341 meeting of creditors -- a meeting held shortly after a bankruptcy petition is filed, as required by section 341 of the Bankruptcy Code. Its purpose is to give the trustee and creditors an opportunity to question the debtor under oath.

acquittal -- a finding that the defendant is not guilty of the charges brought by the government. This finding may be reached by the trial judge either in a case tried before the judge or on a motion for judgment of acquittal made by a defendant or the judge in a jury trial. The jury may make such a finding in a case tried before it.

active judge -- a judge in the full-time service of the court. Compare with senior judge.

Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts (AO) -- the federal agency responsible for collecting court statistics, administering the federal courts’ budget, processing the federal courts’ payroll, and performing other administrative functions, under the direction and supervision of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

admissible -- a term used to describe evidence that may be heard by a jury and considered by a judge or a jury in federal civil and criminal cases.

adversary proceeding -- in bankruptcy, a method of handling disputes that may arise during the course of a case. It is literally a lawsuit within a case and is generally initiated by a complaint and requires a filing fee. The Bankruptcy Rules establish the types of disputes that are considered adversary proceedings. Compare with contested matter.

adversary process -- the method courts use to resolve disputes. Through the adversary process, each side in a dispute has the right to present its case as persuasively as possible, subject to the rules of evidence, and an independent fact finder, either judge or jury, decides in favor of one side or the other.

alternate juror -- a juror who is selected in the same manner as a regular juror and hears the evidence in a case along with the regular jurors, but does not help decide the case unless called upon to replace a regular juror.

alternative dispute resolution (ADR) -- a procedure for settling a dispute outside the courtroom or helping to make the trial more efficient, such as mediation, arbitration, or minitrial. Most forms of ADR are usually not binding on the parties and involve referral of the case to a neutral party. ADR is becoming more common in the federal courts.

amicus curiae -- a Latin term meaning "friend of the court." An amicus curiae is a person or organization that is not a party in the case on appeal, has a strong interest in the outcome of the case, and files a brief with the court of appeals called an "amicus brief." This brief may call important legal or factual matters to the court’s attention and thus help the court reach a proper decision in the case.

answer -- the formal written statement by a defendant in a civil case that responds to a complaint and sets forth the grounds for defense.

appeal -- a request, usually made after a trial, asking another court (usually the court of appeals) to decide whether the trial court proceeding was conducted properly. To make such a request is "to appeal" or "to take an appeal."

appellant -- the party who appeals a lower court’s decision, usually seeking reversal of that decision. Compare with appellee.

appellate court -- a court that reviews decisions of lower courts. In the federal courts, the primary appellate courts are the U.S. courts of appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.

appellee -- the party against whom an appeal is taken and who seeks to protect the judgment or order of the lower court. Compare with appellant.

arbitration -- a form of alternative dispute resolution in which an arbitrator (a neutral decision maker) issues a judgment on the legal issues involved in a case after listening to presentations by each party. Arbitration can be binding or nonbinding, depending on the agreement among the parties before the proceeding.

arraignment -- a proceeding in which a person accused of committing a crime is brought into court, told of the charges, and asked to plead guilty or not guilty.

arrest -- a law enforcement officer’s detaining a person or otherwise leading that person to reasonably believe that he or she is not free to leave.

Article III -- the section of the U.S. Constitution that places "the judicial power of the United States" in the federal courts.

Article III judges -- judges who exercise "the judicial power of the United States" under Article III of the Constitution. They are appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Senate. Supreme Court justices, court of appeals judges, district court judges, and Court of International Trade judges are Article III judges; bankruptcy and magistrate judges are not.

assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA) -- a federal prosecutor who assists the U.S. attorney in the judicial district by prosecuting criminal cases for the federal government and representing the government in civil actions. It is important to distinguish a U.S. attorney from a district attorney (DA), who prosecutes criminal cases for a state, county, or city.

attorney-client privilege -- the doctrine that ensures that communications between an attorney and his or her client remain confidential and that the attorney cannot be compelled to disclose them.

Attorney General -- the executive branch official appointed by the President to head the Justice Department.

automatic stay -- a provision that goes into effect as soon as a bankruptcy case is filed and that stops most creditors from suing or foreclosing against a debtor without prior permission of the bankruptcy court.

bail -- the release of a person charged with an offense prior to trial under specified financial or nonfinancial conditions designed to ensure the person’s appearance in court when required.

bankruptcy -- federal statutes and judicial proceedings involving persons or businesses that cannot pay their debts and thus seek the assistance of the court in getting a "fresh start." Under the protection of the bankruptcy court and the laws of the Bankruptcy Code, debtors may "discharge" their debts, perhaps by paying a portion of each debt.

bankruptcy appellate panel (BAP) -- in the circuits that have them, a panel of three bankruptcy judges that shares the appellate role of the district court in bankruptcy filings.

bankruptcy court -- see U.S. bankruptcy court.

bankruptcy estate -- a debtor’s assets (money or property) that, unless exempt, must be used to pay creditors in a bankruptcy proceeding.

bankruptcy judge -- a federal judge, appointed by the court of appeals for a fourteen-year term, who has authority to hear matters that arise under the Bankruptcy Code.

bench trial -- a trial without a jury, in which the judge decides the facts. Compare with jury trial.

brief -- a written statement submitted by the lawyer for each side in a case that explains the legal and factual arguments why the court should decide the case in favor of that lawyer’s client.

burden of proof -- the level or quality of proof that a party needs to prove his or her case. In civil cases, the plaintiff has the burden of proving his or her case by a preponderance of the evidence, which means the plaintiff’s proof must outweigh the defendant’s at least slightly for the plaintiff to win; if the two sides are equal, the defendant wins. In criminal cases, the government has the burden of proof, and that burden is much higher: A verdict of guilty requires the government to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

case file -- a complete collection of every document in a case.

case law -- the law as laid down in the decisions of the courts; the law in cases that have been decided. Compare with statute.

case management -- techniques used to process cases from one stage of the proceeding to another, such as setting deadlines for discovery or scheduling a series of pretrial conferences. Case management calls for different approaches from one case to the next and is the primary responsibility of judges, assisted by lawyers and clerks’ office personnel.

case trustee -- in bankruptcy, a person, often a lawyer or accountant, hired to preside over liquidation of the debtor’s estate. The case trustee collects and sells the debtor’s nonexempt property and distributes the proceeds to creditors, and he or she pursues legal claims on behalf of the debtor for purposes of getting as much money for the estate as possible.

challenge for cause -- a lawyer’s attempt to prevent a prospective juror from sitting on a jury because, in the lawyer’s view, the juror’s answers to voir dire questions suggest that he or she cannot approach the case impartially. If the judge agrees with the lawyer, the judge will then strike (excuse) the prospective juror for cause. Compare with peremptory challenge.

chambers -- the offices of a judge.

chief judge -- the judge who has primary responsibility for the administration of a court, but also decides cases. Chief appellate judges and chief district judges take office according to rules regarding age and seniority; chief bankruptcy judges are appointed by the district judges of the court. Compare with Chief Justice.

