NOTICE: This glossary of legal words and phrases is provided to you by the Clermont County Clerk of Courts to help you better understand the legal terminology used in the Clerk’s office. THIS GLOSSARY IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY.
THE JUDGES, THE DEPUTY CLERKS, AND THE COURT STAFF CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD NEVER RELY ON THESE VERY BASIC DEFINITIONS TO MAKE LEGAL DECISIONS. Please use this glossary to get a general understanding of your legal circumstance and have a better interaction with Clerk’s office.
1. WORDS AND PHRASES FOR ALL CASES
Court—A government body given the legal power to hear and decide cases. A court conduct trials, hearings, and other proceedings, issues rulings, orders, and decisions, and imposes criminal penalties where appropriate.
Common pleas court—The general jurisdiction trial court in Ohio. A common pleas court has legal authority over adult felony criminal cases, bigger civil cases, and all other cases not handled by another, more specialized court. The Clermont County Common Pleas Court, General Division is the general jurisdiction trial court in Clermont County.
Municipal court—A trial court with jurisdiction to handle traffic and misdemeanor cases, and civil cases under $15,000. The Clermont County Municipal Court is the court for such matters in Clermont County.
Clerk of Courts—The elected official in charge of receiving, processing, maintaining, and safely storing the complete record of all documents filed in court cases. There are separate offices for the Clerk of Courts for Common Pleas Court, Domestic Relations, Juvenile, and Probate courts. A different Clerk of Courts handles such matters for the Clermont County Municipal Court.
Judge—A public official authorized to exercise the power of the court and make all decisions and rulings in all cases. In Ohio, judges are elected and preside over both criminal and civil cases. All judges are attorneys with at least six years of experience.
Magistrate—An attorney appointed by a court to preside over certain trials and hearings, and make some of the decisions and rulings on cases before the court. Magistrates exercise the same judicial authority as judges to make rulings when presiding over cases. Judges retain the legal authority to make final rulings in cases. Both Judges and Magistrates should be addressed as “Your Honor” in trials or hearings.
Docket—The official record of all documents filed by the parties or generated by the court in a case. The Clerk of Courts creates and keeps the docket for all cases, criminal and civil.
Docket can also mean the daily schedule for court trials and hearings. A case that is set for a hearing is said to be “on the judge’s docket” for that day. The Assignment Office keeps the docket/schedule for the Common Pleas Court.
File—To deliver documents to a court for legal consideration by a judge or magistrate. A document is filed when it is physically delivered to the Clerk of Court in person, by mail, by delivery service, or in certain circumstances by fax. When a document is filed, it is stamped with the date and time of filing, noted on the court’s docket, stored as an electronic image, and placed in the permanent record of the case.
Serve—A document that is filed with the Clerk of Courts must also be served on all other parties to a case by the person who files the original papers. A document must be served to be legally considered by a judge or magistrate. Service of a document must be done according to the Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure; for instance by mailing it, physically delivering it, or using a delivery service. Service must be made on the attorneys who have appeared in a case on behalf of a party, or if a party is unrepresented, on the party themselves.
Serve also refers to what the Clerk of Courts does with documents to make sure that an individual or entity receives those papers, or gets notice of a court hearing or a court order. The Clerk can serve documents by regular mail, certified mail, through the Sheriff’s office, or by a designated person called a process server.
Jury—A group of residents from a local jurisdiction (such as a county) who directly participate in the justice system as neutral fact-finders based on evidence presented in court. The Right to Trial by Jury is recognized by both the United States and Ohio Constitutions.
Jury duty—The legal obligation of citizen to come to a trial court to sit as jurors (either as grand jurors or petit jurors), and decide criminal and civil cases. In Clermont County, jury duty for trials can last as little as one week, or for the duration of one trial.
Grand Jury—A group of citizens empowered by a court to hear preliminary evidence, and decide if a crime has been committed. If the grand jury decides that there is enough evidence to believe that an individual has committed a crime, it issues an indictment. In Clermont County, grand juries meet only one day a week.
Petit Jury—The jury in the trial of a case, whether it is criminal or civil. A trial court jury decides, after hearing all the evidence, whether one party owes something to another (a civil case), or whether a person is guilty or not guilty of a crime (a criminal case.)
Verdict—The final decision of a petit jury after hearing all the evidence, legal arguments, and instructions from the judge in a civil or criminal trial. A civil verdict might determine whether one party owes money to another party. A criminal verdict would be either guilty or not guilty as to an alleged crime.
Writ—An order from a court directing someone to do or not do a specific legal action. The best known writ is the writ of habeas corpus. The Clerk of Court would issue a writ at a judge’s direction.
