonstrated either innocence or a fatal flaw in the prosecution's claim or the district attorney has become convinced the accused is innocent.

 

nolo contendere 
(no-low kahn-ten-durr-ray) n. Latin for "I will not contest" the charges, which is a plea made by a defendant to a criminal charge, allowing the judge to then find him/her guilty, often called a "plea of no contest."

 

nominal damages 
n. a small amount of money awarded to a plaintiff in a lawsuit to show he/she was right but suffered no substantial harm. 

 

nominal party 
n. a defendant or a plaintiff included in a lawsuit because of a technical connection with the matter in dispute, and necessary for the court to decide all issues and make a proper judgment, but with no responsibility, no fault and no right to recovery. Example: suing an escrow holder or trustee who is holding a title to real property or deposited funds but has no interest in the property, funds or the lawsuit. Thus the court can order the nominal defendant to transfer title or pay out the funds when the rights of the real parties are decided.

 

nominee 
n. 1) a person or entity who is requested or named to act for another, such as an agent or trustee. 2) a potential successor to another's rights under a contract. 3) the executor proposed by a person in a will is a nominee until officially appointed by the judge after the testator (will writer) has died, and the will is submitted for probate (administration of the estate). 4) a person chosen by convention, petition or primary election to be a candidate for public office.

 

non compos mentis 
(nahn com-pose meant-is) adj. referring to someone who is insane or not mentally competent to conduct one's affairs. 

 

non sequitur 
(nahn sek [as in heck]-kwit-her) n. Latin for "it does not follow." The term usually means that a conclusion does not logically follow from the facts or law, stated: "That's a non sequitur."

 

non-conforming use 
n. the existing use (residential, commercial, agricultural, light industrial, etc.) of a parcel of real property which is zoned for a more limited or other use in the city or county's general plan. Usually such use is permitted only if the property was being so used before the adoption of the zoning ordinance which it violates. Example: a corner parcel has been used for a gasoline station for years, and now the city has zoned the entire area as residential (for homes only). The non-conforming use will be allowed as "grandfathered in," but if the station is torn down the only use would be residential.

 

non-contestability clause 
n. an insurance policy provision which requires the insurance company to challenge any statement in the application for the insurance within a specific time. This prevents the company from denying coverage on the basis of fraud or error in the application when a claim is made by the policyholder. 

 

non-contiguous 
adj. referring to two or more parcels of real property which are not connected. 

 

non-discretionary trust 
n. a trust in which the trustee is directed to invest only in specifically named securities and to diversify the investments among certain types of securities. The trustee has no discretion or personal decision-making power in the matter. 

 

non-feasance 
n. the failure of an agent (employee) to perform a task he/she has agreed to do for his/her principal (employer), as distinguished from "misfeasance" (performing poorly) or "malfeasance" (performing illegally or wrongly).

 

non-profit corporation 
n. an organization incorporated under state as operating for educational, charitable, social, religious, civic or humanitarian purposes. A non-profit corporation (also called "not for profit corporation") is formed by incorporators, has a board of directors and officers, but no shareholders. These incorporators, directors and officers may not receive a distribution of (any money from) profits, but officers and management may be paid reasonable salaries for services to the corporation.

 

non-suit 
n. a ruling by the judge in a lawsuit either when the plaintiff (the party who filed the suit) does not proceed to trial at the appointed time or has presented all his/her/its evidence and, in the judge's opinion, there is no evidence which could prove the plaintiff's case. A non-suit terminates the trial at that point and results in a dismissal of the plaintiff's case and judgment for the defendant.

 

not guilty 
n. 1) plea of a person who claims not to have committed the crime of which he/she is accused, made in court when arraigned (first brought before a judge) or at a later time set by the court. The choices of what one can plea are: guilty, not guilty, no contest, not guilty by reason of insanity, or incompetent to stand trial.

