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court

n. 1) the judge, as in "The court rules in favor of the plaintiff." 2) any official tribunal (court) presided over by a judge or judges in which legal issues and claims are heard and determined. In the United States there are essentially two systems: federal courts and state courts. The basic federal court system has jurisdiction over cases involving federal statutes, constitutional questions, actions between citizens of different states, and certain other types of cases. Its trial courts are District Courts in one or more districts per state, over which there are District Courts of Appeal (usually three-judge panels) to hear appeals from judgments of the District Courts within the "circuit." There are 10 geographic circuits throughout the nation. Appeals on constitutional questions and other significant cases are heard by the Supreme Court, but only if that court agrees to hear the case. There are also special federal courts such as bankruptcy and tax courts with appeals directed to the District Courts. Each state has local trial courts, which include courts for misdemeanors (non-penitentiary crimes), smaller demand civil actions (called municipal, city, justice or some other designation), and then courts, usually set up in each county (variously called Superior, District, County, Common Pleas courts and called Supreme Court in New York) to hear felonies (crimes punished by state prison terms), estates, divorces and major lawsuits. The highest state court is called the State Supreme Court, except in New York and Maryland, which call them Court of Appeals. Some 29 states have intermediate appeals courts which hear appeals from trial courts which will result in final decisions unless the State Supreme Court chooses to consider the matter. Some states have speciality courts such as family, surrogate and domestic relations. Small claims courts are an adjunct of the lowest courts handling lesser disputes (although California's limit is $5,000) with no representation by attorneys and short and somewhat informal trials conducted by judges, commissioners or lawyers. The great number of law cases and lawyers' procedural maneuvers has clogged courts' calendars and has induced many states or local courts to set up mediation, arbitration, mandatory settlement conferences and other formats to encourage settlement or early judgments without the cost and wait of full court trials.


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The People's Law Dictionary by Gerald and Kathleen Hill Publisher Fine Communications

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