Chief Justice -- the "first among equals" on the U.S. Supreme Court, who has numerous responsibilities for the administration of the federal judicial system as well as for hearing cases. The President appoints the Chief Justice, with approval of the Senate, when a vacancy occurs in the office.

circuit -- the regional unit of federal judicial appeals. Congress has divided the federal judicial system into twelve regional circuits (the eleven numbered circuits and the District of Columbia Circuit). In each circuit is a court of appeals to hear appeals from district courts in the circuit, and a circuit judicial council to oversee the administration of the courts of the circuit. See also district.

circuit court -- an informal name for a U.S. court of appeals (also the name of some state trial courts).

circuit executive -- a federal court employee appointed by a circuit judicial council to assist the chief judge of the circuit and provide administrative support to the courts of the circuit.

circuit judge -- an informal name for a U.S. court of appeals judge.

circuit judicial council -- a governing body in each federal circuit created by Congress to ensure the effective and expeditious administration of justice in that circuit. Each council has an equal number of circuit and district court judges; the chief judge of the circuit is the presiding officer.

civil case -- a lawsuit brought by a party (the plaintiff) against another party (the defendant) claiming that the defendant failed to carry out a legal duty owed to the plaintiff and that the defendant’s breach of duty caused financial or personal injury to the plaintiff. Usually, the purpose of bringing the case is to get a court order for the defendant to pay for damages suffered by the plaintiff.

class action -- a lawsuit in which one or more members of a large group, or "class," of individuals or other entities sue as "representative parties" on behalf of the entire class. There must be questions of law or fact common to the class, and the district court must agree to "certify the class," thus allowing the action to proceed as a class action.

clerk of court -- an officer appointed by the court to work with the chief judge and other judges in overseeing the court’s administration, especially to assist in managing the flow of cases through the court.

closing arguments -- after all the evidence has been presented in a trial, lawyers’ presentations summarizing the evidence and attempting to persuade the jury to draw conclusions favorable to their clients. Closing arguments, like opening statements, are not themselves evidence.

community defender organization -- a nonprofit defense counsel service organized by a group of lawyers in private practice and authorized by the district court to represent criminal defendants in court who cannot afford to pay for their defense. Compare with federal public defender organization.

complaint -- a written statement by the person (called the "plaintiff") starting a civil lawsuit which details the wrongs allegedly committed against that person by another person (called the "defendant").

concurring opinion -- see opinion.

condition -- a court-imposed requirement that a defendant or offender must abide by in order to remain under community supervision by a pretrial services or probation officer, as an alternative to imprisonment. For example, refraining from use of illegal drugs is a mandatory condition for everyone under federal supervision; a person who is known to have used illegal drugs in the past may also have regular drug testing as a condition.

confirmation hearing -- (1) in bankruptcy, the court proceeding at which the judge determines whether a debtor’s plan of reorganization meets the requirements of the Bankruptcy Code, whether creditors have accepted or rejected the plan, and whether to confirm the plan as presented. (2) the hearing in which Senate Judiciary Committee members question persons nominated by the President to be federal judges.

Constitution -- see U.S. Constitution.

contested matter -- in bankruptcy, a method of handling disputes that may arise during the course of a case. Contested matters are initiated by motion and generally do not require a filing fee. The Bankruptcy Rules establish the types of disputes that are handled as contested matters. Compare with adversary proceeding.

contract -- an agreement between two or more persons that creates an obligation to do or not to do a particular thing.

convert -- in bankruptcy, to change a case to another type of proceeding; for example, if creditors initiate a filing under Chapter 7, the debtor may convert the case to Chapter 11.

counsel -- a lawyer or a team of lawyers. The term is often used during a trial to refer to lawyers in a case.

count -- an allegation in an indictment charging a defendant with a crime. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant has committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are referred to as the counts of the indictment.

counterclaim -- a claim filed by a defendant against the plaintiff in response to the plaintiff’s original suit. The defendant becomes the counterclaim plaintiff in the case, and the plaintiff becomes the counterclaim defendant (in addition to their being defendant and plaintiff).

court -- an agency of government authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges and lawyers sometimes use the term court to refer to the judge, as in "the court has read the pleadings."

court of appeals -- see U.S. court of appeals.

court of appeals judge -- see U.S. court of appeals judge.

court interpreter -- a court employee who orally translates what is said in court from English into the language of a non-English-speaking party or witness and translates that person’s testimony into English.

court reporter -- a person who makes a word-for-word record of what is said in a court proceeding and produces a transcript of the proceeding on request.

courtroom deputy clerk -- a court employee who assists the judge by keeping track of witnesses, evidence, and other trial matters, and sometimes by scheduling cases.

cramdown -- in bankruptcy, court confirmation of a Chapter 11 plan despite the opposition of certain creditors.

creditor -- any person, business, or other entity, such as a government agency, to whom a debtor owes money. In bankruptcy, creditors usually receive a reduced amount because the debtor is unable to pay the full amount owed.

criminal case -- a case prosecuted by the government, on behalf of society at large, against an individual or organization accused of committing a crime. If the defendant is found guilty, the sentence (or punishment) is often imprisonment.

