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A Guide To Common Penalties For Notary Misconduct

family-court-resized.jpgThe biggest mistake a Notary can make is thinking, “Notarization isn’t a big deal.” Notarization is a big deal. It protects signers from document fraud and ensures the integrity of business and legal transactions. Willfully breaking the law — or even making an unintentional mistake — can lead to serious financial and legal penalties for you.

Here’s a look at some possible consequences of Notary misconduct in different states.

1. Notary Commission Suspended Or Revoked

A common punishment for Notary misconduct is taking away the Notary’s commission, either temporarily or permanently. In Texas, the Secretary of State may suspend or revoke a commission if a Notary fails to require a signer’s personal appearance at the time the notarization is performed or for 28 other violations that constitute “good cause” (GC 406.009[a] and [d][5]; 1 TAC 87.31). Arizona officials may take away a Notary’s commission for failing to administer an oath or affirmation during a jurat (ARS 41-330.A.9); notarizing a signature without certificate wording (ARS 41-330.A.12); overcharging fees (ARS 41-330.A.6); using false or misleading advertising (ARS 41-330.A.5) or for 8 other offenses. Nevada officials may revoke or suspend the commission of any Notary who is found to have willfully violated or neglected his or her duties (NRS 240.150.4).

States that have adopted the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts (RULONA), such as Colorado, Pennsylvania and Washington, can revoke or suspend a Notary’s commission on a variety of grounds, including the following:

  • The Notary fails to comply with the provisions of the law
  • The Notary makes a fraudulent statement or omission on their commission application
  • The Notary is convicted of a felony or a crime involving fraud, dishonesty or deceit
  • The Notary fails to discharge his or her duties
  • The Notary fails to maintain a mandatory surety bond (or “assurance”) if a surety bond is required by statute (in Colorado it is optional).

2. Criminal Penalties

Under some state laws, certain violations in performing a notarization can lead to a Notary being found guilty of a misdemeanor or even a felony in serious cases. Some states issue criminal penalties for specific acts. For example, in North Carolina Notaries are considered guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor if they take an acknowledgment or administer an oath or affirmation without personal knowledge or satisfactory evidence of the principal’s identity (GS 10B-60[c]). In Hawaii, knowingly notarizing a signature on a document and failing to properly identify a document signer through personal knowledge or satisfactory proof of identity, or knowingly failing to include required information on a certificate statement are misdemeanors (HRS 456-21). Conviction for these offenses also results in automatic revocation of the Notary’s commission (HRS 456-20[b] and [c]). In Georgia, a Notary who knowingly executes a notarial certificate containing a statement the Notary knows to be false — or who performs an act with the intent to deceive or defraud — is guilty of a misdemeanor (OCGA 45-17-8[d] and 45-17-20). 

3. Civil Penalties

Some types of misconduct may require the Notary to pay a fine or other civil penalty. For example, in Massachusetts, a person who acts as a Notary after their commission expires can be fined $100-$500 (GL 222 Sec. 9). In Virginia, a nonattorney Notary who assumes, uses or advertises the title “notario,” “notario publico” or “licenciado,” or any other term in a language other than English that indicates they are authorized to practice law is subject to a maximum civil penalty of $500 for the first offense and a maximum $1,000 for a second or subsequent violation (COV 47.1-15.1). In New York, committing certain advertising violations may result in a civil penalty up to $1,000 (Exec. Law 131).

4. Lawsuits And Financial Liability

Even if a state does not fine a Notary or levy other punishments for misconduct, a Notary can still be sued by a signer in civil court if the Notary’s actions were responsible for financial losses — whether the Notary made the mistake intentionally or not. In one case, a Notary was sued for $250,000 after it was discovered the signer was an impostor and the Notary failed to record the signer’s thumbprint in the Notary’s journal entry. In another case, a Notary was sued for failing to follow proper procedure when relying on a credible witness to identify a signer.

A Notary isn’t the only one who can be held liable for misconduct. Employers and bosses can be held liable as well if they ask Notaries who work for them to violate proper procedure. Under Florida law, a Notary’s employer can be held liable for damages proximately caused by an Notary employee’s misconduct if the notarization was performed as part of the employee’s job duties (FS 117.05[6]).  And even if a Notary is not found liable, paying for court costs and legal representation can be extremely costly. Connecticut and Illinois have substantively similar provisions (CGS 3-94l(b) and 5 ICLS 312/7-102).

How To Avoid The Consequences Of Notary Misconduct

The best way to avoid penalties from Notary misconduct is to steer clear of any improper actions or ethically questionable behavior when notarizing. The following steps will help you avoid some of the most egregious examples of misconduct:

  • Know the law in your state and the violations that can be penalized. If you don’t know the law, learn it.
  • Always follow your state’s laws regarding signer personal appearance and identification.
  • Never falsify information in a notarial certificate and make sure all required information is included.
  • Never let anyone else have access to your Notary seal or journal, and keep your seal and journal in a locked, secure area under your control when not in use.
  • Make sure you use a Notary journal and record a complete entry for every notarization you perform.
  • Never give a signer improper legal advice about a document or choose the type of notarization for a signer.

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

1 Comment

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sirageldin a osman

12 Nov 2018

Nice

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