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Glossary of Terms

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Ad litem
A person appointed only for the purposes of prosecuting or defending an action on behalf of another such as a child or mentally-challenged person. Also called a guardian ad litem. This right is usually granted to the child’s attorney.

Appellant
The party who appeals a district court's decision, usually seeking reversal of that decision.

Bench Trial
A trial without a jury, in which the judge serves as the fact-finder. This is the standard in all Juvenile and Dependency court hearings -- a parent does NOT have the right for anything other than a single judge or commissioner hearing the case, and by law, all hearings are confidential. No one other than the parents, attorneys and witnesses are allowed. On occasion, the current caregivers are allowed in court.

Brief
A written statement submitted in a trial or appellate proceeding that explains one side's legal and factual arguments.

Burden of Proof
The necessity, obligation, or duty of a party to a controversy to prove the existence or non-existence of a contested fact or assertion.

Case File
This has two meanings:
1) the term used by the social workers that refers to their working set of reports to the court, case notes, medical records and other assorted documents. 
2) A complete collection of every document filed in court during a hearing or trial.

Case Notes
Social workers are required to document most everything they do on a case, and are either handwritten or entered electronically into a case management system. These notes are an important source of information for parents, since social workers will routinely omit case notes from their court reports, and do NOT automatically give parents a copy. Your attorney has a right to receive the case notes.

Case Plan
This is the written order of the court directing the parents to do whatever the social worker has deemed “necessary” in order to help them overcome whatever brought them into the CPS system. A plan can encompass nearly anything the social workers thinks is needed, and includes things such as classes on parenting, anger management, sexual abuse and more. Parents and the children are frequently subjected to court-ordered “therapy”, as well as psychological evaluations.

Child Support
Any time children are removed from the parents and placed either into foster care or with relatives, the clock begins running where charges are billed by the county to support the children. Those costs are then imposed on the parents in the form of a civil law suit. This is yet another legal proceeding against the parents, and separate from the Juvenile, Dependency or Criminal hearings.

Clear and Convincing Evidence
Proof that results in a reasonable certainty of the truth of the fact or assertion in controversy. This is the standard of proof that is used in Juvenile Court for disposition hearings. If the county is seeking a disposition of family reunification over your family, the burden of proof rests with the government.

Real World Meaning: The burden shifts again to the county; their proof must be 70-80% more convincing or stronger than that of the opposing party (you).

Clerk of the Court
The court officer who oversees administrative functions, especially managing the flow of cases through the court. The clerk's office is often called a court's central nervous system. The Clerk also makes sure that the judge’s or commissioner’s oral ruling or findings are accurately documented.

CPS/CFS
The various social service agencies in California refer to themselves in many different ways under the general term of CPS: child protective services. There is no official state term for how county agencies identify themselves, but the most frequently used are:
• CFS: child and family services
• DCS: department of childrens services
• DFS: department of family services
• DFCS: department of children and family services
• HHS: health and human services

Commissioner
This is an appointed judicial position that decides cases in administrative hearings such as Juvenile and Dependency, DMV, Child Support and Traffic Court, . Although these persons are NOT judges, their decisions and rulings carry the weight of a “regular” court. Unlike a real judge, commissioners are limited to ruling only on the areas of law for which they were appointed.

Contest
Another term for Jurisdictional, Detention, or Disposition Trial, this occurs only after the Court has found against the parents and taken jurisdiction over the children.

County Counsel
The county attorneys who exclusively represent the social workers during Juvenile and Dependency hearings. These attorneys are responsible for filing all motions and devising the trial strategies against the parents during court proceedings.

Court
The government entity authorized to resolve legal disputes. Judges sometimes use "court" to refer to themselves in the third person, as in "the court has read the briefs."

Court Reporter
Next to the judge or commissioner, this is one of the most important positions inside the court system. This highly trained person is responsible for writing down every single word or utterance made while court is in session. A written transcript is made from those notes that become the official court record.

Discovery
Procedures used to obtain disclosure of evidence before trial. In Juvenile and Dependency matters, the social workers case notes and other documents must be turned over to the parents’ attorneys before and during any pending hearing.

