It should be obvious and go without saying. Yet the point apparently needs to be made. The observations of colleagues in the trenches suggest that newcomers and those seduced by the electronic ease of ECF filing are somehow skipping the step that includes having the debtor review and actually, physically sign the petition and schedules. Therein lies ruin: sanctions, suspension, and perhaps worse.
I’ve struggled with ways to make this point amusing, lively, or simply not pedantic. I’ve struck out. So, I’ll preach.
The statute, the rules, and the cases are clear that the debtor’s original signature is required on all documents filed with the court as signed by the debtor. The fact that ECF allows a /s on the signature line does not relieve counsel of having the original signature in the file.
Here’s what the local rules of the Northern District provide on the subject:
(c) The electronic filing of a document purportedly signed by someone other than the Registered Participant, including but not limited to the petition, statement of financial affairs, and schedules of assets and liabilities, shall be deemed a certification by the Registered Participant that he or she has the document in question, bearing the person’s original signature, in his or her physical possession. The Registered Participant must produce the original signed document on request by the Court and the Registered Participant shall retain the document bearing the original signature until five years after the case or adversary proceeding in which the document was filed is closed.
There’s a reason that the first substantive question asked of the debtor at the first meeting of creditors is “did you personally sign the originals of the petition and schedules in this case?” It’s the debtor’s financial life that’s at stake in the proceeding. The debtor bears the first order responsibility to verify the accuracy of the documents. Rule 1008. Why, as counsel, would you want it any other way?
If the point needs reinforcing, you could read Brown, 328 BR 556, or Daw, 2011 Bankr. Lexis 279.
No matter how pressed for time, or how inconvenient it may be to get the debtor’s signature, there is no ethical substitute. Unless you are tired of practicing bankruptcy law.
Here endeth the sermon.
Image courtesy of britanglishman.