 

not guilty by reason of insanity 
n. plea in court of a person charged with a crime who admits the criminal act, but whose attorney claims he/she was so mentally disturbed at the time of the crime that he/she lacked the capacity to have intended to commit a crime. Such a plea requires that the court set a trial on the issue of insanity alone either by a judge. A finding of insanity will result in a verdict of "not guilty," but, if the condition still exists, it may result in incarceration in a mental facility for the criminally insane or confinement in a mental hospital. If the insanity no longer exists (temporary insanity), the judge has the option to require some psychological therapy. This is not the same as insane at time of trial and thus incompetent to stand trial, which will postpone trial (in all likelihood forever) pending recovery while the defendant is confined to a mental facility.

 

notary 
notary public 

 

notary public 
n. a person authorized by the state in which the person resides to administer oaths (swearings to truth of a statement), take acknowledgments, certify documents and to take depositions if the notary is also a court reporter. The signature and seal or stamp of a notary public is necessary to attest to the oath of truth of a person making an affidavit and to attest that a person has acknowledged that he/she executed a deed, power of attorney or other document, and is required for recording in public records. A notary public must see proof of identity (e.g. driver's license) of those swearing and keep an official journal of documents notarized. The authority is good only in the state which appoints the notary.

 

note 
n. a promissory note, a written statement of debt by one or more people to one or more people, with a statement of a specific amount owed or due, date it is due, interest (if any) on the amount, and other terms such as installments, penalty for late payment, full amount due if delinquent, how secured (as by real property), and attorneys' fees and costs if required to collect on the note.

 

notice 
n. 1) information, usually in writing in all legal proceedings, of all documents filed, decisions, requests, motions, petitions, and upcoming dates. Notice is a vital principle of fairness and due process in legal procedure and must be given to both parties, to all those affected by a lawsuit or legal proceeding, to the opposing attorney and to the court. In short, neither a party nor the court can operate in secret, make private overtures or conceal actions. Notice of a lawsuit or petition for a court order begins with personal service on the defendants (delivery of notice to the person) of the complaint or petition, together with a summons or order to appear (or file an answer) in court. Thereafter, if a party is represented by an attorney, notice can usually be given to the attorney by mail. If there is a so-called ex parte hearing (an emergency session with a judge with only the requesting party or his/her attorney present) the party wanting the hearing must make a diligent attempt to give notice to the other party. A court may allow "constructive" notice by publication in an approved legal newspaper of a summons in a lawsuit. 2) a writing informing a party to a contract, promissory note, lease, rental agreement or other legal relationship of a delinquency in payment, default, intent to foreclose, notice to pay rent or quit (leave) or other notice required by the agreement, mortgage, deed of trust or statute. 3) information. 4) being informed of a fact, or should have known based on the circumstances, as "he had notice that the roof was not water-tight."

 

notice of default 
n. a notice to a borrower with property as security under a mortgage or deed of trust that he/she is delinquent in payments. If the delinquency (money owed and late), plus costs of preparing the legal papers for the default, are not paid within a certain time, foreclosure proceedings may be commenced. Other people with funds secured by the same property are usually entitled to receive copies of the notice of default.

 

notice to quit 
n. the notice given by a landlord (owner) to a tenant to leave the premises (quit) either by a certain date (usually 30 days) or to pay overdue rent or correct some other default (having pets, having caused damage, too many roommates, using the property for illegal purposes, etc.) within a short time (usually three days). A notice to quit must contain certain information, such as: names of the persons to leave, whether their tenancy is by written or oral agreement, an amount of any financial delinquency and the period it covers, and to whom they should surrender the premises. Such notice and failure of the tenant to quit (leave) is a requirement to bring a lawsuit for unlawful detainer (often referred to as "eviction").

 

notorious possession 
n. occupation of real property or holding personal property in a way which anyone can observe is as if the person is the owner. 

 

novation 
n. agreement of parties to a contract to substitute a new contract for the old one. It extinguishes (cancels) the old agreement. A novation is often used when the parties find that payments or performance cannot be made under the terms of the original agreement, or the debtor will be forced to default or go into bankruptcy unless the debt is restructured. While voluntary, a novation is often the only way any funds can be paid.

