James A. Dougherty was called before a Northampton County judge in February to explain why he had stopped paying child support.
He allegedly told the judge he was unable to work for medical reasons, but members of the county domestic relations staff were suspicious of a doctor's note faxed to their office in support of his claim.
After an investigation by the district attorney's office, Dougherty, 41, of Mount Carmel, Northumberland County, was charged with forgery and unsworn falsification to authorities, an offense that carries a two-year prison term, and is awaiting trial.
District Attorney John Morganelli said Dougherty's case is far from an isolated episode of dishonesty in the court. On Monday, he said court officials and investigators in his office are cracking down on people who are suspected of lying under oath or using fake documents in legal cases.
"These matters are serious and there appears to be a trend. For some reason, people believe they can supply false information to our courts, give false testimony to our judges and get away with it," Morganelli said. "The fact is they are not getting away with it. There are vigilant eyes in the court."
Take the case of David Boyd, who appeared before Judge Jennifer Sletvold on a drunken-driving charge and claimed to be a soldier preparing to ship out to Afghanistan. When probation officers attempted to confirm Boyd's military status, they discovered his alleged lie.
Boyd, 27, of Allentown is now charged with perjury, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison.
"Our judges are smart and recognize perjured testimony and fraudulent documents when they see it," Morganelli said.
In a news conference, Morganelli detailed five cases of alleged perjury, forgery and fraud in Northampton County Court since the beginning of the year, including one support case in which a man allegedly altered tax documents to trim nearly $30,000 from his income.
Morganelli said those cases were only representative and not a complete tally of the dishonesty that court staff and judges have encountered.
Perjury, the most serious of the crimes Morganelli noted, is not separately tracked in Pennsylvania State Police crime reports, so it's impossible to say whether there has been an increase. Fraud and forgery, however, are tracked, and data shows no clear trend in Northampton or Lehigh counties in recent years.