Malfeasance is a legal term that refers to an individual intentionally performing an act that is illegal. Malfeasance is related to two other legal concepts: misfeasance and nonfeasance. Misfeasance is a legal act performed wrongfully, for instance, if a public official or a lawyer did something that was not illegal but is mistaken or erroneous. Nonfeasance, which is closely related to misfeasance, is the failure to act even though a duty to act existed.
Malfeasance is often used in reference to people in public office. In many cases, proving malfeasance on the part of an official is grounds to remove that person from his or her post. Proving malfeasance can, however, be a difficult chore, as most experts do not completely agree on its definition. Even the court systems are not entirely in agreement.
All courts agree that malfeasance has to do with wrongful doing, but defining wrongful doing and proving malicious intent are difficult tasks. In addition, the act must be proven to have interfered with the perpetrators’ official duties. Determining whether or not the act interfered with the duties is also difficult. In addition, some courts believe malfeasance also applies to an act that interferes with the official duties of other public officials.
Due to disagreement over the exact meaning of malfeasance, the definitions of malfeasance and misfeasance sometimes overlap. As a result, malfeasance can also sometimes refer to negligent acts that were committed out of ignorance and not just to those that were committed intentionally. A true example of malfeasance by its original definition would be when a public official hires her niece to a particular position and pays her more than the position warrants or allows her to falsify her time cards. Misfeasance, on the other hand, would apply to the public official who hires her niece without realizing that it is against the law to hire a relative for the position.