GLOSSARY OF LEGAL TERMS

PARALEGAL.  A non-lawyer who performs routine tasks requiring some knowledge of the law and procedures.  Usually paralegals have taken a prescribed series of courses in law and legal processes, which is much less demanding than those required for a licensed attorney. Paralegals are increasingly popular, often handling much of the paperwork in probates of estates, divorce actions, bankruptcies, investigations, analyzing depositions, preparing and answering interrogatories and procedural motions and other specialized jobs.

PETITIONER/PLAINTIFF.  One who presents a formal, written application to a court, officer, or legislative body that requests action on a certain matter.

RESPONDENT/DEFENDANT.  In legal proceedings initiated by a petition, the respondent is the person against whom relief is sought, or who opposes the petition.

AFFIDAVIT.  A written or printed statement made under oath.

ASSETS.  Property of all kinds, including real and personal, tangible and intangible.

BAILIFF.  A court official, usually a peace officer or deputy sheriff, who keeps order in the courtroom and handles errands for the judge and clerk.  In Oklahoma, bailiff’s serve as legal secretaries and assistants to judges.  

BENCH TRIAL.  A trial without a jury, in which the judge serves as the fact-finder.

CASE FILE.  A complete collection of every document filed in court in a case.

CAUSE OF ACTION.  A legal claim

CHAMBERS.  The offices of a judge and his or her staff.

COMMUNITY SERVICE.  A special condition the court imposes that requires an individual to work – without pay – for a civic or nonprofit organization.

CONCURRENT SENTENCE.  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served at the same time, rather than one after the other.  Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served concurrently, result in a maximum of five years behind bars.

CONSECUTIVE SENTENCE.  Prison terms for two or more offenses to be served one after the other.  Example: Two five-year sentences and one three-year sentence, if served consecutively, result in a maximum of 13 years behind bars.

CONTRACT FOR DEED.  A legal agreement for the sale of property in which a buyer takes possession and makes payments directly to the seller, but the seller holds the title until the full payment is made.

CONVICTION.  A judgment of guilt against a criminal defendant.

COUNT.  An allegation in an indictment or information, charging a defendant with a crime.  An indictment or information may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime.  Each allegation is referred to as a count.

COURT.  Government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes.  Judges sometimes use “court” to refer to themselves in the third person, as in “the court has heard the evidence”.

COURT REPORTER.  A person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in court, generally by using a stenographic machine, shorthand or audio recording, and then produces a transcript of the proceedings upon request.  There is a fee-per-page charged by the court reporter to produce all or part of a transcript.

DECREE.  A court judgment, especially in a court of divorce or probate.  A written settlement by the parties to a litigation, in the form of a decree signed by the judge.

DEFAULT JUDGMENT.  A judgment awarding a petitioner/plaintiff the relief sought in the com plaint because the defendant/respondent has failed to appear in court or otherwise respond to the complaint.

EMANCIPATION.  Freeing a minor child from the control of parents or legal guardians and allowing the minor to live on his/her own or under the control of others and to transact his or her own business decisions. It usually applies to adolescents who leave the parents’ household by agreement or demand. Emancipation may also end the responsibility of a parent for the acts of a child, including debts, negligence or criminal acts. Sometimes it is one of the events which cuts off the obligation of a divorced parent to pay child support.

FELONY.  A serious crime, usually punishable by at least one year in prison.

FILE.  To place a paper in the official custody of the court clerk to enter into the files or records of a case.

IN CAMERA.  Latin, meaning in a judge’s chambers.  Often means outside the presence of a jury and the public.  In private.

INFORMATION.  A paper created by a government attorney such as a district attorney, that is a formal accusation that a person has committed a crime.

ISSUE.  1.  The disputed point between parties in a lawsuit; 2.  To send out officially, as in a court issuing an order or the court clerk issuing a Summons.

JUDGMENT.  The official decision of a court finally resolving the dispute between the parties to any court action.

JURISDICTION.  The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case.  It also is used as a synonym for venue, meaning the geographic area over which the court has jurisdiction to decide cases.

LEGAL SEPARATION.  A legal separation is a way to formalize a marriage separation without the finality of a divorce. In a legal separation, couples can agree upon provisions for child support, spousal support and the division of property. Separated couples often live at different residences, and their lives can be difficult to distinguish from divorced individuals. The main difference between the two is the fact that legal separations can be reversed through a relatively simple process. This has the benefit of allowing spouses to begin to move on with their lives before taking the final step of divorce. Legally separated spouses can have the benefit of continuing family health insurance plans and tax benefits for married tax filers, as well.

MOTION.  A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to a case.

NOLO CONTENDERE.  Latin for No Contest.  A plea of nolo contendere has the same effect as a plea of guilty, as far as the criminal sentence is concerned, but may not be considered as an admission of guilt for any other purpose.

NOTICE BY PUBLICATION.  

PETITION.  The document that initiates the filing of a legal proceeding, setting forth basic information regarding the case and the outcome desired and setting forth basic information regarding the parties.

PLEA.  In a criminal case, the defendant’s statement pleading guilty or not guilty in answer to the charges brought against them.

PRO SE.  Representing oneself.  Serving as one’s own lawyer.

QUITCLAIM DEED.   A legal instrument that is used to transfer interest in real property. The entity transferring its interest is called the grantor, and when the quitclaim deed is properly completed and executed, it transfers any interest the grantor has in the property to a recipient, called the grantee.

SENTENCE.  The punishment ordered by a court for a defendant convicted of a crime.

SERVICE BY PUBLICATION.  When a legal action is initiated against a respondent/defendant, and that respondent/defendant cannot be found to accept delivery of legal documents, service by publication may be permitted by a judge’s order.  This process refers to placing a legal notice in an approved newspaper of general publication in the county or district in which the law requires such notice to be published.  Laws vary by jurisdiction on the duration and other requirements of publication.   Notice by publication must conform to certain legislated guidelines in the areas of process and format. It is commonly used in divorce actions to serve divorce papers to a spouse who cannot be found or who may be hiding out. 

STATUTE.  A law passed by legislature.

SUMMONS.  A summons is a paper issued by a court informing a person that a complaint has been filed against him or her. It may be served by a sheriff or other authorized person for service of process, called a process server. The summons states the name of both petitioner/plaintiff and respondent/defendant, the title and file number of the case, the court and its address, the name and address of the petitioner/plaintiff, and instructions on how to file a required response to the complaint within a certain time (such as 30 days after service), usually with a form on the back on which information of service of summons and complaint is to be filled out and signed by the process server. A copy of the summons must be served on each respondent/defendant at the same time as the complaint to start the time running for the respondent/defendant to answer. After service to the respondent/defendants, the original summons, along with the “return of service” proving the summons and complaint were served, is filed with the court to show that each respondent/defendant was served.

VENUE.  The geographic area in which a court has jurisdiction.

WAIVER.  The voluntary relinquishment or surrender of some known right or privilege.