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A quick summary of ‘summary judgment’

The Okeechobee School District has asked federal courts for a summary judgment on whether a Gay-Straight Alliance should be allowed to meet on the Okeechobee High School campus.
  –Port St. Lucie News, 30 Jan 2008

So what the heck is a ‘summary judgment,’ anyway?

‘Summary judgment’ is the term for a ruling in a civil lawsuit made by a judge, without a trial to establish facts. The premise is that there are no disputed material facts in the case, and that all the issues are legal ones. Obviously, the side that makes a motion for summary judgment wants the judgment to be in their favor.

If both sides and the judge agree to summary judgment, it can be a huge time-saver in a case. These motions appear frequently in constitutional or civil rights suits.

Oh, by the way, I think the newspaper lede* above is absolutely terrible, and not just because it uses legal jargon (‘summary judgment’) without explanation. It also does what you should never do in a lede: instead of highlighting the conflict, it hides it. You would never know from this lede that the school district is adamantly, virulently opposed to having a Gay-Straight Alliance.

*(that’s broadcast jargon for ‘lead’, spelled weirdly so as not to accidentally get pronounced as ‘led’)

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