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The First Virtual State Court

A judicial tribunal established to administer justice. An entity in the government to which the administration of justice is delegated. In a broader sense, the term may also refer to a legislative assembly; a deliberative body, such as the General Court of Massachusetts, which is its legislature. The words court, judge, or judges, when used in laws, are often synonymous. A kangaroo court is a mock legal proceeding that disregards law and justice by issuing a biased, predetermined judgment regardless of the evidence presented before it.

Judicial courts are created by the government through the enactment of statutes or by constitutional provisions for the purpose of enforcing the law for the public good. They are impartial forums for the resolution of controversies between parties who seek redress from a violation of a legal right. Both civil and criminal matters may be heard in the same court, with different court rules and procedures for each.

The public has a right to attend judicial proceedings. This right ensures that the proceedings will be conducted in a fair and unbiased manner. Anyone who wants may attend trials as a spectator unless a judge has closed a courtroom for particular proceedings in order to maintain order, to assure DUE PROCESS OF LAW, or to protect a witness's identity.

The U.S. Judicial System consists of 52 separate court systems, plus territorial courts, in the United States. Each state and the District of Columbia has its own independent system, and the United States government maintains federal courts throughout the country. The federal courts and state courts are independent of each other. The federal courts are authorized by Article III, Section 2, of the Constitution to hear controversies that especially affect federal interests. Sometimes the existence of two parallel court systems in every state creates a strain and raises important issues concerning FEDERALISM, the relationship between the states and the United States. For some of these questions, the SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES makes the final determination that is binding on everyone.

Most courts have a multilevel structure. A few states have a two-tiered system, but the federal government and most states use a three-tiered model. All litigants have an opportunity to argue their cases before a trial-level court, and subsequently they may be able to pursue the matter further up through two levels of appeals courts.

In the federal court system the trial-level court is the district court. Each state contains at least one district court, and most of these courts have more than one judge available to try cases. Litigants may file an appeal with the U.S. Court of Appeals that has jurisdiction over that district if they are unhappy with the lower court's decision, and the decision is the type that may be appealed. The United States is divided into 13 judicial circuits, and one court of appeals sits in each of twelve geographical circuits. The Court of Appeals for the Federal District sits in the thirteenth district to hear cases formerly entertained in the Court of Claims and the Court of Customs and Patents Appeals, which were abolished by the enactment of the Federal Courts Improvement Act of 1982 (28 U.S.C.A. § 1 note). Each court of appeals has four or more judges who sit either as panels of three or as a whole to review the decisions of district courts and to review or enforce the orders of many federal. administrative agencies. If a court sits as a whole, it is called an en banc court. Litigants who lose a cause in a court of appeals may be able to carry the appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Cases in state courts may also proceed from the trial-level court up through appeals in an appellate court and then to a state supreme court. Different systems assign different functions to the state supreme court, which is usually the court of last resort, but this is not the case in every state. When an issue based on the federal Constitution, a treaty, or a federal statute is involved, the U.S. Supreme Court may agree to hear an appeal from the state supreme court.

The organization of a court and its personnel is determined by the law that created that court and by the court's own rules. Generally, the papers for each lawsuit must be filed with the clerk of the court. The clerk and his or her staff organize all of the records for the judges assigned to the court. Each judge may have a law secretary or law clerk, or there may be several clerks who perform legal research and assist in the drafting of decisions, orders, and memoranda. Court officers, court attendants, or bailiffs are available to give information and to maintain order and peace around the courthouse. Interpreters may be kept on call to translate for witnesses and parties who do not speak English well. A county sheriff or federal marshal has the responsibility for enforcement of various judicial orders. PROBATION officers are usually civilian employees who assist the court by administering the probation system for criminal offenders and supervise court-ordered custody or payments of money, especially CHILD SUPPORT. A court stenographer, or court reporter creates a written record of proceedings word for word.

Attorneys are called officers of the court because they have a dual responsibility to protect the integrity of the legal system and pursue their clients' claims. An attorney who has been admitted to the bar in one state is entitled to practice in the courts of that state but that does not entitle him or her to practice in the courts of another state, in a federal court, or in the Supreme Court. In order to do so, he or she must qualify and be sworn in separately.

A term is the time during which a court is authorized to hear cases, and a session is one of those periods in a term when a judge is actually hearing cases. A regular term is one called for by law, and a special term may be called by a judge or other official when the circumstances warrant it. A jury may hear a case during the jury term while a motion for relief may be made to the court during the motion term. A general term sometimes means the time that all of the judges of a court sit together, or en banc, but occasionally it refers to a single judge's hearing all of the cases on a particular subject.

Laws or court rules fix the particular terms or sessions when a court is open for judicial business. If none is fixed, a court is open at all times. Any judicial action taken by a judge of the court is not invalid in such circumstances because of the time when it was taken, but it does not necessarily mean that the courthouse doors are unlocked 24 hours a day.

Rules of CIVIL PROCEDURE and of CRIMINAL PROCEDURE regulate practice in the courts. The rules spell out rights and the manner of proceeding in regard to a court's jurisdiction and venue, the commencement of an action, parties, motions, subpoenas, pretrial discovery, juries, evidence, the order of a trial, provisional remedies, judgments, and appeals.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Costal cartilage to Cross‐appeals