 

noxious 
adj. harmful to health, often referring to nuisances.

 

nugatory 
adj. of no force or effect; invalid. Example: a statute which is unconstitutional is a nugatory law. 

 

nuisance 
n. the unreasonable, unwarranted and/or unlawful use of property, which causes inconvenience or damage to others, either to individuals and/or to the general public. Nuisances can include noxious smells, noise, burning, misdirection of water onto other property, illegal gambling, unauthorized collections of rusting autos, indecent signs and pictures on businesses and a host of bothersome activities. Where illegal they can be abated (changed, repaired or improved) by criminal or quasi-criminal charges. If a nuisance interferes with another person's quiet or peaceful or pleasant use of his/her property, it may be the basis for a lawsuit for damages and/or an injunction ordering the person or entity causing the nuisance to desist (stop) or limit the activity (such as closing down an activity in the evening).

 

nullity 
n. something which may be treated as nothing, as if it did not exist or never happened. This can occur by court ruling or enactment of a statute. The most common example is a nullity of a marriage by a court judgment.

 

nunc pro tunc 
(nuhnk proh tuhnk) adj. Latin for "now for then," this refers to changing back to an earlier date of an order, judgment or filing of a document. Such a retroactive re-dating requires a court order which can be obtained by a showing that the earlier date would have been legal, and there was error, accidental omission or neglect which has caused a problem or inconvenience which can be cured. Often the judge will grant the nunc pro tunc order ex parte (with only the applicant appearing and without notice). Examples: a court clerk fails to file an answer when he/she received it, and a nunc pro tunc date of filing is needed to meet the legal deadline (statute of limitations); a final divorce judgment is misdirected and, therefore, not signed and dated until the day after the re-marriage of one of the parties-the nunc pro tunc order will prevent the appearance or actuality of a bigamous marriage.

 

O

o.r. 
n. short for "own recognizance," meaning the judge allowed a person accused in a criminal case to go free pending trial without posting bail. A person so released is often referred to as having been "OR-ed."

 

o.s.c. 
n. short for order to show cause. 

 

oath 
n. 1) a swearing to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which would subject the oath-taker to a prosecution for the crime of perjury if he/she knowingly lies in a statement either orally in a trial or deposition or in writing. Criminal perjury charges are rare, however, since the person stating the untruth will almost always claim error, mistake, loss of memory or opinion. At the beginning of any testimony by a witness, the clerk or court reporter administers an oath to the witness. 2) The "swearing in" of a person assuming a public office, sometimes called the "oath of office." 3) sworn commitment of allegiance, as to one's country.

 

obiter dicta 
(oh-bitter dick-tah) n. remarks of a judge which are not necessary to reaching a decision, but are made as comments, illustrations or thoughts. Generally, obiter dicta is simply dicta.

 

object 
1) v. to ask the court not to allow a particular question asked of a witness by the opposing lawyer on the basis that it is either legally not permitted, confusing in its wording or improper in its "form." An attorney may also object to an answer to the question on the basis that it is not "responsive" since a witness is limited to answering a question as asked and is not allowed to make unsolicited comments. The trial attorney must be alert and quick in order to object before the witness answers. This is called an "objection" and must be based on a specific list of legal restrictions on questions. 2) n. a particular thing. 3) n. an aim or purpose, as "the object of the contract..."

 

objection 
n. a lawyer's protest about the legal propriety of a question which has been asked of a witness by the opposing attorney, with the purpose of making the trial judge decide if the question can be asked. A proper objection must be based on one of the specific reasons for not allowing a question. These include: irrelevant, immaterial, incompetent (often stated together, which may mean the question is not about the issues in the trial or the witness is not qualified to answer), hearsay (the answer would be what someone told the witness rather than what he/she knew first-hand), leading (putting words in the mouth of one's own witness), calls for a conclusion (asking for opinion, not facts), compound question (two or more questions asked together), or lack of foundation (referring to a document lacking testimony as to authenticity or source). An objection must be made quickly and loudly to halt the witness before he/she answers. The judge will either "sustain" the objection (ruling out the question) or "overrule" it (allow the question). The judge may ask for an "offer of proof" in which the lawyer asking the question must explain to the court the reason the question is relevant, and what evidence his/her questions will bring out. Badly worded, confusing or compound questions are usually challenged by an objection to the form of the question, which is essentially a demand that the question be withdrawn and reworded. An attorney may "object" to a witness's answer as "non-responsive" to the question, but the proper request should be that the answer or a comment without a question be "stricken" from the record.

