Words about procedures in your civil court case.

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Words about procedures in your civil court case

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These are words you may hear and see in Louisiana state court. These words are mostly about civil (not criminal) issues.

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Contempt of Court: Contempt of court means that someone has violated a court order, court rule, or has done something serious that shows no respect for the court. In some situations, one side files a contempt motion to argue to the judge that the other side is not doing what it is supposed to do in the case, like following a court order.

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Continuance: A continuance is a delay in the case. One side can ask for a delay, but the judge can say no. There are rules for how you must ask for a continuance or delay, and you should have a really good reason before you even try.

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IMPORTANT: If the court refuses to “continue’ or delay the case you must come to your hearing or trial or risk losing your case because you did not show up.

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Default Judgment: The court might issue a default judgment if one side does not file any papers or show up for court. In some cases, both sides want the same thing, like an uncontested divorce. One side might let the other win by default by agreeing not to object to the case.

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Evidence: Each side uses evidence to prove its side of the story. This includes testimony from people, or certain records, documents and things, like photographs. Both sides may argue over what evidence should be let in. The judge decides those issues.

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Ex Parte: Latin phrase for an action you take in court without telling the other side. Most of the time you have to let the other side know when you file court papers or contact the judge, so that the other side has a chance to object. Important: There are very narrow rules about what you can do ex parte. You should not try to do anything ex parte without making sure the law lets you do so.

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Filing Fee: What you pay to file papers in court. Important: Your lawsuit is not officially filed until you pay the fee or until you get a court order letting you file papers without paying in advance. If you have been sued you may need to pay to file papers to fight the case. Ask the court ahead of time what the fee is to file your court papers. Court Costs: Court costs may include filing fees as well as costs incurred for tests, reports, or other things that help move the case through court. The judge may order one or more parties to pay court costs.

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Hearsay: Hearsay is the name for information that is not considered reliable enough to count as evidence. Hearsay can refer to statements from people or statements in papers. There are rules about what is considered hearsay. There are also exceptions to the hearsay rules.

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In Forma Pauperis (or IFP): These Latin words mean “in the manner of a pauper” or person with no money. Low-income people can file In Forma Pauperis papers to ask the court to let you file court papers without paying court fees ahead of time. You must prove that you do not have money to pay. You can ask the Clerk of Court for an In Forma Pauperis form you can fill out. After you file your form, the judge will review it. The judge’s Order may either say yes or no to your request. If the judge says no, you must pay to file papers or do certain things in court. You can try to challenge an Order, but this is hard to do without a lawyer. Caution! Your court papers are not filed officially until you pay court fees or get an In Forma Pauperis Order. WARNING! The judge might order you to pay the court costs and fees when the case is over.

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Motion: Way to “move” or ask the court to do something. Many motions must be in writing.

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Notice (or Proper Notice): Notice is how you must tell others about certain events or developments that affect the case. Notice is very important. Failure to give the right kind of notice can make you lose your case or ruin a step you took in a case. Example: In an eviction case, you and your landlord may argue over whether the landlord gave you proper “notice” to get out of the apartment before going to court to try to evict you. In a fight over a security deposit, you and your landlord might argue over whether you gave the right kind of notice that you moved out.

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Objection: The term objection can mean different things in different situations. An objection can mean one party’s way of trying to keep out evidence in court. The court needs a good reason for the objection. The judge may agree with you and “sustain” your objection. The judge may disagree and “overrule” your objection.

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Preliminary Injunction: A preliminary injunction is a court order to “enjoin” or stop something. There is usually a follow-up court hearing to see if the preliminary injunction will become permanent. Temporary Restraining Order (TRO): An order a party gets without giving the other side a chance to respond. The order is temporary until there can be a court hearing. In family violence cases, people try to get a TRO to keep away a violent or harmful person. Permanent injunction: An order to stop someone from harming someone or doing something else that the court says is illegal.

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Prescription: Prescription is the deadline by which you have to bring a court action to protect your legal rights. Missing the deadline destroys your right to bring your case, except in very rare situations. There are different deadlines for different kinds of cases. Important: Prescription deadlines are very serious! If you think you need to take legal action to protect your rights, talk with a lawyer right away!

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Pro Se Litigant (or Self-Represented Litigant): A pro se litigant is someone handling his or her own case without a lawyer. In some places this is also called “pro per” or “in proper person.”

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Summary Judgment (or Motion for Summary Judgment): A Motion for Summary Judgment asks the court to decide the case or part of a case without a trial. The motion argues that the key facts are not in dispute and that all the court needs to do is to apply the law. The two sides may fight over whether any important facts still need to be decided and what the law says about how the case should turn out. There are strict rules about how to fight a Motion for Summary Judgment and what kind of evidence can be used to fight against the motion. You must give the court the right kind of evidence to fight a summary judgment motion.

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Filing Court Papers or Documents: A document is “filed” with the court when it is accepted by the court and added to the record in the case. WARNING! Giving papers to the Clerk of Court to file does not necessarily mean the papers are filed. If you do not pay the fee or get an In Forma Pauperis Order, the court may find you did not really "file" the papers and that your case never started.

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Justice of the Peace Court: The Justice of the Peace Court generally handles smaller cases. WARNING! Check first to see if your case involves more money than the court allows. Service: Service is the official way court papers are delivered to someone. The court has rules about how court papers must be served and who must be served with the papers. Some papers must be served by the Sheriff’s office; other papers can be mailed.

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Trial: This is the formal way the court hears evidence in court. Some trials are heard by a jury and some trials are heard by the judge alone. Bench Trial: A bench trial is a trial before a judge. There is no jury.

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Waive/Waiver: A waiver gives up your right to something. This can mean giving up your right to fight a claim, to have court papers delivered to you, or to get notice of court hearings. Example: In an uncontested divorce case, the other spouse may waive or give up the right to be served with court papers or to get notice of court hearings or the trial in the case. This kind of waiver must be signed in front of a notary by the person giving up his or her rights.

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For more information about legal issues for low-income people in Louisiana, go to www.lawhelp.org/la Louisiana public interest and pro bono advocates can find information and resources on www.probono.net/la Louisiana Civil Justice Center (LCJC) legal information help line: (504) 355-0970 or (800) 310-7029

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Southeast Louisiana Legal Services www.slls.org Free legal information for low-income people: www.lawhelp.org/la Resources for Louisiana’s public interest and pro bono advocates: www.probono.net/la Thank you for watching this presentation. Prepared in conjunction with the Pro Se Subcommittee of the Access to Justice Committee of the Louisiana State Bar Association.