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VOL. 35 | NO. 10 | Friday, March 11, 2011

Finding order in ‘court’

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“Dear Judge Vic: So, I see in your column of a few weeks ago that you dwelled at some length on what a versatile concept law is, giving all kinds of examples and such. I’ll go you one better! Ponder the versatility of the word ‘court’ if you dare! / Name withheld.”

Dear N.W.,

I have hung out with the word court before. It too is amazing in its diversity.

There’s Margaret Court, the Australian who won all four Grand Slam tennis events in 1970.

There’s the small street or wide alley, usually with only one opening to another street. As in 137 Juniper Court, Collegeville Pa., which is for sale for $199,000 as I write.

Court may refer to a manor house or large building surrounded by enclosed grounds. That sense of court has been appropriated by the hospitality industry. As in the Patio Motor Court of Twin Mountain, N.H.

A court sometimes is a quadrangular area, with lined or walled boundaries, on which some athletic game is played. Thus have we tennis, badminton, handball, racquetball, squash, volleyball, and basketball courts. To say nothing of grass and clay courts, the service court, the frontcourt, the backcourt and so forth.

A court may be the residence of a sovereign. Court may also denote the family and retinue of a sovereign or a reception held by one.

A formal assembly of councilors and officers, especially one that comprises a governing authority, may be called a court.

To court someone is to tempt or be intentionally alluring to her. Or to seek to win his favor in some way. Or to seek to have an alliance with him. Or to engage in social activities with her with a view toward engagement and marriage.

A court may also be an official assembly for the transaction of judicial business, a session of such an assembly, the place at which such an assembly meets, and one or more members of the judiciary when in session.

(When I’m on the bench and I say, “The court finds …,” I’m referring to me.)

In such a session, such a person is said to be holding court, although that phrase may also be used to describe someone who is actively enjoying being the center of attention, as at a social gathering, whether or not any business is being transacted.

Thus have we in our phrasebook, along with the athletic courts noted above, appellate court, bankruptcy court, circuit court, civil court, contempt of court, county court, and criminal court.

Along with one’s day in court, we have district court, divorce court, family court, federal court, food court, and friend of the court.

There’s the high court, home court, inferior court, juvenile court, kangaroo court, lower court, military court, and moot court.

Municipal court might also be night court. Probate court would never be small-claims court. Superior court is usually inferior to a supreme court. Tax court and traffic court have very little in common, although they both are trial courts.

And almost all of the above get judged in the court of public opinion.

Till next time, we’ll be in recess.

See you in court!

Vic Fleming is a district court judge in Little Rock, Ark., where he also teaches at the William H. Bowen School of Law. Contact him at vicfleming@att.net.

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