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Wed, Mar. 29th, 2006, 11:00 am



•Legislatures make law by passing statutes and ordinances.
•Congress, State Legislatures, Municipal And County Councils

•Courts interpret the law (statutes, ordinances, and constitutions) through analysis of text (statutory interpretation or statutory construction) and through application of precedent (“stare decisis”).
•Courts also can make law through their “common law” authority.
•State and Federal Courts
•Trial and Appellate Courts

•Executives enforce the laws, often through regulations.
•President, Governor, Mayor (and their executive agencies)

FEDERAL SYSTEM } Each with three branches.
} Each with lawmaking authority.
STATE SYSTEMS } Each with laws and a constitution.

Note that not all courts have the same power to
hear all cases. Their authority depends upon
JURISDICTION. (E.g., WA court cannot rule on
case involving an automobile accident in Idaho.)

State and federal courts have sometimes separate
and sometimes overlapping jurisdiction.

LAW = Constitution, Statutes/Ordinances, Cases
(Precedent), Regulations.

Substance: What happened.
Procedure: How we figure out what happened.

Dispute = something happened that allegedly violates the civil law.

Complaint = the pleading filed by injured party to start a lawsuit against the party alleged to have caused the injury.

Discovery = the pre-trial process when each side asks for and reveals information of possible relevance to the case.

Trial = the parties submit their versions of events (evidence) and their arguments about the law to a judge and/or jury.

Fact-finder: judge or jury decides what facts are true.

Jury Instructions: judge instructs the jury about the law, which the jurors apply to the facts as they believe them to have occurred. (Or, if no jury, the judge applies the law to the facts s/he has found to have occurred.)

Judgment: one party or another wins the trial in whole or in part.

Appeal: a party that loses may seek review of the case by an appellate court. The appellate court DOES NOT hear the evidence and decide the facts all over again, but will generally accept the facts as found by the jury or trial judge. The appellate court looks for errors of law (e.g., was the evidence properly admitted or excluded? Did the jury instruction correctly define the legal standard that applies? Did the jury limit its consideration to the evidence, or did a juror bring in extraneous matter?).

Appellate court will affirm or reverse the trial court’s decision. If the appellate court’s opinion explaining this result helps our understanding of the law, case is published = precedent.

Saff v. Saff, 402 N.Y.S.2d 690 (App. Div. 1978), appeal dismissed, 415 N.Y.S.2d 829 (NY 1979)