Criminal Justice Act (CJA) -- a federal statute designed to implement the Sixth Amendment right to counsel in criminal cases by providing court-appointed attorneys to represent defendants who cannot afford to pay for an attorney’s services. Some district courts order these defendants to pay to the court at a later date the amount of money it has spent in providing the defendant with a lawyer. Reimbursement may be made a term of the judgment at sentencing, or a condition of probation or supervised release.

criminal record -- a record listing a defendant’s previous arrests and convictions. A copy of the defendant’s criminal record, if any, must be given to the defense upon request during discovery.

cross-claim -- in a case with more than one defendant, a claim filed by one defendant (the "cross-claim plaintiff") against another (the "cross-claim defendant"). A cross-claim may allege that any injury to the plaintiff was caused by the cross-claim defendant, who should pay any damages to which the plaintiff is entitled, and/or it may allege a separate but related injury to the cross-claim plaintiff caused by the cross-claim defendant.

cross-examination -- questions directed to a witness by a lawyer for any other party, after the direct examination of the witness. The questions focus on matters the witness testified to during direct examination and may be designed to test the witness’s credibility. Leading questions (those which suggest, by their wording, how the attorney would like the witness to answer) may be asked on cross-examination. Compare with direct examination.

damages -- money that a defendant pays a plaintiff in a civil case that the plaintiff has won, to compensate the plaintiff for loss or injury.

deadlocked jury -- a jury that is unable to agree upon a verdict (also called a hung jury). A deadlocked jury results in a mistrial.

debtor -- a person or business that owes money to another person or business. In bankruptcy, the debtor usually repays a reduced amount because of inability to pay the full amount owed.

debtor-in-possession (DIP) -- in bankruptcy, the manager of a debtor business in a Chapter 11 reorganization that continues to operate and control the business after the bankruptcy petition is filed unless the court orders otherwise.

default judgment -- a judgment against the defendant awarding the plaintiff the relief demanded in the complaint because of the defendant’s failure to appear in court. A summons must notify the defendant that failure to appear and defend against the lawsuit in a timely manner will result in the court’s entry of a default judgment.

defendant -- (1) in a civil suit, the person complained against; (2) in a criminal case, the person accused of the crime.

deposition -- a frequently used means of obtaining discovery in civil cases, in which the attorney who requested the deposition questions a party, witness, or any person with information about the case, and the person (the deponent) answers under oath.

deputy clerk -- see courtroom deputy clerk.

detention hearing -- under the Bail Reform Act, a hearing that may be held in a case involving a defendant who is charged with a serious felony or whose record indicates that he or she may flee or pose a serious risk of danger to the community if released prior to trial. If, after an evidentiary hearing, the magistrate judge who conducts the hearing finds that no pretrial release conditions will reasonably ensure the appearance of the defendant in court, the safety of the community, or the safety of another person, the magistrate judge may order the defendant detained without bail pending trial.

direct examination -- the initial questioning of any witness by the attorney who calls the witness to the stand, to bring out evidence for the fact finder (judge or jury). Compare with cross-examination.

discharge -- (1) the payment of a debt or satisfaction of some other obligation; (2) in bankruptcy, a legal device that releases a debtor from monetary obligations; it prevents creditors from trying to collect prebankruptcy debts from a debtor after a bankruptcy proceeding is over.

disclosure statement -- in bankruptcy, a statement that gives Chapter 11 creditors information to use in deciding whether to vote to accept or reject a debtor’s plan of reorganization.

discovery -- (1) in a civil case, pretrial procedures by which the lawyers representing the parties try to learn as much as they can about their opponents’ cases by examining the witnesses, physical evidence, and other information that make up the case; (2) in a criminal case, a meeting of the defendant’s attorney and the prosecutor in which the defendant’s attorney requests disclosure of certain types of evidence against the defendant. The government may then make a discovery request of the defendant.

discovery plan -- a plan developed at a prediscovery meeting by the parties in a civil case (or their lawyers) and filed with the court. This plan is required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure except in cases exempted by a local rule or court order. The parties discuss their claims and defenses, explore possibilities for settlement, and make or arrange for the disclosures required by the rules.

dissent -- see opinion.

district -- a geographic region over which a particular U.S. district court has jurisdiction. Congress has divided the country into districts to organize the administration of justice. See also circuit.

district court -- see U.S. district court.

district judge -- see U.S. district judge.

diversity jurisdiction -- the federal district courts’ authority to hear and decide civil cases involving plaintiffs and defendants who are citizens of different states (or U.S. citizens and foreign nationals) and who meet certain statutory requirements.

docket -- a list of court proceedings and filings in chronological order.

early neutral evaluation -- a form of alternative dispute resolution in which an experienced, impartial attorney with expertise in the subject matter of the case (a neutral evaluator) gives the parties a nonbinding assessment of the case and may also provide case-planning guidance and assistance with settlement.

elbow law clerk -- a lawyer employed by the court who works closely with a judge in the judge’s chambers.

electronic monitoring -- see home confinement.

en banc -- a French term meaning "on the bench." The term refers to a session in which all of the judges on an appellate court participate in the decision. The judges of the U.S. courts of appeals usually sit in panels of three, but for some important cases they may sit en banc.

evidence -- information in the form of testimony, documents, or physical objects that is presented in a case to persuade the fact finder (judge or jury) to decide the case for one side or the other.

exclusivity period -- in bankruptcy, the time during which only the debtor in a Chapter 11 reorganization can propose a plan of reorganization. The exclusivity period is generally at least the first 120 days after the bankruptcy filing.

exemption -- money or property that is not liquidated as part of the bankruptcy estate.

exhibit -- an item of physical evidence (a document or an object).

expert witness -- a person with specialized training and experience about particular subject matter who testifies in a case to offer an opinion on an issue in the case based on his or her specialized knowledge.

fact finder -- the jury in a jury trial or the judge in a bench trial who weighs the evidence in a case and determines the facts.

fact witness -- a person with knowledge about what happened in a particular case who testifies in the case about what happened or what the facts are.

federal courts -- courts established under the U.S. Constitution. The term usually refers to courts of the federal judicial branch, which include the Supreme Court of the United States, the U.S. courts of appeals, the U.S. district courts (including U.S. bankruptcy courts), and the U.S. Court of International Trade. Congress has established other federal courts in the executive branch, such as immigration courts.

federal crime -- a violation of a criminal law passed by Congress. Federal crimes are investigated by federal law enforcement agencies and prosecuted by the U.S. attorney for the judicial district in which the crime occurred.

