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 20 g 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."
Over 18 minutes of the Watergate tapes were erased by Richard Nixon's secretary in a claimed clerical error. Some writers have suggested that this may have 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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