November 4, 2013

Don’t Cut Corners When Notarizing

Category: Attorney Discipline | Author: | Share:

As can be easily seen, this blog has been fairly silent over the last six months. Work obligations and a newborn meant that finding extra time for blogging was … difficult. But that doesn’t mean that Indiana’s courts have stopped issuing interesting and educational opinions, and a recent disciplinary order in In re Beeson, ___ N.E.2d ___ (Ind. Oct. 31, 2013), Cause No. 43S00-1305-DI-306 provides just such an example.

In this case, a lawyer had represented a client for about twenty years. The client had a spouse whose mental health was declining, so the lawyer prepared guardian consent forms. The client signed the form and sent it to the lawyer, who then notarized and filed the form.

There was no question in the case that the client signed the form, but the lawyer was nevertheless disciplined for notarizing the form without witnessing the signature. The Court found that the lawyer’s conduct involved “dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation” and was “prejudicial to the administration of justice.” The Court clearly wanted to send a message and did so, by giving a public reprimand.

There have been many times that I’ve been asked to approve having something notarized by a notary who did not witness the signature. Getting a notary can be a difficult task, particularly if the signer is out-of-town and elderly. But my inconvenience is no reason to risk disciplinary sanction. Make sure that you and your staff are only acting as notaries when the notary actually witnesses the signature.

Lesson:

    A document can only be notarized if the notary witnesses the signature. Bending these rules invites discipline.

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