Federal Judicial Center (FJC) -- the federal judicial system’s agency for research and education. Its responsibilities include developing and administering education programs and services for judges and other court employees, and undertaking empirical and exploratory research on federal judicial processes, court management, and sentencing, often at the request of the committees of the Judicial Conference of the United States.

federal public defender organization -- as provided for by the Criminal Justice Act, an organization established within a federal judicial district (or more than one district) to represent criminal defendants who can’t afford to pay a lawyer. Each organization is supervised by a federal public defender appointed by the court of appeals for the circuit.

federal-question jurisdiction -- the federal district courts’ authorization to hear and decide cases arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.

federal rules -- bodies of rules developed by the federal judiciary that spell out procedural requirements. The federal rules are the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure. Rules can take effect only after they are forwarded to Congress for review and Congress declines to change them.

federalism -- a principle of our Constitution which gives some functions to the U.S. government and leaves the other functions to the states. The functions of the U.S. (or federal) government involve the nation as a whole and include regulating commerce that affects people in more than one state, providing for the national defense, and taking care of federal lands. State and local governments perform such functions as running the schools, managing the police departments, and paving the streets.

felony -- a crime that carries a penalty of more than a year in prison.

fine -- a form of punishment for a crime, in which the defendant must pay a sum of money to the public treasury.

final decision -- a court’s decision that resolves the claims of the parties and leaves nothing further for the court to do but ensure that the decision is carried out. The U.S. courts of appeals have jurisdiction over appeals from final decisions of U.S. district courts.

foreperson -- the juror who presides over the jury’s deliberations. The foreperson is either elected by the jurors or selected by the judge, depending on the practice in the particular court.

grand jury -- a group of citizens who listen to the government present evidence of criminal activity by an individual or individuals in order to determine whether there is enough evidence to justify filing an indictment charging the individual or individuals with a crime. Federal grand juries are made up of sixteen to twenty-three persons and serve for about a year, sitting one or two days a week.

Guidelines Manual -- the manual published by the U.S. Sentencing Commission, which contains the federal sentencing guidelines, policy statements, and commentary.

guilty plea -- a criminal defendant’s admission to the court that he or she committed the offense he or she is charged with and his or her agreement to waive the right to trial. If the court accepts the plea, the case proceeds to sentencing.

guilty verdict -- a verdict convicting a criminal defendant of a charge or charges. When a verdict of guilty is returned, the court orders a presentence investigation of the defendant and sets a sentencing date.

habeas corpus -- a Latin phrase meaning "that you have the body." A prisoner may file a habeas corpus petition seeking release on grounds that he or she is being held illegally.

hearsay -- evidence that is presented by a witness who did not see or hear the incident in question but heard about it from someone else. Hearsay is usually not admissible as evidence in a trial.

home confinement -- a court-imposed requirement that a defendant or offender being supervised in the community by a pretrial services or probation officer must remain within his or her home, either all the time or during certain hours of the day. Electronic monitoring may be used to verify the person’s whereabouts; the person wears an electronic device which contacts the supervising officer if it leaves the permissible area.

hung jury -- a jury that is unable reach a verdict (also called a deadlocked jury). A hung jury results in a mistrial.

impeachment -- (1) the process of charging government officials with serious misconduct in office that can lead to their removal; (2) the process of calling the credibility of a witness into question, as in "impeaching the testimony of a witness."

imprisonment -- a term in prison served by an offender as part of a federal criminal sentence.

indictment -- the formal charge issued by a grand jury stating that there is enough evidence that the defendant committed a crime to justify having a trial. Indictments are used primarily for felonies. An indictment may contain allegations that the defendant committed more than one crime. The separate allegations are referred to as the counts of the indictment. Compare with information.

indigent defendant -- a defendant who does not have the financial resources to hire an attorney and qualifies for a court-appointed attorney under the Criminal Justice Act.

in forma pauperis -- a Latin phrase meaning "as a pauper." A party unable to pay the filing fees and other costs involved in an appeal may file a motion in the district court asking to proceed in forma pauperis. If the motion is granted the party may proceed with the appeal without paying any fees or costs.

information -- a formal accusation by a government attorney that the defendant committed a misdemeanor. Compare with indictment.

initial appearance -- following an arrest, the appearance of a defendant before a magistrate judge, who informs the defendant of the nature of the charges against him or her. The defendant is also informed of his or her rights to be represented by counsel, to remain silent, and to have a preliminary examination. The magistrate judge then decides whether to detain the defendant or release him or her on bail.

injunction -- a judge’s order that a party take or refrain from taking certain action. An injunction may be preliminary, until the outcome of a case is determined, or permanent.

interim trustee -- in bankruptcy liquidations, a person who takes "possession of, preserves, and protects" the debtor’s nonexempt property (the property that will be divided among creditors) until the creditors elect a case trustee. See also case trustee.

interlocutory appeal -- an appeal from a nonfinal, or interlocutory, district court order, such as an injunction. An interlocutory order is issued during litigation of the case in the district court, not at the end of it. Interlocutory appeals are permitted by statute as an exception to the general policy requiring a final district court decision or order before an appeal is permitted.

interrogatories -- a form of discovery consisting of written questions to be answered in writing and under oath. Interrogatories are submitted to a party in the case by the party seeking discovery.

involuntary filing -- a bankruptcy case that a creditor or group of creditors initiates, rather than the debtor. Compare with voluntary filing.

judge -- a governmental official with authority to preside over and decide lawsuits brought to courts.

judgment -- a final order of the court that resolves the case and states the rights and liabilities of the parties.

judgment as a matter of law -- a ruling that not enough credible evidence has been introduced on a particular claim to allow the jury to consider it. The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure give any party the right, at the end of the presentation of an opponent’s evidence, to ask the court to enter judgment against the opponent.

Judicial Conference of the United States -- the federal courts’ administrative governing body. The Chief Justice of the United States chairs the Conference, and it meets twice a year. Much of the Conference’s work is done through some twenty committees of judges, which make recommendations to the Conference on various issues.

Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation -- the federal agency responsible for considering the transfer of civil cases that are pending in different districts but involve common questions of fact to a single district for coordinated or consolidated pretrial proceedings. The panel consists of seven court of appeals and district court judges designated by the Chief Justice.

judicial review -- (1) the authority of a court, in a case involving either a law passed by a legislature or an action by an executive branch officer or employee, to determine whether the law or action is inconsistent with the U.S. Constitution, and to declare the law or action invalid if it is inconsistent; although judicial review is usually associated with the U.S. Supreme Court, it can be, and is, exercised by lower courts; (2) a form of appeal to the courts for review of an administrative body’s findings of fact or of law.

jurisdiction -- (1) the legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case; (2) the geographic area over which the court has authority to decide cases.

jury -- a group of citizens whose duty is to weigh evidence fairly and impartially and decide the facts in a trial (see petit jury) or to decide whether evidence against a defendant is sufficient to file an indictment charging him or her with a crime (see grand jury).

jury instructions -- instructions given by the judge to the jury after all the evidence in a case has been presented, either before or after closing arguments, and before the jury begins deliberations. The instructions cover such matters as the responsibilities of the jurors, how the jurors are to go about deciding the case, and the law applicable to the case.

jury trial -- a trial in which a jury decides the facts. Compare with bench trial.

