Criminal & Civil Litigation 

Arraignment:    A hearing held during the pre-trial process where a defendant enters a plea to charges brought against him/her by the prosecuting attorney.

Civil Litigation: Legal proceedings related to non-criminal law. 

County:  An administrative division of a U. S. state.  In most areas of the country, the lowest court level within a state.  Ex: Chicago, IL is in Cook County.  

Court Orders:  Authorization by a judge to carry out certain steps for one or more parties of a case.

Defendant: An individual or organization charged with a crime.

Depositions: Sworn, oral testimony of a potential witness taken outside of court. This statement can be transcribed and used later in court or for discovery purposes.

Discovery: A pre-trial procedure in a lawsuit in which each party can obtain evidence from the other party.

FOIA: The Freedom of Information Act provides the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency unless release of the requested documents would be harmful to a governmental or private interest based on 9 Exemptions. Each state has created its own statutes regarding the availability of government records.  

    •    Federal FOIA:  

    •    State FOI Laws:

Grand Jury:     The group of jurors that determine if the prosecuting attorney has enough probable cause to formally charge a defendant with a crime. These proceedings are not open to the public, and defendants and their attorneys do not have the right to appear before a grand jury.   Grand juries typically consist of 16-23 individuals and the burden of proof is much lower as this forum determines if enough evidence is available to charge with a crime. 

Indictment:  A formal charge or accusation of a serious crime, usually presented by a grand jury and required for felonies and other serious crimes.

Judgment:  A decision of a court regarding the rights and liabilities of parties in a legal action or proceeding. Generally a judgment will include an explanation of the order.

Lawsuit: Legal action instituted between two private persons or entities in the courts of law.

Motions: Legal device to bring a limited issue before the court for a decision.

Municipality: A city or town, or local government.


Prosecutor:     The representative in a jurisdiction tasked with bringing charges against a defendant and providing evidence to a jury.

Subpoena: A request for information from a non-party to a lawsuit.

Trial: A formal setting where parties of a lawsuit come together before a judge in order to resolve claims or disputes.

US Attorney: The prosecutor in a federal criminal case.

Financial Records 

Bankruptcy: Legal status of an individual or entity that cannot repay its debt to creditors.

Chapter 7: This is the most common form of bankruptcy.  A trustee is appointed who collects non-exempt property of the debtor, then sells and distributes the proceeds to creditors.  

Chapters 11, 12 and 13: This more complex form of bankruptcy involves allowing a debtor to keep some or all of his or her property and use future earnings to pay off creditors.

Covenant: Conditions tied to the ownership or use of land.  Covenants can come with a deed or title to a property, where the Grantor of the title makes certain guarantees to the Grantee.  For example, a covenant can state that future sale of a property may require future owners to allow community use of a pond for fishing, or exclude future sale of a property to a corporation.

Deed: A legal instrument that defines ownership of a title to a property.

Easement: The right to use and/or enter real estate property without possessing it, typically pathways from one property onto another. For example an access path crossing private property to a public beach.

Foreclosure: A legal process in which a lender attempts to recover the balance of a loan when the borrower has stopped paying.  The lender generally sells the asset to recoup the cost of the loan.

Judgment Lien: Imposed by a court to ensure payment of a judgment.

Lien:  A security interest set in place to guarantee payment of a debt; legal claim on collateral pledged to obtain a loan.

Lien Holder: If an individual or entity obtained a loan for a vehicle, the financial institution is identified on a vehicle registration as a lien holder.

Mechanics Lien: Imposed by a contractor to ensure payment for work done on property or land.

Mortgage: A type of loan used by purchases of real estate, or by existing property owners for any other use.  Typically the property (house, land, etc.) is considered collateral for the loan.

Registration: This document identifies the user of a vehicle.  Most motor vehicle registrations are renewed annually, and the registration number is known as the “Plate” or “Tag” number. 

Tax Lien: Imposed by a government entity to ensure payment of taxes.

Title (Real Property): A legal instrument that conveys ownership of a property including any attached easements, liens or covenants.

Title (Vehicle): A document identifying the owner of record of the vehicle.  This can be an individual, entity or a financial institution.  A title registration is created at the time of initial purchase by the buyer of the vehicle.

VIN Number: The Vehicle Identification Number is a unique identifier for each vehicle assigned by the manufacturer.  This number is used for tracking and identification purposes in case of loss or theft.

Corporate Records

Annual Report:  Some states require an annual reporting of financial information or changes within a corporation

Changes of Organization: This could include change of an address, name, or Registered Agent.

Fictitious Business Filings: Also known as an “Assumed Name”, a fictitious business is a business name or pseudonym that a company may operate under that is different than their legal name.  For example “Joe and Jane Smith Holding, Inc.” may do business as (DBA) “Smith Holdings”.  Registration requirements for fictitious business vary by state.

Initial Filing:  This filing creates a corporation and identifies its name, address and its owners and/or officers

Registered Agent: A registered agent serves as a corporations’ contact with the state.  The identified agent will receive all correspondence from the state, and will be the individual served with any lawsuit notifications in the event the corporation is sued.  A registered agent is required in each state where a corporation does business.  The agent does not have to be an active member or officer of a corporation, and often this role is provided as a service by companies specializing in this role for multiple corporations.

Statement of Information:  This filing confirms or updates a corporation’s contact information or ownership.

UCC Filing: A UCC (Uniform Commercial Code) Filing is a type of lien used when a business enters into a financial agreement with a lender, and is backed by collateral.