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What is a Bailiff?

Updated on August 23, 2010

A bailiff is a keeper or protector, a steward or agent; more commonly, a minor court official, deputy sheriff, or other ministerial official. Under the English common law, a "bailiff in husbandry" was one appointed by a private person to collect his rents and manage his estates. Similarly, a "bailiff of the manor" was a steward appointed by a lord as general superintendent of his manor.

In a related and broader usage, the term "bailiff" came to mean anyone to whom either real estate or personal property was entrusted, by either a public agency or a private individual, with the duty of collecting and accounting for the profits. For example, a committee or a guardian appointed by a court to manage and control the property of a mental incompetent is a bailiff of the court. In this sense, an attorney entrusted to collect money, a cotenant or tenant in common, or a receiver may also be designated as a bailiff. Some courts state that the technical distinction between a bailiff and a receiver is that the former is entitled to reasonable expenses, while the latter is not.

In addition to its rather obsolete meaning of custodian of property, bailiff refers to several categories of minor officials. It is in this latter sense that the term is most commonly used in modern law. Thus, a bailiff may be a specially appointed deputy of a sheriff or marshal, charged with the duty of guarding or protecting juries from improper communications and intrusions, or a deputy sheriff appointed at the request of a party to a lawsuit to serve or execute some writ or process of the court, or for some other special purpose.

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