• Home
  • Common Legal Terms Defined

Commonly Used Legal Terms Defined

self helpThe legal system is like any other professional field in that there has been, over centuries, a jargon developed by practitioners.

Many of the terms come from Merry old England and even from Rome. Some of the terms are Latin or Medieavel in their origins.

It can be a challenge to follow a discussion if you are not familiar with the terminology. We have tried to keep jargon to a minimum on the site, but it sometimes gets through. We will try to define some of those terms here.


Term Definition
Pro Se Pro Se means a person who is completing and filing their own documents and appearing for themself in court, without an attorney. Another term is self represented
Ex Parte A Latin term meaning only hearing from one side. Generally prohibited in our courts except for emergency orders. An ex parte decision is one decided by a judge without requiring all of the parties to the controversy to be present. It is also used to describe any communications with a Judge about a case, outside of a court hearing, where all parties are not present and without the absent party's consent.
Guardian ad Litem (GAL) A guardian ad litem (GAL) is an individual appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child or incapacitated person involved in a case in superior court. We use these individual instead of our former Family Court Services office.
Arbitration A form of alternative dispute resolution (ADR), for the settling disputes outside the courts. The parties to a dispute refer it to arbitration, and agree to be bound by the arbitration decision.
Settlement Conference Where all parties to a dispute sit down with a judge or court commissioner and try to work out an agreed settlement of their dispute.
Binding Settlement Conference Where all parties to a dispute agree to present their case informally to a judge or court commissioner using very relaxed rules of evidence, and agree to be bound by the decision and waive the normal rights of appeal. There is generally no record of the proceedings except for the entry of the decision at the end of the case.
Readiness Hearing A court appearance where all parties to a pending trial show up and verify that their case is "ready" for trial on the scheduled date. It allows the Court to manage it's calendar by scheduling only those cases that are actually ready for trial to be heard on a given day.
Transcript The written record of a court proceeding or depostiion. In our court, the record is electronic so requires a transcriptionist to listen to the recording and create a written record. Usually for purposes of appeal or to be used at a later court proceeding.
Deposition A meeting with a party to ask them questions under oath and on the record for purposes of preserving the testimony for later trial or to help establish what facts a party actually knows and may be testifying to at trial.
Diversion An alternative way for a defendant to address minor criminal matters by following certain rules, paying damages or fines and not ending up with a criminal conviction.
Contempt An intentional act or failure to act that directly violates a specific court order.
Docket A court calendar, where a number of cases are all scheduled for the same time and are processed one after the other. Usually these are times when short requests (motions) of the court are made.
Motion A formal request (can be written or oral) made to a court asking for a specifc result. i.e. "I would like a protection order." It is the method by which a dispute is actually put before the judge for a decision short of trial.
Hearsay Testimony in a court proceeding where the witness is tryuing to testify to a fact that he or she does not have direct knowledge of, but knows of the fact only from being told by someone else who is not in court to testify.
Declaration A written statement, done under oath and under penalty of perjury, filed with the court instead of actual live testimony.
Testimony The actual, in court, answers provided by a witness who is under oath during a court proceeding.
Perjury Also known as "forswearing", is the intentional act of lying while under oath or after swearing to tell the truth, either spoken or in writing, about facts material to an official proceeding.

We will be adding additional terms to this page as they arise. If you have a question about a particular term that you see or hear in court, feel free to ask staff or even the judge in the proceeding if you do not understand something someone has said. 

Print Email

TELEPHONE: (360) 577-3085
TTY (800) 883-6388 OR 7115
Superior Court Administration Hours: 8:30 AM - 4:30 PM
KELSO, WA 98626
Building Hours - 8:00 AM - 5:00 PM