 

obligation 
n. a legal duty to pay or do something. 

 

obligee 
(ah-bluh-jee) n. the person or entity to whom an obligation is owed, like the one to be paid on a promissory note.

 

obligor 
(ah-bluh-gore) n. the person or entity who owes an obligation to another, as one who must pay on a promissory note.

 

obscene 
adj., adv. a highly subjective reference to material or acts which display or describe sexual activity in a manner appealing only to "prurient interest," with no legitimate artistic, literary or scientific purpose. Pictures, writings, film or public acts which are found to be obscene. However, the courts have had difficulty making a clear non-subjective definition since "one person's obscenity is another person's art". 

 

obstruction of justice 
n. an attempt to interfere with the administration of the courts, the judicial system or law enforcement officers, including threatening witnesses, improper conversations with jurors, hiding evidence or interfering with an arrest. Such activity is a crime.

 

occupancy 
n. 1) living in or using premises, as a tenant or owner. 2) taking possession of real property or a thing which has no known owner, with the intention of gaining ownership.

 

occupant 
n. 1) someone living in a residence or using premises, as a tenant or owner. 2) a person who takes possession of real property or a thing which has no known owner, intending to gain ownership.

 

occupation 
n. 1) fairly permanent trade, profession, employment, business or means of livelihood. 2) possession of real property or use of a thing.

 

occupational disease 
n. an illness resulting from long-term employment in a particular type of work, such as black lung disease among miners, or cancer among asbestos installers.

 

occupational hazard 
n. a danger or risk inherent in certain employments or workplaces, such as deep-sea diving, cutting timber, high-rise steel construction, high-voltage electrical wiring, use of pesticides, painting bridges and many factories.

 

occupy the field 
v. to preempt (monopolize) an area of statutory law by a higher authority. 

 

of counsel 
adj. reference to an attorney who is not actively involved in the day-to-day work of a law firm, but may be available in particular matters or for consultation. This designation often identifies a semi-retired partner, an attorney who occasionally uses the office for a few clients or one who only consults on a particular case or on his/her specialty. Putting the name of the attorney "of counsel" on a law firm's stationery gives the office the prestige of the lawyer's name and reputation, without requiring his/her full-time presence.

 

off calendar 
adj. refers to an order of the court to take a lawsuit, petition or motion off the list of pending cases or motions which are scheduled to be heard. A case or motion will be ordered off calendar if the lawyers agree (stipulate) to drop it, if the moving party's lawyer fails to appear, if a suit is settled pending final documentation or any number of procedural reasons for the judge to determine the case should not proceed at that time. A suit or motion can be put back "on calendar" by stipulation of the lawyers or upon motion of either party.

 

offender 
n. an accused defendant in a criminal case or one convicted of a crime. 

 

offense 
n. a crime or punishable violation of law of any type or magnitude. 

 

offer 
n. a specific proposal to enter into an agreement with another. An offer is essential to the formation of an enforceable contract. An offer and acceptance of the offer creates the contract. 

 

offer of proof 
n. an explanation made by an attorney to a judge during trial to show why a question which has been objected to as immaterial or irrelevant will lead to evidence of value to proving the case of the lawyer's client. The offer provides the opposition a preview of the questions (and helps prevent surprise), but is essential to overcome the objections.

 

offeree 
n. a person or entity to whom an offer to enter into a contract is made by another (the offeror). 

 

offeror 
n. a person or entity who makes a specific proposal to another (the offeree) to enter into a contract. 

