CINCINNATI — Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval announced new security measures Friday in the wake of a national news investigation that identified fake court documents — 11 from judges in Hamilton County.
“My office was contacted about reports of forged judicial orders that were impacting business reviews on the internet,” Pureval said.
CBS News alerted Pureval about the phony documents while investigating how some small businesses used “so-called reputation management companies to make web pages disappear.”
There are legal ways to do it, but one way is with a court order from a judge.
The 11 forged court orders falsely stated that they came from the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, Pureval said, and included the names of real law firms.
“This is criminal and very serious. In fact, nothing is more important to me as your Clerk of Courts than the integrity of our courts and our court records,” Pureval said. The forged orders dated back to 2016 or earlier, prior to the rollout of a new clerk of courts website in May 2017.
After learning about the alleged forgery, Pureval said his office began its own investigation, alerted the prosecutor’s office and contacted clerks offices around the state and country.
In its investigation, Pureval’s office found the following:
- All 11 orders were fraudulent.
- The documents varied in degrees of sophistication.
- All lacked the authentication tools to track and verify court records in the county.
- None of the records had been accessed since May 2017.
- It’s believed the fraud happened prior to 2017.
The 2017 rollout of the new website already included more “sophisticated” and “effective” security measures, but Pureval said more will be done.
First, all judicial orders will be stamped with an encrypted QR code that will allow them to be “scanned and directed to the Hamilton County Clerks website to verify the judicial order,” Pureval explained.
Second, the county has created a customer service hotline and email system allowing residents to question and confirm all judicial orders.
“It is critical that our citizens have faith in the accuracy of judicial orders and court documents,” Pureval said. “That they know when a judge sentences someone to prison, or decides a child’s custody, that order is legitimate and true.”
To verify the authenticity of a judicial order, call 513-946-5686 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.