A clerical error is an error on the part of an office worker, often a secretary or personal assistant. It is a phrase which can also be used as an excuse to deflect blame away from specific individuals, such as high powered executives, and instead redirect it to the more anonymous clerical staff.
A clerical error in a legal document is called a scrivener's error.
There is a considerable body of case law concerning the proper treatment of a scrivener's error.[a] For example, where the parties to a contract make an oral agreement that, when reduced to a writing, is mis-transcribed, the aggrieved party is entitled to reformation so that the writing corresponds to the oral agreement.
A scrivener's error can be grounds for an appellate court to remand a decision back to the trial court. For example, in Ortiz v. State of Florida, Ortiz had been convicted of possession of less than 20g of marijuana, a misdemeanor. However, Ortiz was mistakenly adjudicated guilty of a felony for the count of marijuana possession. The appellate court held that "we must remand the case to the trial court to correct a scrivener's error."
Notable clerical errors
- 18½ minutes of the infamous "Watergate tapes" were, allegedly, accidentally erased by Richard Nixon's secretary in a clerical error which may have very well changed the course of American history.
- See Barkelew v. Barkelew (1946, Cal App) 73 Cal App 2d 76, 166 P2d 57, for example.
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