Be Wary if Asked to By-Pass Notary Requirements

Lawyers are often required to obtain clients' or third party witnesses' affidavits and use them in transactions or in court proceedings. For any number of reasons, convenience and urgency being two common ones, lawyers sometimes give into the temptation of having actual or purported signatures notarized without following the requirements of the applicable Notary Act. Lawyers should be careful not to take shortcuts, even for the best of reasons, because taking shortcuts that do not comply with statutory requirements can lead to disciplinary action against the lawyer, and if someone is damaged because of the lawyer's actions, possible civil claims. Some statutes also carry criminal penalties. For example, an attorney was disciplined for conduct that included signing a general release as a witness and causing the signature of the personal representative to be notarized on the release, knowing that neither he nor the notary had been present when the personal representative signed the document. In re Kurpiers, 2015 PR 122, M.R.27861 (Illinois Supreme Court, March 22, 2016). An attorney was disciplined, in part, for using documents to which he affixed a stamped signature of a client and had a member of his staff notarize the signatures. In re Baylor, 90 SH 301 (Illinois ARDC Review Board, September 11, 1992) Improperly affixing signatures when a notary is not required can also result in discipline. An attorney was in the two states in which he was licensed for signing a release and settlement attesting that he had been present when his clients signed the document, despite the fact that he was not present when the release was purportedly executed by his clients. One of his clients, after informing the attorney that he did not want any part of the lawsuit, did not actually sign his name on the release or settlement check. In re Porzenski, 07 RC 1509 , M.R. 21810 (Illinois Supreme Court, September 18, 2007). An attorney was disciplined in two states for misrepresenting that a member of his staff had witnessed the signature of his client on several deeds. The client signed the documents, but not in the presence of the attorney’s secretary, who signed each of four deeds as a second witness to the signatures at the lawyer's direction. In re Lamont, 00 RC 1512, M.R. 16782 (Illinois Supreme Court, September 22, 2000). These are just some of the many examples of attorneys who have been disciplined for similar conduct.