Definitions of Legal Terms

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– A –

  • Affidavit – A signed, sworn statement, witnessed by a notary public.
  • Appeal – A rehearing of the court’s decision by a higher court.
  • Attachment – The taking of a person’s property to collect a judgment.

– B –

  • Bond – A money deposit left with the court.

– C –

  • Capias Order – An order for the arrest of an individual, issued by a judge.
  • Certificate of Mailing – A receipt from the Post Office for ordinary mail (check with your Post Office for the cost of a certificate of mailing).
  • Clerk of Court (Clerk) – A public official whose duties include keeping court records.
  • Complaint – A written statement made by the plaintiff containing legal claims against the defendant and a demand for money damages. Filing the complaint with the court begins the small claims process.
  • Complaint on an Account – A claim by a business against someone who owes the business money.
  • Contempt of Court – Disobeying the authority or dignity of the court, such conduct is punishable by fine or imprisonment.
  • Continuance – Postponing the trial to a future date.
  • Contract – An agreement between two or more people.
  • Costs – Fees the plaintiff pays to file the complaint or to collect the judgment.
  • Counterclaim – A claim the defendant makes against the plaintiff stating that the plaintiff owes the defendant money.
  • Creditor – See Judgment Creditor
  • Cross–Claim – A claim against a party on the same side of a lawsuit, usually a claim by a defendant against another defendant.

– D –

  • Damages – Money awarded to a party by the magistrate or judge.
  • Debtor – A party that owes money, see also Judgment Debtor.
  • Default judgment – A judgment awarded by the court against another party because the party did not appear on the trial date.
  • Defendant – The person being sued.
  • Dismissal – The termination of a case without trial, either because the plaintiff did not appear or the case settled.
  • Docket – A list of all the cases a court will hear on a specific date.

– E –

  • Enforce – The process of collecting a money judgment awarded to a party.
  • Evidence – Something that tends to prove or disprove a fact. Evidence includes written documents and witness testimony.
  • Execution – A court order for the sheriff to take property owned by the judgment debtor to pay the debt that is owed.
  • Expert witness – a person who is qualified due to his or her experience or background to give an opinion about a disputed matter.

– F –

  • Fee – Money paid to the Clerk of Courts to file or serve a document.
  • Foreclosure – A legal process to end a homeowner's interest in a property.

– G –

  • Garnishment – Taking a percentage of the Judgment Debtor's wages on a regular basis to pay a debt.

– I –

  • Interest - Money earned on a debt at a given rate as time passes. The interest rate may be provided by statute or by contract.

– J –

  • Judge – A court official who hears and decides cases.
  • Judgment – The final decision of a magistrate or judge as to the rights and obligations of the parties in a case. The judgment may include an amount the magistrate or judge says is owed by the debtor. A judgment may also be called an entry.
  • Judgment Creditor – The party that is owed money by a judgment of the court.
  • Judgment Debtor – The party that owes money by a judgment of the court.
  • Jurisdictional limit – The maximum amount of money that can be awarded by a particular small claims court.

– L –

  • Lawsuit – A legal proceeding against a party in court. A lawsuit may also be called an “action” or a “case."
  • Lien – A legal right or interest that a creditor has in another's property.

– M –

  • Magistrate – A court official that has the authority to hear and decide cases.
  • Mediation – A voluntary process where parties involved in a dispute meet with a neutral third party, a mediator, to reach a settlement outside of court.
  • Motion – A written or oral request by a party for a court order or some other kind of action.

– N –

  • Non-exempt Wages – The percentage of a Judgment Debtor's wages that may be garnished.
  • Notary – Someone who is legally authorized to verify the authenticity of documents and signatures.
  • Notice of Appeal – A filing requesting that the case be taken to the next highest court for a decision.

– P –

  • Party – The plaintiff or defendant involved in the lawsuit.
  • Personal Service – Hand-delivery of a court document to a party by a bailiff of the court.
  • Plaintiff – The person who files the complaint.
  • Proof of service – A document filed with the court stating that a party has been properly presented with copies of the complaint or other court document.

– R –

  • Real Estate – Property in the form of land or buildings, rather than personal possessions.
  • Revive – The process of making your judgment active again.

– S –

  • Settlement – The parties coming to an agreement between themselves outside of court.
  • Service – Delivering the Complaint and Summons to the person being sued.
  • Statute of limitations – The period of time during which a lawsuit can be filed.
  • Statutory Agent – A person authorized by a business entity to accept court notices.
  • Summons – A court notice telling a defendant that he or she is being sued and must appear in court on a certain date.
  • Subpoena – An official order of the court requiring a person to appear in court to testify as a witness.

– T –

  • Testimony – Statements made by a witness under oath.
  • Third–Party complaint – A claim by the defendant against someone other than the plaintiff or another defendant, claiming that the third party is responsible for any judgment against the defendant.

– W –

  • Witness – A person called to court to testify on behalf of a party about what he or she personally knows.