Subpoena—An order from a court requiring someone to appear in court at a specific date and time to give testimony, bring documents or other physical things, or both. The Clerk of Courts issues subpoenas for civil and criminal trials and other court hearings. Failing to obey a subpoena can be punished by contempt of court.
Praecipe—A written request to the Clerk of Court asking that a certain action be taken. A praecipe is usually used for the issuance of a subpoena, issuance of a writ, or an order to sell property at a sheriff’s sale.
Judgment—A final order of a court at the end of a case. In a civil case, a judgment could require that one party pay a sum of money to another party. A judgment can also dismiss a party’s claims if they have not proven their legal right to recover. In a criminal case, a judgment could be that a person is guilty of a crime and receives a criminal sentence.
Certified Judgment—A judgment in another court that is transferred to and officially recognized by a different court. Ohio courts are required to recognize and give full legal authority to other courts’ decisions and judgments. A certified judgment can also come from a state agency, such as the Ohio Department of Taxation.
Certified Judgment can also mean a copy of a court judgment that has been stamped with the official seal of the Clerk of Courts. A certified document is given greater authority as genuine and can be trusted as official when used in other situations.
Summary judgment—A decision of the court based on a motion filed by a party that resolves all or part of a case without a trial. A summary judgment can only be granted when the facts are undisputed and the law is clear.
Journal—A specific part of the Clerk of Court’s records for the official recording in all cases of final actions of a judge of the court, such as judgments, orders, decisions, and verdicts. Certain actions are not considered legally complete or official until recorded in the journal.
2. WORDS AND PHRASES FOR CIVIL CASES
Civil case—A private dispute between two or more persons, corporations, businesses, or government entities. A civil case can be about contracts, personal injuries, mortgage defaults, or other matters. Civil cases are intended to resolve a dispute or disagreement, often about money or legal obligations, which does not involve public harm or safety.
Classification form—A document that tells the Clerk of Court something about the legal nature of a civil case. The classification form will indicate if it is an injury claim, a protection order case, a business case, etc. This form is required so the Clerk’s Office and eventually the judge can handle it properly. By local rule, a party filing a civil case must fill out a classification form when the complaint is filed. The Clerk’s office has blank forms for people filing cases.
Filing fee/Court costs —The money required by law or local rule of court to be paid as a deposit by a party to start a civil case. The filing fee is used to cover the costs and expenses, such as postage and computerized record keeping, for the normal operation of the Clerk of Courts. The money deposited to cover court costs is used throughout the progress of the case, with any surplus not spent refunded to the party who paid the deposit.
Plaintiff—A person, corporation, or other entity that starts a civil court case by filing a complaint, setting out their legal claims for recovery against one or more Defendants.
Defendant—A person, corporation, or other entity subject to the legal claims of another (called the plaintiff) in a civil lawsuit.
Complaint—A legal document filed with the Clerk of Courts by a Plaintiff to start a civil case. A complaint describes for the Court and the parties named as Defendants the factual and legal reasons for the lawsuit and the remedy the Plaintiff is seeking from the court.
Summons—A legal document issued by the Clerk of Courts informing a Defendant that a case has started against them. A summons is served along with a civil complaint naming every party listed as a Defendant. An individual receiving a summons and complaint in a civil case must legally respond to the Court within 28 calendar days from the date of service.
Answer—A legal document filed with the Clerk of Courts that responds to a complaint and describes the Defendant’s stance on the factual and legal allegations of the complaint. An answer must be in writing (instead of a phone call) in order to properly respond to a complaint with a document that can be placed in the court file. Not filing a written answer could lead to a default judgement in favor of a Plaintiff (like a forfeit in sports for not showing up for a game.)
Petitioner/Petition—A person who starts a civil case by filing a petition with the Clerk of Courts. A petition is used instead of a complaint when a party seeks a writ (such as habeas corpus) or a specific court order (such as a civil protection order.) If you are seeking a civil protection order (CPO) against someone else, you are the Petitioner.
Respondent—A party who opposes a Petitioner in court and seeks to prevent the issuance of a writ or court order. If someone is seeking a civil protection order (CPO) against you, you are the Respondent.
Indigent—Not having enough income or assets to afford an attorney in a court case. In criminal cases only, a person who is indigent has the right to have an attorney appointed by the court to defend them at public expense. There is no right to counsel for an indigent defendant in a civil case.
Pro se (also called self-represented)—Appearing in court to present a case without an attorney. There are risks of making legal mistakes when appearing without an attorney. Certain courts such as Small Claims Court (a part of Municipal Court) encourage pro se parties to present their civil cases without an attorney.
