Photo by Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

Update (September 14, 2018): The posts below recount the unfortunate trajectory for Minnesota lawyer, Todd A. Crabtree, and this week, the sentence was meted out for the perceived wrong-doings.

One, in particular, caught our eye: Mr. Crabtree is found to have improperly notarized his own document.

Query: in a transaction between A and B in which A is a notary, why can’t A and B both sign the document and A swears and attests as a notary that the signatories are who they say they are?

Why can’t notaries notarize their own signatures on documents?

Notaries typically perform a few different steps when notarizing a document. They verify the signer’s identity, watch as the signer signs the document, and lastly the notary places his or her official seal on the document (note: some states do not require seals). The final seal placed on the document verifies that the notary checked the signer’s identify and watched as he or she signed the document.

Isn’t the notary in a position to know if the notary himself signed the document?

The rationale for prohibiting notaries from notarizing their own documents is that requiring a third party to notarize supposedly “add[s] another layer of security to the document.” The requirement bakes a third-party witness into the transaction. This, of course, is an extremely thin layer of security but an additional layer nonetheless. (Co-conspirators are a dime a dozen and notaries do not vet the transactions they notarize for signs of fraud, duress, or other wrong-doing, they just verify the identities of the signers).

Original post (October 25, 2017): A while back, we coined the phrase, “starving people eat poison,” hoping to illustrate vividly (and warn against) the risk that lawyers face when they are desperate for work. That’s when they tend to take on clients or cases that they normally would avoid.

In that post, we highlighted the misfortune that befell Minnesota lawyer, Todd Crabtree and his firm, Crabtree Health Law P.A. — namely that Mr. Crabtree fell for a “too-good-to-be-true” scam that has been making the rounds for several years. In essence, lawyers are tricked into cashing bogus checks. (The Crabtree firm turned around and sued Wells Fargo to recover from its losses due to the scam and then promptly dismissed the case voluntarily, perhaps recognizing that the claim was a loser.)

News came this week that Mr. Crabtree’s problems neither started nor ended with the scam to which he fell victim. The attached disciplinary petition suggests at least the possibility that Mr. Crabtree’s lapse in judgment in dealing with an internet scam was not his only lapse of judgment.

The petition is also generally useful for Minnesota lawyers to review as it highlights the earmarks of an internet scam and offers measures that lawyers can take to avoid being victimized.

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