 

officer 
n. 1) a high-level management official of a corporation or an unincorporated business, hired by the board of directors of a corporation or the owner of a business, such as a president, vice president, secretary, financial officer or chief executive officer (CEO). Such officers have the actual or apparent authority to contract or otherwise act on behalf of the corporation or business. 2) a public official with executive authority ranging from city manager to governor. 3) a law enforcement person such as a policeman.

 

officer of the court 
n. any person who has an obligation to promote justice and effective operation of the judicial system, including judges, the attorneys who appear in court, bailiffs, clerks and other personnel. As officers of the court lawyers have an absolute ethical duty to tell judges the truth, including avoiding dishonesty or evasion about reasons the attorney or his/her client is not appearing, the location of documents and other matters related to conduct of the courts.

 

official 
1) adj. referring to an act, document or anything sanctioned or authorized by a public official or public agency. 2) n. a public officer or governmental employee who is empowered to exercise judgment. 3) n. an officer of a corporation or business.

 

official misconduct 
n. improper and/or illegal acts by a public official which violate his/her duty to follow the law and act on behalf of the public good. Often such conduct is under the guise or "color" of official authority.

 

officious intermeddler 
n. a volunteer who assists and/or benefits another without contractual responsibility or legal duty to do so, but nevertheless wants compensation for his/her actions. The courts generally find that the intermeddler must rely on the equally voluntary gratitude of the recipient of the alleged benefit.

 

offset 
1) n. also called a "setoff," the deduction by a debtor from a claim or demand of a debt or obligation. Such an offset is based upon a counterclaim against the party making the original claim. 2) v. to counterclaim an alleged debt owed by a claimant to reduce the demand of that claimant.

 

omission 
n. 1) failure to perform an act agreed to, where there is a duty to an individual or the public to act (including omitting to take care) or where it is required by law. Such an omission may give rise to a lawsuit in the same way as a negligent or improper act. 2) inadvertently leaving out a word, phrase or other language from a contract, deed, judgment or other document. If the parties agree that the omission was due to a mutual mistake, the document may be "reformed," but this may require a petition for a court order making the correction if it had been relied upon by government authorities or third parties.

 

omnibus clause 
n. 1) an automobile insurance policy clause which provides coverage no matter who is driving the car. 2) a provision in a judgment for distribution of an estate of a deceased person, giving "all other property" to the beneficiaries named in the will.

 

on all fours 
adj. a reference to a lawsuit in which all the legal issues are identical (or so close as to make no difference) to another case, particularly an appeals decision which is a precedent in deciding the suit before the court.

 

on demand 
adj. in a promissory note, a requirement that the amount due must be paid when the person to whom the funds are owed demands payment (rather than upon a certain date or on installments). Such a note is called a "demand note."

 

on file 
prep. having been formally filed with the clerk of the court or the judge, such as a pleading is "on file."

 

on or about 
prep. a phrase referring to a date or place used in a complaint in a lawsuit or criminal charge if there is any uncertainty at all, in order to protect the person making the allegations of fact from being challenged as being inaccurate.

 

on or before 
prep. a phrase usually found in a contract or promissory note, designating performance or payment by a particular date, but which may be done prior to that date.

 

on the merits 
adj. referring to a judgment, decision or ruling of a court based upon the facts presented in evidence and the law applied to that evidence. A judge decides a case "on the merits" when he/she bases the decision on the fundamental issues and considers technical and procedural defenses as either inconsequential or overcome. Example: An attorney is two days late in filing a set of legal points and authorities in opposition to a motion to dismiss. Rather than dismiss the case based on this technical procedural deficiency, the judge considers the case "on the merits" as if this mistake had not occurred.

 

on the stand 
prep. testifying during a trial, in which the witness almost always sits in a chair beside the judge's bench, often raised above the floor level of the courtroom and behind a knee-high panel.

 

open court 
n. the conduct of judicial proceedings (trials, hearings and routine matters such as trial settings) in which the public may be present. Some hearings and discussions are held in the judge's chambers or with the courtroom cleared of non-participants and/or the jury such as adoptions, sanity hearings, juvenile criminal charges and arguments over evidence and motions which might prejudice the jury.