Justice Department -- the agency of the federal executive branch with responsibilities in a wide range of areas bearing on the administration of justice and enforcement of laws passed by Congress. The Justice Department is responsible for investigating alleged criminal conduct, deciding which cases merit prosecution in the federal courts, and prosecuting those cases. It also represents the U.S. government in many civil actions.

lawsuit -- any one of various proceedings in a court of law.

leading question -- a question an attorney asks a witness in a trial which, by its very wording, suggests how the attorney would like the witness to answer. Leading questions are permissible during cross-examination but not during direct examination.

liquidation -- the more traditional type of bankruptcy filing, in which the debtor gives up most of its assets in return for not having to pay most of its debts.

litigants -- see parties.

local rules -- rules that govern practice and proceedings in a specific federal court. Local rules can supplement but not contradict the federal rules.

magistrate judge -- a judge appointed by a federal district court for an eight-year term. Magistrate judges assist district judges in preparing cases for trial. They may also conduct trials in misdemeanor cases when a defendant agrees to allow a magistrate judge instead of a district judge to preside, and they may conduct civil trials when the parties agree to it.

mandatory minimum sentence -- a statutorily defined minimum term of imprisonment that the court is required to impose on a defendant at sentencing. For example, a defendant convicted of distributing one kilogram or more of a substance containing a detectable amount of heroin must be sentenced to "a term of imprisonment which may not be less than 10 years or more than life" under federal law.

Marshals Service -- see U.S. Marshals Service.

master wheel -- the list of registered voters in a district, supplemented in some districts with other sources, which is used as a source of prospective jurors. The clerk’s office sends a questionnaire to each person on the master wheel.

mediation -- the alternative dispute resolution method most commonly used in the district courts. Mediation is an informal process in which a mediator facilitates negotiations between the parties to help them resolve their dispute.

misdemeanor -- a criminal offense less severe than a felony, generally punishable by a fine only or by imprisonment of less than one year.

mistrial -- a trial that has been terminated because of some extraordinary event, a fundamental error prejudicial to the defendant, or a jury that is unable to reach a verdict.

motion -- an application to the court for an order of some kind. Some kinds of motions may be filed only within certain time limits, and others may be filed at any stage of a case.

nolo contendere plea -- a plea in which the defendant does not admit guilt, but does waive the right to trial and authorize the court to impose punishment at sentencing. Nolo contendere is a Latin term that means "it is not contested." This type of plea is rarely entered. The motivation for entering a nolo plea is that unlike a plea of guilty, a nolo plea may not be used against the defendant as an admission in a related civil case.

objection -- a lawyer’s belief, stated to the judge, that something is wrong with a question posed by opposing counsel, the way opposing counsel phrases a question, or the way a witness answers it. If the judge thinks the objection is valid, he or she will sustain the objection and tell the witness not to answer or tell the jury to disregard the answer. If there is no basis for the objection, the judge will overrule it and let the questioning continue.

opening statements -- before the evidence is presented in a trial, lawyers’ presentations to the jury summarizing what they intend to present as evidence. Opening statements, like closing arguments, are not themselves evidence.

opinion -- a judge’s written explanation of a decision in a case or some aspect of a case. An opinion of the court explains the decision of all or a majority of the judges. A dissenting opinion is an opinion by one or more judges who disagree with the majority. A concurring opinion is an opinion by one or more judges that agrees with the decision of the majority but offers further comment or a different reason for the decision. A per curiam opinion is an opinion handed down by an appellate court but not signed by an individual judge.

oral argument -- in appellate cases, an opportunity for the lawyers for each side to appear before the judges to summarize their positions and answer the judges’ questions.

order -- a decision or direction made by a judicial authority. Judges issue orders in response to motions.

overrule -- (1) a judge’s ruling at trial that a lawyer’s objection is without merit, and that the questioning or testimony objected to may continue; (2) a court’s decision to set aside the authority of a former decision.

panel -- (1) in appellate cases, a group of three judges assigned to decide the case; (2) in the process of jury selection, the group of potential jurors from which the jury is chosen; (3) in criminal cases, a group of private lawyers whom the court has approved to be appointed to represent defendants unable to afford to hire lawyers.

parole -- the suspension of a convict’s prison sentence and the convict’s release from prison, at the discretion of an executive branch agency and conditioned on the convict’s compliance with the terms of parole. The Sentencing Reform Act of 1984 abolished federal parole. Offenders whose crimes were committed on or after November 1, 1987, are sentenced by the court under sentencing guidelines established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission and, unlike previous offenders, may not have their sentences reviewed by the U.S. Parole Commission. See also probation and supervised release.

parties -- the plaintiff(s) and defendant(s) in a lawsuit.

per curiam opinion -- see opinion.

peremptory challenge -- an attorney’s striking (excusing) a person from a panel of prospective jurors during jury selection for a trial without stating any reason. Attorneys have the right to a certain number of peremptory challenges in each case. Peremptory challenges may be made for a variety of reasons, including hunches, but may not be based on race or gender. Compare with challenge for cause.

petition -- (1) a document filed in a U.S. court of appeals to commence an appeal of a final decision of a federal agency, board, commission, or officer; (2) a document filed in bankruptcy court to initiate a bankruptcy case.

petitioner -- the party filing a petition in the court of appeals, seeking review of an order issued by a federal agency, board, commission, or officer.

petition for rehearing -- a document filed by a party who lost a case in the U.S. court of appeals to ask the panel to reconsider its decision. If the panel grants the petition, it may ask the parties to file additional briefs and reargue the case.

petit jury (or trial jury) -- a group of citizens who hear the evidence presented by both sides at trial in a case and determine the facts in dispute. Federal criminal juries consist of twelve persons, and sometimes additional persons serve as alternate jurors in case one or more of the twelve cannot continue. Federal civil juries consist of six to twelve persons. Petit is French for "small," thus distinguishing the trial jury from the larger grand jury (grand is French for "large").

plaintiff -- the person who files the complaint in a civil lawsuit.

plan of reorganization -- in bankruptcy, a plan that sets out how a debtor in a Chapter 11 reorganization proposes to repay its creditors.

plea -- in a criminal case, the defendant’s statement to the court that he or she is "guilty" or "not guilty" of the charges.

plea agreement -- an agreement between the government and the defendant to resolve a pending criminal case by the defendant’s entering a guilty plea rather than going to trial. The prosecutor may agree to dismiss or reduce certain charges, or recommend a certain sentence in return for the defendant’s entering a guilty plea and, in some cases, providing information to the prosecutor.

