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A Guide To Notary Misconduct Penalties In California

A Guide To Notary Misconduct And Penalties In California

Making a mistake during a notarization can have serious financial and legal consequences for California Notaries — and deliberately breaking the law leads to even more severe penalties. This guide will help familiarize Notaries with the Golden State’s Notary laws and penalties for misconduct.

Penalties For Notary Misconduct In California
 

If a Notary commits misconduct, penalties under California law fall into four main categories:

Disciplinary action by the Secretary of State: The Secretary of State can refuse to appoint any person as a Notary, or suspend or revoke a Notary’s commission for many violations listed under Government Code 8214.1.

Civil Penalties: In addition to disciplinary action taken against a Notary’s commission, Government Code 8214.15 authorizes the Secretary of State to fine a California Notary up to $750 for negligent misconduct. If the Notary willfully committed misconduct, the maximum fine increases to $1,500 (see “Negligence Vs. Willful Misconduct” below).

Criminal penalties: If the Notary’s misconduct constitutes a misdemeanor or felony under the law, the Notary may be sentenced to jail time or other criminal penalties in addition to any disciplinary action and civil penalties. 

Lawsuits: If the Notary’s misconduct harmed a private individual, the Notary may be sued in a civil lawsuit.

It’s important to understand that misconduct can result in a Notary facing multiple penalties. For example, if a Notary was found negligent for failing to properly complete and seal an acknowledgment on a real estate document, the Secretary of State could impose a civil penalty, and suspend or revoke the Notary’s commission as well if deemed appropriate. On top of that, if the Notary’s error resulted in a financial loss for the signer, the signer could also sue the Notary to recover any damages resulting from the faulty notarization.

Negligence Vs. Willful Misconduct
 

Intentionally breaking state Notary laws (“willful misconduct”) carries significantly harsher punishments than if the Notary’s violation was unintentional (“negligence”).

For example, a California Notary who negligently failed to complete an acknowledgment certificate correctly could be required to pay a civil penalty up to $750 and have their commission denied, suspended or revoked (Government Code 8214.1 and 8214.15). However, if the same Notary deliberately falsified information in the acknowledgment certificate, the Notary faces a maximum civil penalty of up to $10,000, and is considered to have committed forgery (Civil Code 1189[a][4] and Penal Code 470[d]), a crime punishable by up to a year in prison (Penal Code 473[a]).

Also, while an errors and omissions insurance policy will cover you against claims of negligence, an E&O policy will not cover willful acts or fraud.

Examples Of Misconduct


One of the biggest issues facing Notaries — especially inexperienced ones — is that many don’t realize until it’s too late that a seemingly harmless action violates state Notary laws and can result in serious consequences. Here are some examples:

Failure to secure your journal and seal. California Notaries are required to store their seals and journals in a locked, secure area when not in use. Carelessly leaving a seal out unattended could result in it being stolen or used to commit fraud, while leaving a journal unsecured could give someone access to sensitive private information. Failing to keep a seal or journal under your control is a misdemeanor offense (Government Code 8228.1[a]; see also Government Code 8214.1[o]).

Ignoring identification requirements. Sometimes a family member, friend or coworker may bring you a document and ask, “I don’t have my ID, can we just proceed without it?” The answer is: Don’t do it. All notarizations require following California’s identification rules. Willfully failing to discharge faithfully any of the duties required of a Notary is punishable by up to a $1,500 civil penalty (Government Code 8214.1[d] and 8214.15[a]). Depending on the type of identification violation, the civil penalty could skyrocket to $10,000 (Civil Code 1185[a][1][B]). If the Notary willfully failed to identify the individual for an acknowledgment and then willfully signed and sealed an acknowledgment certificate stating the Notary identified the individual when he or she did not, that could be an additional civil penalty up to $10,000 (Civil Code 1189[a][4]). And, as we have seen, making that false certification in an acknowledgment could be forgery as well.

Failing to obtain a required thumbprint for your journal entry. The thumbprint is an important fraud deterrent, and California Notaries are required to obtain a signer’s thumbprint in their journal entry when notarizing a deed, quitclaim deed, deed of trust, power of attorney or any document affecting real property. Failing to obtain a required thumbprint for your journal entry can result in a civil penalty of up to $2,500 (GC 8214.23[a]).

Unauthorized practice of law. Notaries who are not attorneys are prohibited by law from offering legal advice or answering questions on legal matters. What many inexperienced Notaries don’t realize is that seemingly innocuous actions like choosing which notarization to perform on a signer’s behalf or telling a signer what document they need for their needs are violations of state law. Giving unauthorized advice can result in loss of a Notary’s commission as well as additional penalties (Government Code 8214.1[g] and Business and Professions Code 6126).

5 Steps To Avoid Notary Misconduct In California
 

1. Never skip or ignore required laws when notarizing such as personal appearance by a signer, or presenting proof of identity.

2. Be sure that any certificate wording is complete and all information is correct. Never agree to requests to backdate a certificate or enter false or incorrect information.

3. Be sure that you record all required information in your journal entry for each notarization.

4. Always secure your seal and journal when not in use in a locked, secure area.

5. Never provide unauthorized advice on legal matters or choose a notarial act for a signer.

David Thun is an Associate Editor at the National Notary Association.

 

 

 

4 Comments

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Artur Oktanyan

31 Jul 2017

This is not a very good guide. You should create a table of misconducts and the appropriate penalties.

National Notary Association

31 Jul 2017

Hello. A list of common prohibited acts for Notaries is available online to NNA members in the California entry for the U.S. Notary Reference Manual: https://www.nationalnotary.org/my-nna/member-benefits/notary-reference-manual-online. Additional information is also publicly available in the 2017 Notary Public Handbook (http://notary.cdn.sos.ca.gov/forms/notary-handbook-2017.pdf) and 2012 California Notary Disciplinary Guidelines (http://notary.cdn.sos.ca.gov/forms/notary-guidelines-2012.pdf) published by the CA Secretary of State's office.

Michelle Riley

23 Sep 2017

Great reminders - even for us non-California notaries.

Sevan

28 Sep 2017

Is there a guide for the victims of notary representatives that intentionally without the elderly owners consent transfer grand deeds to party of their interest. The legal process is costely and the notary representative is not cooperating and delaying turning in her evidence by further putting the victims in a financial burden, specially when one of the properties is their retirement income . Please help this article does not help victims.

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