Sign at your own RISK: Is it necessary to sign documents to benefit from litigation outcomes?
PROTECT YOURSELF: Read until the last line of this blog. An educated person is an empowered person. Proactive reading and questioning are essential to self education, ask Socrates.
Without mentioning names, I received this private message:
"Hello, I am a teacher for miami dade county that was affected by the change in steps for year 22 and I was interested in joining the lawsuit. I have the paperwork but just need to get it notarized. Is it too late to join?"
Even though I replied privately, I feel that this is a question all teachers should know the answer to.
Do I need to sign a document or notarize a document in order to benefit from the litigation arising out of a claim filed with the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC)?
No, you do not need to sign any document or have it notarized to benefit from a ruling with PERC. If the charging party wins, all teachers win by default.
First of all and for the record, I am not asking any teachers to sign onto my complaints -- after they were filed.
At one point -- prior to -- filing the Alvarez et al. v. MDCPS complaint, I did collect signatures. I want to underscore that I did not ask teachers to sign on because that was a way for them to be a part of the litigation or its outcome, and instead, I asked because it was essential for the purpose of supporting a legal argument where I alleged that I was not filing as an "individual" but as a "collective" that was "disenfranchised" from the "union." The only way to make this argument with a straight face, so to speak, was to submit the document at the time of filing with as many parties as possible. Once the complaint was filed, it was unnecessary to continue collecting signatures.
Again, I did not collect and am not collecting signatures under the pretext that -- in order for teachers to benefit from the litigation they needed to sign onto it complaint before or after filing. In fact, all teachers will benefit from a ruling, presuming it is favorable one, even if they do not "sign on" because a win for one public employee is a win for all public employees. So, it is "never too late to join." You are, in essence, already "joined" by default from day one.
PREFACE TO THE QUESTION - The first question made me realize that there is another question which this particular teacher did not ask, but I anticipate it will be asked of me. In fact, the attorney who I have retained, Kevin Brown, dispelled this myth when I asked him for a retainer agreement for all teachers to sign such that they would be included as part of the class action. I asked this because I had been previously ill-advised that it was necessary.
Do I need to sign a retainer agreement to be part of a class action?
No, you do not need to sign a retainer agreement to be a party to a class action.
When an individual person in a "class" files a class action, everybody who is "similarly situated" is automatically included in the class action claim, unless an individual in the class opts out.
Have you ever received a class action notice in the mail? If you did, and you were paying attention, you will have noticed that it stated that you were part of the class, unless you returned the paperwork indicating your wish to be opted out. Again, if you do not opt out you are a party without having to sign a retainer agreement.
That brings me to the next point, which is really a question: What is a "retainer agreement?" A retainer agreement is a contract to "hire" someone. Does that raise an eyebrow? It should.
If any attorney ever asks you to sign a retainer agreement, it will spell out what your financial obligations are as a result of the attorney-client relationship that is created upon signing the retainer agreement. DID YOU JUST READ THAT? Read it again. Yes, if you were recently asked to sign a retainer agreement, please note that it is NOT a prerequisite for you to be a "part" of the class, but it if the retainer agreement contains a paragraph stating that you will be personally liable for paying any and all expenses of part of the representation, that is what you are agreeing to be a part of.
It is better for a party to a lawsuit to ask you for an upfront donation that you are comfortable donating, than to set you up to possibly finding yourself in a financial pickle.
If you do not know what you are signing, have an attorney review and explain it to you before you sign it, rather than after when it may too late for you to get out of it!
As the old adage goes, "Sign at your own risk."