 

opening statement 
n. the explanation by the attorneys for both sides at the beginning of the trial of what will be proved during the trial. The defendant's attorney may delay the opening statement for the defense until the plaintiff's evidence has been introduced. Unlike a "closing argument," the opening statement is supposed to be a factual presentation and not an argument.

 

operation of law 
n. a change or transfer which occurs automatically due to existing laws and not an agreement or court order. Examples: a joint tenant obtains full title to real property when the other joint tenant dies; a spouse in a community property will take title to all community property if the spouse dies without a will that leaves some of the dead mate's interest in the community property to another; or a guardianship of a minor ad litem (for purposes of a lawsuit) ends automatically upon the child turning 18. 

 

opinion 
n. the explanation of a court's judgment. When a trial court judgment is appealed to a court of appeals, the appeals judge's opinion will be detailed, citing case precedents, analyzing the facts, the applicable law and the arguments of the attorneys for the parties. Those opinions considered by the court to be worthy of serving as a precedent or involving important legal issues will be published in the official reports available in most law libraries.

 

option 
n. a right to purchase property or require another to perform upon agreed-upon terms. An option is paid for as part of a contract, but must be "exercised" in order for the property to be purchased or the performance of the other party to be required. "Exercise" of an option normally requires notice and payment of the contract price. Thus, a potential buyer of a tract of land might pay Rs 5,000 for the option which gives him/her a period of time to decide if he/she wishes to purchase, tying up the property for that period, and then pay Rs 500,000 for the property. If the time to exercise the option expires then the option terminates. The amount paid for the option itself is not refundable since the funds bought the option whether exercised or not. Often an option is the right to renew a contract such as a lease, broadcasting a television series, the employment of an actor or athlete, or some other existing business relationship. A "lease-option" contract provides for a lease of property with the right to purchase the property during or upon expiration of the lease.

 

or 
conj. either; in the alternative. It is often vital to distinguish between "or" and "and." Example: Title to the Cadillac written "Mary or Thomas Paul" means either one could transfer the car, but if written "Mary and Thomas Paul," both must sign to change title.

 

oral contract 
n. an agreement made with spoken words and either no writing or only partially written. An oral contract is just as valid as a written agreement. The main problem with an oral contract is proving its existence or the terms. As one wag observed: "An oral contract is as good as the paper it's written on." An oral contract is often provable by action taken by one or both parties which is obviously in reliance on the existence of a contract. The other significant difference between oral and written contracts is that the time to sue for breach of an oral contract (the statute of limitations) is sometimes shorter.

 

order 
1) n. every direction or mandate of a judge or a court which is not a judgment or legal opinion (although both may include an order) directing that something be done or that there is prohibition against some act. This can range from an order that a case will be tried on a certain date, to an order that a convicted defendant be executed in the prison. 2) v. for a judge to direct that a party before the court perform a particular act or refrain from certain acts, or to direct a public official or court employee to take certain actions such as seizing property.

 

order to show cause 
n. a judge's written mandate that a party appear in court on a certain date and give reasons, legal and/or factual, (show cause) why a particular order should not be made. This rather stringent method of making a party appear with proof and legal arguments is applied to cases of possible contempt for failure to pay child support, sanctions for failure to file necessary documents or appear previously, or to persuade the judge he/she should not grant a writ of mandate against a governmental agency.

 

ordinance 
n. a statute enacted by a city or town. 

 

ordinary 
adj. regular, customary and continuing, and not unusual or extraordinary, as in ordinary expense, ordinary handling, ordinary risks or ordinary skill.

 

ordinary course of business 
n. conduct of business within normal commercial customs and usages. 

 

original jurisdiction 
n. the authority of a court to hold a trial, as distinguished from appellate jurisdiction to hear appeals from trial judgments.

 

orphan 
n. a child, particularly a minor, whose two natural parents are dead. In some cases, such as whether a child is eligible for public financial assistance to an orphan, "orphan" can mean a child who has lost one parent.