Garnishment—A court order, issued by the Clerk of Courts, directing a party to pay money into Court for payment of a debt. The two most common garnishments are: (1) a wage garnishment to direct an employer to pay a limited percent of an employee’s wages into the Clerk’s office for payment of a court judgment, and (2) a bank garnishment directing a bank to pay money out of an account for payment of a court judgment.
Replevin—A court order directing the Sheriff to seize the personal property (frequently a motor vehicle) of a person, usually as security during a court case or as payment on a court judgment.
3. WORDS AND PHRASES FOR CRIMINAL CASES
Criminal case—A legal action filed by a unit of government (local, state, or federal) on behalf of the general public. The object of a criminal case is to punish someone who is alleged to have violated a law protecting the rights of others. Criminal cases are intended to protect society as a whole from lawbreakers, and avoid harm to the public.
Felony—The most serious level of crime, punishable by imprisonment for one year or more. Felony cases are tried in the Common Pleas Court.
Misdemeanor—A lower level of crime, below felony, punishable by a fine or a jail term up to one year, or both. Misdemeanor cases are generally tried in the Municipal Court.
Defendant—A person, corporation, or other entity accused of a crime in a criminal case, whether it is a felony or a misdemeanor.
Grand Jury—A group of citizens empowered by a court to hear preliminary evidence, and decide if a crime has been committed. If the grand jury decides that there is enough evidence to believe that an individual has committed a crime, it issues an indictment.
Indictment—A legal document issued by a grand jury charging an individual or individuals with the commission of a crime, usually a felony. An indictment can charge one or more crimes in a single document. Indictments are filed with the Clerk of Courts for the Common Pleas Court after the grand jury hands them down.
Bill of Information—A court document filed by a Prosecuting Attorney to start a criminal case. A defendant can give up the right to grand jury proceedings and allow a criminal case to start with a bill of information instead of an indictment.
Bind over—A criminal case can start if, after a preliminary hearing in Municipal Court, a judge determines that there is probable cause to believe a person has committed a crime. A case is said to be “bound over” from Municipal Court to Common Pleas Court.
Citation—A traffic ticket or other notice that a lower level offense has been committed, and that the alleged offender must appear in court. Citations are filed with the Clerk of the Municipal Court after they are issued.
Summons—A legal document issued by a clerk of courts informing a defendant that a case has started against them. A summons can be used when a criminal indictment is filed, naming a person as a defendant. A party who fails to appear in court in response to a summons after a criminal indictment faces possible arrest.
Arrest—Taking an individual into government custody, usually for the commission of a crime. Certain constitutional rights are triggered upon arrest.
Warrant (also called a bench warrant or capias)—A court order that police or the sheriff arrest an individual, generally for the commission of a crime or violation of a court order. The Clerk of Courts issues warrants when directed by a court. Clermont County uses the word “warrant” while other courts might use “capias.”
Bail—Allowing a criminal defendant to be free prior to trial upon providing certain security to the court that the defendant will appear for trial. Bail can be cash posted with the Clerk of Courts, a bond provided by a bail bond company, a personal promise to appear, or a combination of these protections.
Bond (also called a surety bond)—An obligation of another party to insure that a defendant in a criminal case appears for trial. A bonding company (represented by a bail bondsman) issues a written promise to pay the court a fixed sum of money if the defendant does not appear. A judge or magistrate sets the dollar amount of the promise based on several factors, such as the severity of the alleged crime, prior offenses, prior non-appearances in court, the defendant’s ties to the local community, etc.
Recognizance bond (also called a recog bond, or recog, or “O.R.”)—The personal promise of a criminal defendant to appear in court on a criminal charge. Failure to appear while free on a recognizance bond can result in separate criminal charges against the defendant. O.R. stands for “on recognizance.”
Indigent—Not having enough income or assets to afford an attorney in a criminal or civil case. In criminal cases only, a person who is indigent has the right to have an attorney appointed by the court to defend them at public expense. A Public Defender can be appointed to represent an indigent defendant in a criminal case.
Pro se (also called self-represented)—Appearing in court to present a case without an attorney. Anyone with a criminal case in Municipal or Common Pleas Courts should consider obtaining the services of an attorney because of the risk of making a legal mistake that will harm their case.
THIS GLOSSARY IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR THE ADVICE OF AN ATTORNEY.
THE JUDGES, THE DEPUTY CLERK, AND THE COURT STAFF CANNOT GIVE YOU LEGAL ADVICE. YOU SHOULD NEVER RELY ON THESE VERY BASIC DEFINITIONS TO MAKE LEGAL DECISIONS.