Monday, August 8, 2011
A South Carolina attorney agreed to a public reprimand for the following conduct:
Respondent submitted seven affidavits to the family court on behalf of a client at a temporary hearing and provided opposing counsel with copies of the documents. Respondent had notarized each statement, indicating the affiants had personally appeared before him. However, he had not personally witnessed any of the affiants sign or affirm the statements.
Respondent explains he asked his client to provide the names of possible witnesses on contested issues and his client responded by delivering numerous signed statements to respondent. None of the statements were notarized and respondent submits he believed he could notarize each statement if he verified its content as well as the authenticity of the signature with the witness. Further, respondent submits he believed it would be proper for him to do this over the telephone. Respondent maintains he spoke by telephone with the individual affiants for six of the seven statements, however, two of these individuals do not recall speaking with respondent about their statements.
The seventh statement, purportedly of the dentist who treated the couple's children, presented the client as an active participant in the children's dental care and appointments. Regarding this statement, respondent maintains he spoke with the dentist's assistant by telephone and she confirmed the dentist had signed the statement.
A few days after the temporary hearing, however, opposing counsel informed respondent that the dentist had not signed the statement. When respondent explained his notarization process, opposing counsel advised him that the procedure was improper. Respondent immediately researched the matter and confirmed the procedure he used was improper. In a letter confirming the conversation with respondent, opposing counsel noted respondent's genuine surprise upon learning of the impropriety of the procedure he had used as well as respondent's reputation for honesty among the local bar.
In a letter to the family court, respondent withdrew the affidavits he submitted at the temporary hearing, explained the procedure he had used for notarizing the documents, and provided an affidavit that opposing counsel had secured from the dentist. In this affidavit, the dentist denied previously signing any affidavit in the case and stated he did not know or recall whether respondent's client had been present during his children's dental appointments. It has since been discovered that the dentist's assistant signed the statement originally attributed to the dentist. The dentist's assistant does not recall speaking with respondent about the statement.
The attorney must read the South Carolina notary public manual and attend ethics school. (Mike Frisch)