 

ostensible agent 
n. a person who has been given the appearance of being an employee or acting (an agent) for another (principal), which would make anyone dealing with the ostensible agent reasonably believe he/she was an employee or agent. This could include giving the ostensible agent stationery or forms of the company, letting him/her use the company truck, telephone or desk in the company office. Businesses should be careful not to allow such situations in which an ostensible agent could bind the business on a contract or make the apparent employer responsible for damages for an accident, libel or assault by the "agent."

 

ostensible authority 
n. apparent authority to do something or represent another person or entity. 

 

ouster 
n. 1) the wrongful dispossession (putting out) of a rightful owner or tenant of real property, forcing the party pushed out of the premises to bring a lawsuit to regain possession. This often arises between partners (in a restaurant or store) or roommates, when one co-owner or co-tenant forces out the other, changes locks or makes occupancy intolerable. 2) removal of someone from a position or office against his/her expectations or will.

 

out of court 
adj. referring to actions, including negotiations between parties and/or their attorneys, without any direct involvement of a judge or the judicial system. Most commonly it refers to an "out-of-court settlement" in which the parties work out a settlement agreement, which they may present to the court for inclusion in a judgment approving the agreement so that the parties can request a court to enforce the settlement in case one of the parties reneges and fails to honor the terms of the settlement. Quite often a judgment approving an out-of-court settlement is held in abeyance and replaced by a dismissal if the terms are fulfilled. Some out-of-court settlements are kept confidential and the lawsuit is dismissed.

 

out-of-pocket expenses 
n. moneys paid directly for necessary items by a contractor, trustee, executor, administrator or any person responsible to cover expenses not detailed by agreement. They may be recoverable from a defendant in a lawsuit for breach of contract; allowable for reimbursement by trustees, executors or administrators; or deductible by a landlord from a tenant's security deposit for damages beyond normal wear and tear.

 

outbuilding 
n. a structure not connected with the primary residence on a parcel of property. This may include a shed, garage, barn, cabana, pool house or cottage.

 

outlaw 
n. popularly, anyone who commits serious crimes and acts outside the law.

 

output contract 
n. an agreement in which a producer agrees to sell its entire production to the buyer, who in turn agrees to purchase the entire output, whatever that is. Example: an almond grower has a "home" for his output, and the packer of nuts is happy to have a sure-fire supply, even though it may have to store away a glut.

 

overcharge 
v. 1) to charge more than a posted or advertised price. 2) to file a criminal complaint for crimes of greater degree than the known facts support, in an effort by the prosecutor to intimidate the accused.

 

overrule 
v. 1) to reject an attorney's objection to a question to a witness or admission of evidence. By overruling the objection, the trial judge allows the question or evidence in court. If the judge agrees with the objection, he/she "sustains" the objection and does not allow the question or evidence. 2) to decide (by a court of appeals) that a prior appeals decision on a legal issue was not correct and is therefore no longer a valid precedent on that legal question.

 

overt act 
n. in criminal law, an action which might be innocent itself but if part of the preparation and active furtherance of a crime, can be introduced as evidence of a defendant's participation in a crime.

 

owe 
v. to have a legal duty to pay funds to another. However, to owe does not make the amount "payable" if the date for payment has not yet arrived.

 

own 
v. to have legal title or right to something. Mere possession is not ownership. 

 

own recognizance 
(O.R.) n. the basis for a judge allowing a person accused of a crime to be free while awaiting trial, without posting bail, on the defendant's own promise to appear and his/her reputation. The judge may consider the seriousness of the crime charged, the likelihood the defendant will always appear, the length of time the person has lived in the area, his/her reputation in the community, his/her employment, financial burdens and the demeanor of the accused.

 

owner 
n. one who has legal title or right to something. Contrary to the cynical adage: "Possession is nine-tenths of the law," possession does not necessarily make one a legal owner.

 

ownership 
n. legal title coupled with exclusive legal right to possession. Co-ownership, however, means that more than one person has a legal interest in the same thing.