Fraud on the court, or fraud upon the court, refers to a situation in which a material misrepresentation has been made to the court. Alternatively, the term could be used to refer to a situation in which a material misrepresentation has been made by the court itself. The overall defining requirement is that the impartiality of the court has been disrupted so significantly that it cannot perform its tasks without bias or prejudice.
Some common examples of fraud on the court include, but may not be limited to:
- Fraud in the service of court summons, such as withholding a court summons from an entitled party;
- Corruption or influence of a court member or official, such as bribery;
- Judicial fraud;
- Intentionally failing to inform the parties of necessary appointments or requirements, as an effort to impede the judicial process; and/or
- Schemes considered to be unconscionable, as they attempt to deceive or make misrepresentations through the court system.
It is important to note that fraud on the court only involves court officials, or officers of the court, such as judges or court-appointed attorneys. The fraudulent activity must be directed at the “judicial machinery” itself. As such, fraud on the court generally does not mean:
- Fraudulent activity between the two opposing parties;
- The submission of fraudulent documents; and
- Perjury or false statements made by witnesses.
One of the most obvious examples of fraud on the court is bribery of the judge or members of the jury, which causes the impartial functions of the court to be corrupted. Interestingly, fraud on the court is the one of the only remedies in law that does not have a time limit to set aside the judgment that was obtained by the fraud on the court. Therefore, if bribery of a juror or judge is discovered many years after a judgment was declared, that judgment could still be reconsidered and set aside through a fraud on the court claim.
What Happens to the Trial If Fraud on the Court Occurs?
Fraud on the court is considered to be one of the most serious violations that can occur within a court of law. If fraud on the court occurs, the entire case is voided or cancelled. This means that any ruling or judgment that the court has issued will be rendered void. Additionally, the case will need to be retried, and with different court officials. This is often done in an entirely different venue in order to avoid further instances of fraud on the court. In especially serious cases of fraud on the court, the case may be tried in an entirely different county of the state.
The government official who acted in fraud upon the court may be required to step down from their position. Additionally, they may be subjected to criminal consequences, such as a fine or a jail sentence. Fraud on the court could carry other serious consequences in addition to those just mentioned. An example of this would be an attorney being disbarred, or a judge being removed from their judicial service.
If a court official is found to be biased or prejudiced, even prior to when the fraud occurs, they are required to excuse themselves from the case. A different official must be appointed to the case. In some jurisdictions, a trial that has been tainted by fraud on the court will either be vacated or set aside for a certain time period. The case is intended to be “reopened” at a later date, generally two years later.
If the fraud on the court resulted in civil damages, such as lost wages,the fraud on the court claim could also include a request for those civil damages. For example, if the fraud on the court was a fabrication of evidence that resulted in an individual being sent to jail, that individual could sue for the time they spent in jail and they could have been working. Once again, there is no time bar for asserting a fraud on the court claim.
How to Prove Fraud upon the Court
Fraud upon the court elements can vary from state to state. In terms of proving fraud in general, the essential element of all types of fraud is that criminal fraud occurs when:
- An intentional fraud is committed;
- The intentional fraud was committed by an officer of the court;
- The intentional fraud was directed at the court itself; and
- The intentional fraud deceived the court.
Once again, fraud on the court differs from typical criminal fraud. However, the elements of criminal fraud are helpful in demonstrating the intentional fraud element of fraud on the court. There are several elements of criminal fraud that must be met when attempting to prove fraud. In order for a person to be convicted of criminal fraud, the prosecution must prove the following elements:
- There was a misrepresentation of a material fact;
- By some who knew that the material fact was false;
- And they intended to defraud;
- A person or entity who justifiably relied on the misrepresentation of fact to make a decision; and
- That party or entity suffered actual, quantifiable injury or damages resulting from their reliance on that intentionally false fact.
As can be seen, there are major differences between fraud on the court and fraud committed by an adverse party. When fraud is committed by an adverse party, and not an officer of the court, then there are other judicial remedies for addressing that fraud. Fraud, misconduct, or misrepresentations by another party all have available judicial remedies to address those actions. However, when the fraud is created by the court itself, and that fraud affects the integrity of the judicial process, there historically was not an answer to addressing such fraud, until fraud on the court was created as a remedy.
Once again, the major difference between fraud on the court, and other claims and remedies in law, is that there is no time bar for asserting fraud on the court. Further, if fraud on the court is asserted successfully, the fraudulent judgment rendered by the court will be set aside.
How Can a Lawyer Help With Issues Associated With Fraud On the Court?
If you believe that your legal claim may involve fraud on the court, you should immediately consult with an experienced local fraud lawyers. As previously mentioned, states’ laws vary in terms of how fraud on the court is handled. Working with an experienced and local attorney will ensure that you receive legal advice that is most relevant to the state in which your case is taking place.
A criminal attorney can help determine whether fraud on the court occurred, and if so, what you should do next. They will also be knowledgeable in terms of the process for having your case moved to a new venue. An attorney can help you determine whether you need to assert any legal defenses, and if so, which legal defenses will be available to you based on the circumstances of your case. Additionally, they will also be able to represent you in court, as needed, and will protect your legal rights.
However, if you are a victim of fraud on the court, it may be wise to terminate your relationship with your current attorney if you suspect that they were also involved in the fraud. In such cases, you would need to contact a new attorney, who will be able to help you move forward and resolve the issue.