Dispositional Hearing
If Jurisdiction is taken over the children, the next step is a Dispositional Hearing. The social worker CPS/CFS prepares a case plan (mentioned above) and outlines the services that you will need to undergo in order to regain custody of your children and eventually close the case. You also have the right to a trial at the dispositional stage, since the county will frequently continue to make allegations against your fitness as a parent. Even though dependency jurisdiction was taken by the court, you still can argue for dismissal of the action or an informal supervision plan (see above).

If the matter proceeds to a trial, otherwise known as a Contest, most of the same constitutional rights are afforded to the parents. The burden on CPS/CFS social workers jumps from Preponderance of the Evidence to Clear and Convincing. The county must show by Clear and Convincing evidence that there is a substantial danger to the children’s physical health, safety, protection, or physical and emotional well-being and there is no reasonable way to protect the children from these dangers in the parent’s home.

Evidence
Information presented in testimony or in documents that is used to persuade the fact finder (the judge or commissioner) to decide the case in favor of one side or the other.

Exculpatory Evidence
Any evidence that is favorable toward the parents in a Juvenile or Dependency hearing that might lead the court to rule in their favor. Typically ignored by county counsel and social workers when submitting reports to the court.

Ex Parte
A proceeding brought before a court by an attorney on behalf of one side, without notice to, or challenge by the other side. A parent is not allowed to contact a judge directly, and must always go through their attorney.

File
To place a document in the official custody of the clerk of court to enter into the files or records of a case.

Foster Care
The term for whenever children are removed from their parents and sent to live elsewhere. Foster Care can mean placement with a family member, but in order to trigger state and federal reimbursement, a social worker will likely send the children to a licensed foster home.

Guardian Ad Litem
A person appointed only for the purposes of prosecuting or defending an action on behalf of another such as a child or mentally-challenged person. Also called ad litem. This right is usually granted to the child’s attorney.

Impeachment
The process of calling a witness's testimony into doubt. For example, if the attorney can show that the witness may have fabricated portions of his testimony, the witness is said to be "impeached."

In Camera
Latin, meaning in a judge's chambers. Often means outside the presence of a jury and the public. In Juvenile and Dependency proceedings, documents that are sensitive or personal such as medical or employment records may be submitted directly to the court for review.

Inculpatory Evidence
Evidence submitted by county counsel on behalf of the social workers to prove their allegations against the parents.

Indigent
When a parent is notified of a court proceeding (such as a Petition) and cannot afford an attorney to represent them, they can declare “indigence” in order to have an attorney.

Judge
An official of the court with authority to decide cases brought before courts. Used generically, the term judge may also refer to all judicial officers, including Supreme Court justices.

Judgment
The official decision of a court regarding any hearing or matter. Also known as a ruling.

Jurisdiction
The legal authority of a court to hear and decide a certain type of case. It also is used as a synonym for venue, meaning the geographic area over which the court has territorial jurisdiction to decide cases. In Juvenile and Dependency cases, this is the action that is taken against the parents when the court rules in favor of the social workers: the court takes “jurisdiction” over the children, and the parents no longer have legal control over their own children.

Jurisdiction Hearing
A terms used exclusively in Juvenile and Dependency court. This refers to the legal proceeding where the social workers present the Petition (accusations) to the court along with reports, evidence and witnesses in order to win jurisdiction over the children.

At the jurisdictional hearing you have the right to a trial on all of the allegations in the Petition. Your attorney will fight against the language being alleged against your parental abilities and if you can show that the allegations are false or if the county cannot meet their burden of proof, which is a Preponderance of the Evidence (51%), the Petition will be dismissed. Just like the Detention Hearing, you have the right to bring witnesses, present evidence on your behalf, and cross-examine anyone who testifies against you. If the allegations are found to be “true, “or any revised portion of them, the matter is sustained.

At this point if Jurisdiction is taken upon your children, your children may or may not be placed with you while you engage in services, otherwise known as a Case Plan. You will want a juvenile law attorney to advocate for you to have your children in your custody while you engage in a case plan. If your children are not in your custody you are entitled, by right, to a visitation schedule.

