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Legal Lexicon

by Emily Jane Goodman, Nov 01, 2006
 

This month’s column is devoted to a glossary of frequently used legal terms:

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Abatement: Eliminate, reduce, e.g. abate a nuisance; abatement of rent.

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Adjourn: Postpone.

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Abscond: To leave unlawfully with the intent of not returning.

ACD: Adjourned in Contemplation of Dismissal. Possible disposition of violations or misdemeanors.

Affidavit: A statement signed and sworn to in the presence of a Notary Public.

Affidavit of Service: A sworn statement that documents were served (delivered).

Affirm: Appellate court decision agreeing with lower court. Also, an alternative to swearing to tell the truth, e.g. Do you swear or affirm?

Allocution: Questions and answers at end of court proceedings to establish certain facts, e.g. litigant understands when he/she is giving up a right.

Appeal: Seeking to have a higher court modify or overturn a court decision.

Arbitration: A forum for dispute resolution. A private justice system which is binding on the parties. Popular in credit card agreements, and employment contracts.

ATI: Alternative to Incarceration. Sentence in lieu of imprisonment, e.g. drug program.

Bail: Sum of money (or property) posted to insure a criminal defendant’s return to court.

Calendar: A court’s list of cases. Also, docket.

Civil: Law surrounding private issues; not criminal.

Contempt: Violation of a court order.

Contingent Fee: A fee charged for a lawyer’s service only if the lawsuit is successful.

Condominium, Condo: A building or complex containing a number of individually owned units.

Cooperative, Co-Op: Property run by its members who own shares in a corporation, but not the real estate itself.

Contract: An agreement between two or more competent parties creating promises and exchanges.

Damages: Money as compensation for injury or loss.

Deed: Written instrument of ownership, usually of real estate.

Default: An adversary’s failure to appear or participate in proceedings.

Deposition: Out of court sworn testimony. Also, known as EBT’s.

EBT’s: Examination before trial. See Deposition.

Equitable Distribution: Division of marital property.

Ex parte: One party, e.g. plaintiff confers with judge in absence of defendant.

Felony: Serious crime.

Franchise: The right to vote. Disenfranchise: Take away the right to vote.

Holdover: Remaining in possession of real estate after landlord has deemed the lease terminated by some act or conduct of the tenant.

Indictment: Grand Jury’s finding that a crime has been committed and that the accused is probable perpetrator.

Inquest: Mini trial conducted by plaintiff after defendant has defaulted.

Jail: Sentence of short term local incarceration (under one year) or in a local holding facility awaiting trial.

Judgment: Legal proceedings end with entry of judgment.

Jurisdiction: A defined place. Also, power over.

Mediation: Non-binding effort by a neutral person to resolve dispute.

Negligence: Breach of a duty of care which results in damage. Doing something or failing to do something which a reasonable person would do, and which causes injury.

Misdemeanor: Low level crime.

Notary Public: A person authorized to administer oath and witness signing of affidavit and legal documents. In the United States, a Notary cannot give legal advice.

Order to Show Cause: An order directing a party to appear in court and show why the court should not order certain action.

Parole: Supervised release from prison after serving most of a felony sentence. Also, released by judge without bail.

Plea: A formal statement by or on behalf of a defendant, stating “guilty” or “not guilty.”

Prison: State facility for incarcerating convicted felons.

Pro Se: Self-representation.

Probation: Supervision as an alternative to incarceration.

Remand: Incarcerate without bail. Also, returning a case to original court.

Rent Control: Regulations regarding rent and building services enacted in 1947 due to housing emergency.

Rent Stabilization: Regulations enacted in late 1960's in response to housing emergency.

Retainer: Written agreement to hire a lawyer. Also, the fee paid to hire a lawyer.

Reverse: Court or jury decision changed by appeals court.

ROR: Release on Own Recognizance. A criminal defendant released without bail or paroled.

Service: Delivery of legal documents in prescribed manner.

Settle: Agreeing on terms to end a case without trial.

Statute: Law enacted by legislature.

Statute of Limitations: The time at which the right to prosecute a civil or criminal action expires.

Stay: Order stopping action for a finite time.

Stipulation: An agreement between opposing parties.

Subpoena: An order to appear before the court and/or provide documents.

Summons: Notice that a lawsuit has been convened and an answer must be served. Also, notice to appear for jury duty.

TRO: Temporary Restraining Order. An order stopping (or demanding) an imminent action, e.g. an eviction.

Tort: A civil wrong in which damages are claimed.

Traverse: A hearing to contest or establish proper service of legal documents.

Violation: Unlawful act which can result in arrest and incarceration but is not considered a crime, e.g. disorderly conduct.

Waiver: Giving up a right, a legal position or argument.

Warrant: A written order directing or authorizing an act, e.g. arrest, search..

Youthful Offender, Y& O: Status of some criminal defendants under 19.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice 


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