Clinton County Municipal Court
Sunday July 21
Traffic Division Criminal Division Civil Division Small Claims Division
Glossary of Legal Terms
Action - A court proceeding when one party prosecutes another for the protection or enforcement of a right, the prevention or correction of a wrong, or the punishment of an offense.
Affiant - The person who swears to an affidavit.
Affidavit - A written statement of facts sworn to or affirmed under oath in the presence of a notary public.
Affirmation - A formal declaration under penalties of perjury that a statement is true, without an oath.
Answer - The formal written response by a defendant to a statement of claim which sets forth the grounds for his or her defense.
Bail - Security (usually in the form of money) given for the release of a criminal defendant from legal custody to ensure the defendant's future appearance on the day and time set by the court.
Bail Bond - A document purchased from a bondsman that is given to the court instead of money for bail. Once signed by the defendant, he or she is released from custody on the condition that the amount stated on the bail bond will be forfeited should the defendant not appear in court at the required time.
Bench - The Judge's seat or the Judge, himself/herself.
- A lawsuit or judicial proceeding intended to solve a controversy between parties.
Civil Case
- An action brought by a person or party to recover damages or property, to force someone to honor a contract or to protect one's civil rights.
Cause of Action
- The facts that make the basis for a case or lawsuit.
Counterclaim - An independent cause of action, usually by the defendant, that opposes or offsets a previous claim made by the plaintiff.
Damages - An award of money paid by the losing party to the winning party to compensate for losses or injury incurred.
Decision - The determination reached by a court in any judicial proceeding that is the basis of the judgment.
Default - The failure of a defendant to file an answer or appear in a civil case within the prescribed time after having been properly served with a summons and statement of claim.
Default Judgment - A judgment made in favor of the plaintiff because of the defendant's failure to answer or appear to contest the plaintiff's claim.
Defendant - The accused in a criminal case or, in a civil case, the person or organization against whom the plaintiff brings an action.
Defense - The defendant's facts or arguments that demonstrate why the plaintiff is not entitled to the relief requested in a civil case.
Dispossessory - An action to evict a person from possession of land or rental property.
Docket - A log containing the complete history of each case in the form of brief chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings.
Domicile - That place where a person has a true and permanent home. A person may have several residences but only one domicile.
Evidence - Any type of proof that is legally presented at trial through witnesses, records and/or exhibits.
Exhibit - A document or material object produced and identified in court for the purpose of introducing it as evidence in a case. Each of these documents or objects is ordinarily given an identifying letter or number in alphabetical or numerical sequence before it is offered as evidence.
File - To deposit in the official custody of the Clerk of the Court to enter into the files or records of a case.
Filing Fees - Money paid to the court to start a civil case.
Jurisdiction - 1) The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a case. Small Claims Court can handle civil claims up to $15,000; 2) The geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases. For example, you must sue a corporation in the county where it is doing business, where it is incorporated or where the registered agent is located. [The registered agent is the party who should be served for the corporation.] Individuals must be sued in the county in which they reside; and 3) the territory, subject matter or persons over which lawful authority may be exercised by a court, as determined by constitution or statute, e.g., the Small Claims Court cannot try cases involving divorce or family matters or where the court is called upon to decide who is the legal owner of real estate.
Laches - The failure to diligently assert a right which results in a refusal to allow relief.
Landlord - An owner also called a "lessor", who rents out real property to a tenant, also called "lessee".
Lawsuit - 1) A legal action started by a plaintiff against a defendant based on a statement of claim that the defendant failed to perform a legal duty, which resulted in harm to the plaintiff, 2) a legal dispute brought to a court for resolution.
Lease - An agreement for renting real property. A lease is usually written and for a set term, such as one year. A residential rental agreement can be oral and is presumed to be month-to-month.
Lien - A claim upon property  of another as security for some debt.
Minor - A person under the age of 18 years.
Party - One of the litigants. At the trial level, the parties are typically referred to as the plaintiff or complainant and the defendant or respondent. On appeal, they are known as the appellant and appellee.
Plaintiff - The party bringing a civil case.
Promissory Note - A written document by which one person promises to pay money to another.
Proof of Service - The form filed with the court that proves the date on which the documents were formally served on a party in a court action.
Pro se - Refers to persons who present their own cases without lawyers, from the Latin for "on one's own behalf".
Replevin - An action brought by the owner of items to recover possession of those items when those items were wrongfully taken or are wrongfully kept.
Service of Process - The delivery of legal documents to the opposing party, completed by an adult over the age of 18, who is not a party to the action, who swears to the date and method of delivery to recipient.
Settlement - An agreement reached among the parties that resolves the case at any time before court findings.
Small Claims Case - A civil case for monetary judgment of $15,000 or less.
Small Claims Court - The division of the trial court that handles civil cases seeking monetary awards of $15,000 or less. Small Claims Court is designed to be simple, quick and less costly than a regular civil lawsuit. In Small Claims Court, either party may appear pro se (without a lawyer), and there is no jury. The plaintiff and defendant may appeal an adverse decision by the judge.
Statement of Claim - A written statement filed by the plaintiff that initiates a civil case, stating the wrongs allegedly committed by the defendant and requesting relief from the court.
Statute of Limitations - A law that sets the deadline by which parties must file suit to enforce their rights.
Subpoena - An official order to attend court at a stated time. The most common use of the subpoena is to summon witnesses to court for the purpose of testifying in a trial.
Subpoena duces tecum - An official order to produce documents or records at a stated place or time.
Summons - A notice to the defendant that an action against him or her has been commenced in the court issuing the summons and that a judgment will be taken against him or her if the statement of claim is not answered within a certain time.
Tenancy at will - A right to occupy property for an indefinite term that is created by the owner or person in lawful possession giving permission to another person to occupy the property. Terminating a tenancy at will requires the same legal procedure as terminating a month-to-month tenancy.
Tenant - A person who rents property.
Testify - To give evidence under oath as a witness in a judicial proceeding.
Testimony - Evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials.
Verdict - The decision of a trial jury that determines the final outcome of a civil case.
 Warrant - A written order issued and signed by a judicial officer directing a peace officer to take specific action. Can be 1) an arrest warrant, i.e., one that commands a peace officer to arrest and bring before the court the person accused of an offense for the purpose of commencing legal action; 2) a bench warrant, i.e., a written order issued by the court from the judge or bench commanding a person's arrest because of his or her failure to appear in court; 3) a recall warrant i.e. a procedure for removing from Department of Justice and state police computers information concerning cancelled warrants in order to avoid mistaken arrests; or 4) a search warrant, i.e., an order issued by a judge, based on a finding of probable cause, directing law enforcement officers to conduct a search of specific premises for specific persons or things and to bring them before the court.
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