Jury
The group of persons selected to hear the evidence in a trial and render a verdict on matters of fact. In Juvenile and Dependency court, the jury is the judge (or commissioner) and no one other than the parents, attorneys and witnesses are allowed.

Litigation
A case, controversy, or lawsuit. Participants (plaintiffs and defendants) in lawsuits are called litigants. In Juvenile and Dependency cases, the participants are known as Petitioner (the county social workers) and Respondent (the parents). These similarly misleading terms are also used in Family Court for probate, divorce and custody cases.

Minor’s Counsel
In the Juvenile and Dependency court, parents are not allowed to advocate for their own children, since the court ironically considers that to be a “conflict of interest.” The court appoints an attorney to independently represent the best interests of the children. In reality, this appointed attorney mostly accepts whatever the social workers allege in court.

Motion
A request by a litigant to a judge for a decision on an issue relating to the case.

Opinion
A judge's written explanation of the decision of the court. In Juvenile and Dependency hearings, the commissioner or judge often makes ruling from the bench (see Minute Orders) meaning an oral, not written. The only way a parent can get a copy of that ruling is to get a copy of the Clerk’s minutes or notes.

Oral argument
An opportunity for lawyers to summarize their position before the court and also to answer the judges' questions during hearings or trials.

Petition
In the Juvenile or Dependency Court, a Petition is the official document outlining the accusations against the parents describing the reasons why the court should take jurisdiction over the children.

Petitioner
In non-criminal proceedings, the persons or government agencies bringing the legal action are referred to as the petitioning party or “Petitioner”. This is the term used in Family, Juvenile and Dependency court, as well as administrative courts such as the DMV, Child Support and state licensing.

Placement
When CPS has removed children from their home, where they live during and after court proceedings is called Placement. Although by law the county must give first preference to family members, this is sometimes violated by social workers.

Pleadings
Written statements filed with the court which describe a party's legal or factual assertions about the case, such as motions submitted by the attorneys.

Preponderance of the Evidence
This is the standard in Juvenile and Dependency hearings. Proof which is of greater weight or more convincing than the proof that is offered in opposition to it; that is, proof which as a whole shows that the fact sought to be proved is more probable than not.

Real World Meaning: If the county's proof is 51% stronger or more convincing than that of the opposing party (you), their petition will be upheld by the court. While this is a relatively low standard of proof, do not be fooled. The county must still affirmatively prove the allegations it is asserting in every case by the preponderance of the evidence.

Prima Facie
A latin term meaning “on it’s face”. When children are first removed from their parents by CPS, by law, a Detention or Prima Facie hearing must be held within 48 hours of removal. At this hearing the court looks at the Reasonable Efforts form submitted by CPS, as well as any accompanying reports by police or social workers.

Pro Per / Pro Se
Used to refer to a pro se litigant. It is a corruption of the Latin phrase "in propria persona." It means serving as one’s own lawyer. Because Juvenile and Dependency proceedings are a complex area of California law, it is very UNWISE to participate in any hearing -- even the Prima Facie -- without counsel.

(Beyond a) Reasonable Doubt
This is the standard of proof that is uses in criminal cases. It is NOT used in Juvenile Court proceedings.

Respondent
In non-criminal proceedings, the legal actions being taken against a person is referred to as the responding party or “Respondent”. This is the term used in Family, Juvenile and Dependency court, as well as administrative courts such as the DMV, Child Support and state licensing.

Ruling
The general term for any action or motion decided by a judge or commissioner. This is similar to a verdict.

Trial
The formal proceedings of a matter at issue in a civil or criminal case, usually conducted in front of a judge and jury. In Juvenile, Dependency, Family Court and Probate cases, there is no "trial"; cases are heard in front of a single judge in what is called a "hearing." Even if parents are disputing or contesting the allegations, there is no trial -- they are called Jurisdiction, Disposition or Review Hearings.

Venue
The geographic area in which a court has jurisdiction. A change of venue is a change or transfer of a case from one judicial district to another.

Verdict
The decision of a trial jury or a judge that determines the guilt or innocence of a criminal defendant, or the final outcome of a civil case. In Juvenile and Dependency court, decisions are not referred to as verdicts, but as rulings.


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