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CHAPTER 3: OVERVIEW OF THE COLORADO COURT SYSTEM - Table of Contents

3.1 - Overview of the Colorado Court System3.2 - Overview of the Criminal Justice Program3.3 - Prosecutors and Defense Lawyers3.4 - Overview of the Civil Justice Process3.5 - Plaintiff and Defense Counsel3.6 - State Courts in Boulder County3.7 - Municipal Courts in Boulder County3.8 - Small Claims Courts in Boulder County

3.4 OVERVIEW OF THE CIVIL JUSTICE PROCESS

The civil justice process - civil law, procedure and trials - is discussed in more detail in Chapters 10, 11 and 12 of this Manual. Unlike criminal cases, which always involve the government seeking to punish an individual defendant, civil cases usually involves disputes between private parties, in which one side is asking a court to require the other side to do something. One side may be seeking money as damages for some harm that has occurred, or the title to land. In other civil cases, a party is asking the court to do something quite different, such as to grant a divorce, dividing up property and determining who has parenting rights, or to approve the distribution of assets from a will. Still other civil cases may involve the government, as when the government sues a person or business seeking to require that person or business to perform some act, or when an individual or group of individuals sues the government, claiming some violation of right or duty.

There are very many potential types of civil litigation, and not all are discussed in this manual. Chapter 10 discusses divorce, personal injury cases, professional malpractice and real estate issues. It is important to remember that this Manual is not a substitute for legal advice in these areas; it is intended merely to offer some information.

In broadest terms, the civil justice process begins with a person or organization deciding that it has a claim to some action or money from some other party. A person may have been hit by a car; an environmental group may believe that a corporation is illegally harming the environment; an employee may believe that she has been the victim of sexual harassment or discrimination at work. A claim is filed in court, asking that the driver pay money to the injured party, or that the corporation cease and desist, or that the employer discipline the offending employees. The people or organizations that bring a civil suit are called plaintiffs; the parties against whom the suit is brought are called defendants. The case is assigned to a judge, the parties exchange information, discuss settlements, and eventually resolve the case either through a negotiated settlement or through court hearings and a court order.

Just as in criminal cases, a party that believes errors were made during this process may appeal the decisions to a 'higher' court. These higher courts are appellate courts that review the actions of the trial judge to determine whether any errors were committed and whether those errors affected the outcome. A party that is successful in getting a decision reversed on appeal is returned to the trial court for a new trial or other appropriate proceeding.

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