plea bargain -- The process in which the defendant and the prosecutor in a criminal case work out a mutually satisfactory disposition of the case subject to court approval. It usually involves the defendant's pleading guilty to a lesser offense or to only one or some of the counts in a multi-count indictment in return for a lighter sentence than the defendant would have received if convicted of the more serious charges.

pleadings -- in a civil case, the written statements of the parties stating their positions about the case.

precedent -- a court decision in an earlier case with facts and legal issues similar to those in a case currently before a court. Courts are required to follow some precedents. For example, a U.S. court of appeals must follow decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court; a district court must follow decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court and of the court of appeals of its own circuit. Courts are also influenced by decisions they are not required to follow, such as the decisions of other circuits. Courts also follow their own precedents unless they set forth reasons for changing the case law.

prediscovery meeting -- a meeting required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(f), at which the parties or their attorneys in a civil case discuss their claims and defenses, explore possibilities for settlement, make or arrange for the disclosures required by Rule 26(a), and develop a discovery plan to be filed with the court.

preliminary examination -- a preindictment hearing at which the prosecutor must present evidence sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that a federal offense was committed and that the defendant committed it.

preponderance of the evidence -- see burden of proof.

presentence report -- a report a probation officer prepares on the basis of an investigation of a convicted defendant that the officer conducted at the request of the court. It provides extensive information about the defendant’s background, financial condition, criminal offense or offenses, and criminal history for the judge to use in determining an appropriate sentence for the defendant.

presumption of innocence -- the requirement in a criminal trial that the jury presume that the defendant is innocent of all charges. The judge instructs the jury that, before the defendant can be found guilty, the government must overcome the presumption of innocence and convince the jurors that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

pretrial conference -- (1) in a civil case, a meeting of the judge and lawyers conducted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(d) to decide which matters are in dispute and should be presented to the jury, to review evidence and witnesses to be presented, to set a timetable for the case, and sometimes to discuss settlement of the case; (2) in a criminal case, a meeting which the court may conduct, pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 17.1, upon motion of any party or on its own motion, "to consider such matters as will promote a fair and expeditious trial."

pretrial release conditions -- the conditions under which a defendant may be released prior to trial under the Bail Reform Act of 1984. The conditions may be designed to ensure the defendant’s appearance in court or the safety of the community.

pretrial services officer -- an officer of the court who collects and verifies information to be used by judges in deciding issues related to defendants’ pretrial release and detention. In districts that do not have pretrial services offices, probation officers also serve as pretrial services officers.

pretrial services report -- a report a pretrial services officer prepares that contains information learned through a pretrial services investigation about a defendant’s personal history, criminal record, and financial status. The report is given to the U.S. magistrate judge, the prosecutor, and defense counsel for use in deciding issues related to bail.

priority unsecured claim -- in bankruptcy, a claim that takes priority over unsecured claims. A creditor with a priority unsecured claim does not have an interest in any specific property of the debtor as assurance of payment, but by operation of bankruptcy law must be paid in full before creditors who have claims without priority get anything. Examples of priority unsecured claims are those for employee wages, child support, and administration of the bankruptcy estate.

privilege against self-incrimination -- a person’s right to remain silent in the face of accusation or questioning by government agents. Also known as the right to remain silent, the privilege against self-incrimination is contained in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. People may invoke the privilege at any time, including immediately after an arrest, at the police station, before the grand jury, and at trial.

pro bono publico -- a Latin term meaning "for the good of the public." Some lawyers take on certain kinds of cases pro bono, without expectation of payment; these cases are called "pro bono cases."

pro se -- a Latin term meaning "on one’s own behalf." In courts, it refers to persons who present their own cases without lawyers.

probable cause -- the legal standard defining the amount of evidence or information needed to justify a search or an arrest. The Fourth Amendment requires that arrests and searches made by law enforcement officers be justified by probable cause. An arresting officer has probable cause for an arrest only if there is enough reliable information or evidence to support the officer’s reasonable belief that a crime has been committed and that the defendant committed it.

probation -- a criminal sentence in which the offender is placed under court supervision for a specified period of time, but allowed to remain in the community. While on probation the offender is required to report to a probation officer and comply with other court-imposed conditions (compare with supervised release).

probation officer -- an officer of the court who is responsible for conducting presentence investigations of offenders and preparing presentence reports, and is responsible for supervising persons on probation or supervised release.

proof beyond a reasonable doubt -- see burden of proof.

prosecute -- to charge a person or organization with a crime and seek to gain a criminal conviction against that person or organization.

prosecutor -- the government lawyer responsible for prosecuting criminal defendants. In federal cases, the prosecutor is the U.S. attorney or assistant U.S. attorney (AUSA).

qualified wheel -- the group of potential jurors who are not excused or exempted from the master wheel, and who are thus found eligible to serve. An individual on the qualified wheel may request a hardship excuse to be removed from the qualified wheel. See master wheel.

reaffirmation -- in bankruptcy, an agreement by a debtor to repay a particular debt even though there is no legal obligation to do so.

record -- all the documents filed in a case and a written account of the trial proceedings.

record on appeal -- the record of a case made as proceedings unfold in the U.S. district court, and assembled by clerks in the district court clerk’s office and transmitted to the U.S. court of appeals. It consists of the pleadings and exhibits filed in the case, the written orders entered by the trial judge, a certified copy of the docket entries, and a transcript of the relevant court proceedings. Court of appeals judges review parts of the record, along with briefs presented by the parties, when considering appeals of lower courts’ decisions.

recross-examination -- questions directed to a witness by the lawyer who conducted the cross-examination of the witness. Recross-examination follows redirect examination and focuses on matters that were raised for the first time during cross-examination. The questions focus on matters the witness testified to during redirect examination and are designed to test the witness’s credibility. Leading questions may be asked on recross-examination, as they may on cross-examination. See also leading question.

recuse -- to withdraw or disqualify oneself as a judge in a case because of personal prejudice, conflict of interest, or some other good reason why the judge should not sit in the interest of fairness.

redirect examination -- questions directed to a witness by the lawyer who conducted the direct examination of the witness. Redirect examination follows cross-examination and focuses on matters that were raised for the first time during cross-examination.

referral order -- an order that assigns a magistrate judge responsibility for handling a variety of pretrial issues in a civil case and for ensuring that the parties adhere to a strict case-preparation schedule. In some courts, it is common for district judges to enter referral orders in newly filed civil cases.

relief -- money damages or any other remedy the plaintiff seeks in a complaint.

remand -- the act of an appellate court sending a case back to a lower court for further proceedings.

