A legal proceeding during which an individual's right to hold an office or governmental privilege is challenged.
In old English practice, the writ of quo warranto—an order issued by authority of the king—was one of the most ancient and important writs. It has not, however, been used for centuries, since the procedure and effect of the judgment were so impractical.
Currently the former procedure has been replaced by an information in the nature of a quo warranto, an extraordinary remedy by which a prosecuting attorney, who represents the public at large, challenges someone who has usurped a public office or someone who, through abuse or neglect, has forfeited an office to which she was entitled. In spite of the fact that the remedy of quo warranto is pursued by a prosecuting attorney in a majority of jurisdictions, it is ordinarily regarded as a civil rather than criminal action. Quo warranto is often the only proper legal remedy; however, the legislature can enact legislation or provide other forms of relief.
Statutes describing quo warranto usually indicate where it is appropriate. Ordinarily it is proper to try the issue of whether a public office or authority is being abused. For example, it might be used to challenge the UNAUTHORIZED PRACTICE of a profession, such as law or medicine. In such situations, the challenge is an assertion that the defendant is not qualified to hold the position she claims—a medical doctor, for example.
In some quo warranto proceedings, the issue is whether the defendant is entitled to hold the office he claims, or to exercise the authority he presumes to have from the government. In addition, proceedings have challenged the right to the position of county commissioner, treasurer, school board member, district attorney, judge, or tax commissioner. In certain jurisdictions, quo warranto is a proper proceeding to challenge individuals who are acting as officers or directors of business corporations.
A prosecuting attorney ordinarily commences quo warranto proceedings; however, a statute may authorize a private person to do so without the consent of the prosecutor. Unless otherwise provided by statute, a court permits the filing of an information in the nature of quo warranto after an exercise of sound discretion, since quo warranto is an extraordinary exercise of power and is not to be invoked lightly. Quo warranto is not a right available merely because the appropriate legal documents are filed. Valid reason must be indicated to justify governmental interference with the individual holding the challenged office, privilege, or license.
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