Superior Courts Glossary Terminology

This glossary of terms1 used in the California Superior Courts is organized alphabetically and can be quickly searched, shared, or printed. Bookmark this page for easy reference to have it at your fingertips when needed.

The definitions in this glossary are intended only to provide context and a general understanding of the information in this publication. They are not to be relied on as legal authority or cited as authoritative.

Glossary 1

appeal: A proceeding for direct review of a civil or criminal judgment from a limited-jurisdiction case, including small claims matters.

assessed judicial need (AJN): Represents the estimated number of judicial officers needed to handle the workload in the trial courts based on the Judicial Needs Assessment.


caseload clearance rate: Clearance rates show the number of outgoing cases as a percentage of the number of incoming cases. They measure whether the court is disposing of cases in a timely fashion or whether a backlog of cases is growing.

certification (Welf. & Inst. Code (W&I), § 5250): A 14-day certification to detain and treat a person who, owing to a mental disorder or chronic alcoholism, is alleged to be a danger to self and/or others and/or is gravely disabled.

commissioner: A subordinate judicial officer, employed by the court, who performs judicial or quasi-judicial duties assigned to him or her. A commissioner may be authorized to decide only limited pretrial issues of fact and law or to conduct complete trials. Commissioners frequently act as temporary judges.


disposition: Termination of a proceeding. Civil dispositions before trial include transfers to another trial court, dismissals, summary judgments, and other judgments. Criminal dispositions before trial include transfers to another trial court, sentences after pleas of guilty or no contest, and dismissals. Civil dispositions after trial include entry of judgment after jury trial and court trial. Criminal dispositions after trial include acquittals, grants of probation, and sentences after conviction.


eFiling: The act of filing court documents electronically; also known as eFiling. 2. Court documents that are filed with the court by means of digital online technologies to initiate a legal action or modify an ongoing legal action.*


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family law (marital): Proceedings in which a petition has been filed for dissolution or voiding of a marriage or for legal separation.

family law petitions: Family law cases other than marital cases, such as domestic violence petitions and petitions filed by the Department of Child Support Services (DCSS) for reimbursement of child support.

felony: A criminal case alleging an offense punishable by imprisonment in a state prison or by death.

filings in civil matters: Civil cases for which complaints or petitions have been filed.

filings in criminal matters: The number of defendants against whom criminal charges have been filed.

filings in juvenile matters: The number of minors who are the subjects of petitions.


habeas corpus: Petition alleging unlawful imprisonment, unlawful restraint of liberty, or unlawful confinement conditions (Pen. Code section 1473).

Glossary 4


judgeship: A judicial position conferring power to exercise the full legal authority of the court in which the judge sits (by selection or assignment). The term “Judgeships,” as used in this report, represents the number of positions authorized by law, whether filled or vacant.

judicial position equivalents: An estimate of the number of judicial officers who were present and available to conduct court business. The number includes authorized judgeships (adjusted to reflect judicial vacancies and assistance given to other courts) and assistance received from assigned judges, full-time and parttime commissioners and referees, and temporary judges serving by stipulation of the parties.

judicial positions: The number of judgeships authorized by law, plus positions of referees and commissioners.

juvenile delinquency proceedings: Petitions filed under W&I 602, alleging violation of a criminal statute, and petitions filed under W&I 601, alleging that a minor is beyond the control of parents or guardians but has not violated any law. An original petition begins a delinquency proceeding, including miscellaneous juvenile petitions. A subsequent petition adds allegations against a minor child who is already subject to the court’s jurisdiction, including nonminor dependents (AB 12) petitions and W&I 777 notices.

juvenile dependency proceedings: Petitions filed under W&I 300, seeking to make a minor child a ward of the court because of abuse or neglect. An original petition begins a dependency proceeding. A subsequent petition adds allegations regarding a minor child who is already subject to the court’s jurisdiction, including W&I 342, W&I 387, and non-minor dependents (AB 12) petitions.

Glossary 2


limited civil: All civil matters with a value of $25,000 or less, except small claims matters.


mental health proceedings: Includes most types of mental health cases, including but not limited to LPS Conservatorship (W&I 5350), mental competency (PC 1368; W&I 709), and civil commitments with or without an underlying criminal case.

motor vehicle personal injury, death, and property damage: Actions for damages in excess of $25,000 for physical injury to persons and property and actions for wrongful death related to motor vehicle accidents.


nontraffic infractions: Nontraffic violations of state statutes or local ordinances specified as infractions.

nontraffic misdemeanors: Misdemeanors including intoxication complaints and violations of the Penal Code, local city and county ordinances, and the Fish and Game Code.


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other civil complaints and petitions: Cases not covered in any other civil case category, including complaints for declaratory relief only, mechanics’ liens, and petitions for partnership and corporate governance. If the requested relief is for money, it must be in excess of $25,000 to be filed as a general-jurisdiction case.

other mental health proceedings: Includes other mental health cases not included in the mental health category as well as noncriminal habeas corpus.


personal injury, death, and property damage: All actions for damages in excess of $25,000 for physical injury to persons and property and all actions for wrongful death.

probate: All probate proceedings, will contests, guardianship and conservatorship proceedings (not including conservatorship proceedings under the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act), and petitions to compromise minors’ claims (when not part of a pending action or proceeding).


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reduced to misdemeanor: Cases in which a charge originally filed as a felony is disposed of as a misdemeanor.

referee: A subordinate judicial officer employed by a county to handle matters assigned by the court, such as traffic law violations.


small claims: All matters filed in small claims court with a value of $10,000 or less, with the exception of businesses and other entities (i.e. government entities) whom cannot ask for more than $5,000.


time to disposition: The amount of time it takes a court to dispose of cases within established time frames.

traffic infractions: Traffic-related violations of state statutes or city or county ordinances specified as infractions, including parking violations.

traffic misdemeanors: Violations of Vehicle Code sections 20002 (hit and run, property damage), 23104 (reckless driving, causing injury), and 23152 (driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs) and all other traffic misdemeanors.


unlawful detainer: A civil action involving the possession of real property by a commercial or residential tenant whose original entry was lawful but whose right to the possession has terminated with a value of $25,000 or less.

unlimited civil: All civil and unlawful detainer matters with a value of more than $25,000.

Glossary 3

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1. Information for this glossary was originally published in Appendix D of the Judicial Council of California 2020 Court Statistics Report except where denoted by *.