removal -- a procedure applicable to most cases in which a federal court has jurisdiction because there is a federal question or diversity (parties who live in different states), but the plaintiff chooses to sue in state court. The federal removal statute allows the defendant to get the case removed to federal court, in part to ensure fairness to out-of-state defendants.

reorganization -- a type of bankruptcy filing in which the debtor gets to keep most, if not all, of its assets but has to pay all or some specified part of its debts according to a plan of reorganization.

reorganization plan -- see plan of reorganization.

representative party -- a party who sues on behalf of the class in a class action. The claims or defenses of the representative party must be typical of the class, and the representative party must protect the interests of the class. See class action.

requests for admission -- a form of discovery in which one party asks another to admit or deny the truth of facts or the genuineness of documents.

requests for production of documents -- a form of discovery in which one party requests that another make certain documents and other objects available for inspection and copying.

restitution -- payment by an offender of money or services to the victim of a crime for losses suffered as a result of the crime. Restitution must be ordered as part of the defendant’s sentence for certain crimes. It may also be ordered as a condition of probation or of supervised release.

reverse -- to set aside a lower court's decision or order and enter a different decision or order. A reversal is often followed by a remand.

revocation of probation or supervised release -- a court’s order that a probationer or supervised releasee who has violated one or more conditions of probation or supervised release can no longer serve his or her sentence in the community and must be imprisoned.

right to remain silent -- see privilege against self-incrimination.

search warrant -- a written court order authorizing a law enforcement officer to search certain premises for specified items and to seize the items described.

secured claim -- in bankruptcy, a creditor’s interest in specific property of the debtor as assurance of payment.

senior judge -- a judge who has retired from active duty but continues to perform some judicial duties, usually maintaining a reduced caseload. Compare with active judge.

sentence -- a judgment of the court imposing punishment upon a defendant for criminal conduct.

Sentencing Commission -- see U.S. Sentencing Commission.

sentencing guidelines -- uniform policies established by the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) to guide federal judges as they sentence criminal offenders. The first set of sentencing guidelines took effect in 1987, and the USSC amends the guidelines annually.

sentencing hearing -- a court hearing at which a defendant who is convicted of a crime is sentenced. At the hearing, the judge considers the probation officer’s recommendations for sentencing, allows the attorneys to state their positions, and gives the defendant an opportunity to make a statement before imposing sentence.

sequestration -- (1) the court’s exclusion of witnesses from the courtroom until they testify, so that their testimony will not be influenced by the testimony of prior witnesses; this practice is normally available if counsel request it, but does not apply to parties, who have the right to be present in court throughout the trial; (2) the court’s requirement that jurors remain isolated while deliberating on a case because justice requires that they be protected from outside influences.

service of process -- bringing a judicial proceeding to the notice of a person affected by it by delivering to him or her a summons, or notice of the proceeding. See summons.

settlement -- an agreement between the parties to a lawsuit to resolve their differences among themselves without having a trial or before the judge or jury renders a verdict in a trial.

settlement week -- a type of alternative dispute resolution in which a court suspends normal trial activity for a week and, aided by volunteer mediators, sends trial-ready cases to mediation sessions held at the courthouse. Cases unresolved during settlement week are returned to the court’s regular docket for further pretrial or trial proceedings as needed.

sidebar (or sidebar conference) -- a discussion between the judge and lawyers held out of earshot of the jury and spectators.

Speedy Trial Act -- a statute that imposes a series of time limits upon a court and prosecutors for carrying out the major events in a criminal case to ensure that the defendant receives a speedy trial.

staff attorney -- a member of the central legal staff of the court of appeals.

standard of proof -- see burden of proof.

standing trustee -- in bankruptcy, a private citizen appointed by the U.S. trustee to handle the administration of a large block of Chapter 13 cases.

state courts -- courts established by various state governments, including county and local courts.

statute -- a law passed by a legislature. Compare with case law.

statute of limitations -- a law setting a fixed time period (for example, one year) after which a person may not sue someone for an alleged injury or a government may not prosecute someone for a crime. It prevents legal proceedings from taking place long after the injury or crime occurred, when evidence and witnesses may be hard to find.

stay -- the postponement or halting of a judicial proceeding or judgment. A motion for a stay pending appeal seeks to delay the effect of a district court order or agency order until a U.S. court of appeals decides whether that order is valid.

stipulate -- to enter into a binding agreement on an issue that is not genuinely in dispute. Matters stipulated to in a court case are considered proven, so neither side is required to present evidence on them.

sua sponte -- a Latin term meaning "on its own responsibility or motion." A sua sponte order is an order issued by a court without prior motion by either party.

subpoena -- a court order that requires that a person produce documents or appear at a trial, hearing, or deposition for the purpose of testifying as a witness.

summary judgment -- under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court's judgment as a matter of law when the court determines that, after looking at all the evidence in the case, there is no dispute as to the facts. A party may file a motion asking the court to order summary judgment on some or all claims in the case.

summary jury trial -- a form of alternative dispute resolution used late in the pretrial proceedings of cases headed for lengthy jury trials. It provides for a short hearing at which counsel present the evidence to a jury in summary form, with no witnesses, and the jury delivers a nonbinding advisory verdict to be used as a basis for subsequent settlement negotiations.

summons -- a document the plaintiff in a lawsuit must file with the court and serve on the defendant, along with a copy of the complaint, to give the defendant notice of a lawsuit. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4 governs the form and content of a summons and explains the different methods that can be used to serve a summons on a defendant, so that the defendant learns of the lawsuit.

superdischarge -- in bankruptcy, the discharge a debtor receives in a Chapter 13 case. It is generally broader than the discharge a debtor receives under Chapter 7. It discharges all debts under the bankruptcy plan except certain long-term debts, such as mortgages, alimony and child support, certain education loans, restitution based on criminal convictions, and debts for death or personal injury caused by drunken driving.

supervised release -- a criminal sentence in which the offender is placed under court supervision for a specified period of time, but is allowed to remain in the community. Like offenders placed on probation, offenders placed on supervised release are supervised by probation officers and are required to observe certain conditions of release. The court must order a term of supervised release when it is required to do so by statute and when it orders a sentence of more than one year in prison.

Supreme Court of the United States -- the highest federal court in the United States. Its primary function is to clarify the law when lower courts disagree. Its members are appointed by the President and approved by the Senate.

sustain -- to rule at trial that a lawyer’s objection to questioning or testimony is valid. When the judge sustains an objection, the questioning or testimony objected to must stop or be modified.

term -- the time during which the U.S. Supreme Court sits for the transaction of business, also referred to as a session. Each year’s term begins on the first Monday in October and ends when the Court has announced its decisions in all the cases it has heard during the term, usually in late June or early July.

testimony -- evidence presented orally by witnesses during trials or depositions or before grand juries.

third-party claim -- a claim that a defendant can include in its answer to a complaint, stating that a breach of duty by an entity not a party to the lawsuit gave rise to all or part of the plaintiff’s claim. Service of the third-party complaint brings the entity into the suit as a third-party defendant, and the filing defendant becomes a third-party plaintiff.

transcript -- a written, word-for-word record of what was said either in a proceeding, such as a trial, or during some other exchange, such as a telephone conversation.

trial -- the proceeding at which parties in a civil case, or the government and the defense in a criminal case, produce evidence for consideration by a fact finder in court. The fact finder, who may be a judge or a jury, applies the law to the facts as it finds them and decides whether the defendant is guilty in a criminal case or which party should win in a civil case.

trial court -- see U.S. district court.

trial jury -- see petit jury.

unsecured claim -- in bankruptcy, a claim that does not give the creditor an interest in any specific property of the debtor as assurance of payment.

unsecured creditors’ committee -- in bankruptcy, a committee that negotiates the reorganization plan and protects the interests of unsecured creditors in a Chapter 11 reorganization. The committee usually consists of the holders of the seven largest unsecured claims willing to serve.

uphold -- to allow a lower court’s decision to stand as is. After reviewing the lower court’s decision, an appellate court may uphold or reverse it. Compare with reverse.

U.S. attorney -- a lawyer appointed by the President, in each judicial district, to prosecute cases for the federal government and represent the government in civil actions.

U.S. bankruptcy court -- a federal court that hears and administers matters that arise under the Bankruptcy Code. Although it is a unit of the district court and technically hears cases referred to it by the district court, for most practical purposes it functions as a separate administrative unit.

U.S. Constitution -- the document written by the founders of this country, which establishes the basic structure and functions of the federal government, grants certain specified rights (often called constitutional rights), to the American people, and places limits on the powers and activities of our federal and state governments. The term U.S. Constitution also includes its amendments. The first ten amendments to the Constitution are referred to as the Bill of Rights.

U.S. court of appeals -- a federal court that reviews decisions of the district court when a party in a case asks it to. Some use circuit court to refer to the court of appeals, although technically circuit court refers to a federal trial court that functioned from 1789 to the early twentieth century.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit -- a federal court of appeals located in Washington, D.C., whose jurisdiction is defined by subject matter rather than geography. It hears appeals only in certain types of cases, including those involving patent laws and those decided by the U.S. Court of International Trade and the U.S. Court of Federal Claims.

U.S. court of appeals judge -- a judge of one of the thirteen U.S. courts of appeals. When a party appeals a district court decision in a case, appeals judges review what happened in the district court to see if the district judge made any mistakes that would require them to change or modify the decision or to order that the case be retried. Court of appeals judges are among the group often referred to as Article III judges, because their power to hear and decide cases stems from Article III of the Constitution, and they thus have irreducible salaries and tenure during good behavior.

U.S. Court of Federal Claims -- a special trial court with nationwide jurisdiction which hears cases involving money damages in excess of $10,000 against the United States, including disputes over federal contracts, federal takings of private property for public use, and rights of military personnel. With the approval of the Senate, the President appoints U.S. Court of Federal Claims judges for fifteen-year terms.

U.S. district court -- a federal court with general trial jurisdiction. It is the court in which the parties in a lawsuit file motions, petitions, and other documents and take part in pretrial and other types of status conferences. If there is a trial, it takes place in the district court. Also referred to as a trial court.

U.S. district judge -- a judge of the federal district courts, appointed by the President, subject to the approval of the Senate. District judges are among the group often referred to as Article III judges, because their power to hear and decide cases stems from Article III of the Constitution, and they thus have irreducible salaries and tenure during good behavior.

U.S. Marshals Service -- an agency of the Justice Department charged with providing courtroom security in federal district courts, apprehending federal fugitives, transporting federal prisoners, and supervising the Justice Department’s Federal Witness Protection Program.

U.S. Sentencing Commission -- an independent commission in the judicial branch of the government established by the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984. Its mission is to develop sentencing policies and practices for use in the federal courts.

U.S. trustee -- a person who supervises the administration of bankruptcy cases and trustees and relieves bankruptcy judges of routine administrative matters, such as appointing case trustees, naming creditors’ committee members, and conducting meetings of creditors. U.S. trustees are appointed by the Attorney General of the United States for a five-year term.

verdict -- a petit jury’s or a judge's decision on the factual issues in a case.

voir dire -- the process by which judges and lawyers select a petit jury from a panel of citizens eligible to serve. They do this by questioning the members of the panel. Voir dire is a French term that means "to speak the truth."

voluntary filing -- a bankruptcy case that the debtor initiates. Compare with involuntary filing.

waiver -- the act of knowingly, intentionally, and voluntarily giving up a right. For example, a defendant who pleads guilty waives the right to a jury trial.

waiver of service -- a procedure under Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure that gives the plaintiff in a lawsuit the option of requesting in writing that the defendant sign a form waiving service of the summons. The defendant receiving such a request has a duty to avoid the "unnecessary costs" involved in serving a summons, and the rule provides the defendant with the two incentives of lower cost and more time to answer.

witness -- a person called upon by either side in a lawsuit to give testimony before the court.

writ of certiorari -- an order by a court requiring that the lower court produce the records of a particular case tried so that the reviewing court can inspect the proceedings and determine whether there have been any irregularities. Almost all parties seeking review of their cases in the U.S. Supreme Court file a petition for a writ of certiorari. The Court issues a limited number of writs, thus indicating the few cases it is willing to hear among the many in which parties request review.

writ of execution -- a means of enforcing a judgment in which, at the plaintiff’s request, the clerk directs the U.S. marshal to seize the defendant’s property, sell it, and deliver to the plaintiff the amount of money necessary to satisfy the judgment.

writ of garnishment -- a means of enforcing a judgment in which the defendant’s property (e.g., a bank account, wages, or any debt owed to the defendant by someone else) is to be seized and is in the hands of a third person .

writ of habeas corpus -- a document filed as a means of testing the legality of a restraint on a person’s liberty, usually imprisonment. The writ commands the officials who have custody of a prisoner to bring the prisoner before the court, so that the court can determine whether the prisoner is being detained lawfully.

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