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Guiding Principle II Of The Notary Public Code Of Professional Responsibility Of 2020

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This article is the second part of a ten-part series introducing the Guiding Principles of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020. You'll get the most from the series by downloading the Code from the NNA’s website and reading the standards, illustrations, resolutions, and commentary sections organized under each Principle.

A March 19, 2007, comic by G. Walter depicts a courtroom with blind lady justice holding a scale in one hand and a hockey stick in another. The defendant, wearing a blue-colored jersey for an unidentified team, is standing with his attorney before the judge and sergeant of arms. The judge and sergeant are sporting New York Rangers jerseys. The attorney says to his client, “Don’t worry … the courts are impartial.”

Looks may sometimes deceive, but when it comes to conflicts of interest, they often do not. Notaries, like judges, must avoid not only actual conflicts of interest, but the appearance of bias as well. That’s the message of Guiding Principle II of The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020 and its twelve individual standards of practice.

Here are some examples of conflict-of-interest scenarios Notaries may face:

  • The Notary’s spouse asks the Notary to take her acknowledgment of a power of attorney that gives the Notary power to act on her behalf..
  • The Notary, a salesperson, is asked to notarize a sales agreement from which the Notary will derive a commission.
  • The Notary and Notary’s business partner need to have their signatures notarized on a document. The Notary knows she can’t notarize her own signature, but wonders if it’s OK to notarize her partner’s signature.
  • A regular customer hands the Notary a $100 check with a note stating that “in appreciation for your notarial service, this $100 is for your favorite charity.”
  • The Notary is asked by the Notary’s sibling to perform a notarization related to the sibling’s personal affairs.
  • A Notary is asked to notarize a document that will create a trust fund forthe Notary’s children.

These scenarios are among those used to illustrate the twelve standards of practice in Guiding Principle II.

While many of these scenarios illustrate financial conflicts of interest, the Code doesn’t say a Notary can’t ever profit or gain from performing notarizations. It clarifies that charging a fee for a notarization is proper. It similarly clarifies that any fees associated with a notarization, including those for travel, photocopies, and in the electronic world, electronic notarization system usage fees, are proper to collect as well.

The Code also explains that not all conflicts of interest are financial. They can be relational, as when notarizing for a relative. The Code also considers attempting to influence a person to sign or not to sign, or to act or not act, in any transaction before the Notary a breach of impartiality. Finally, to bring us back to where we began, the Code calls Notaries to decline to notarize if it would create the appearance of compromising the Notary’s impartiality.

How a Notary Public handles a conflict of interest is critically important because, as the Code Commentary states, “an actual or apparent conflict of interest may corrupt or tempt the Notary away from the impartial role demanded of a public official and diligent adherence to proper notarial procedures.”

In the end, looks, and not actions only, do matter.

Bill Anderson is the NNA’s Vice President of Government Affairs and Drafting Coordinator for The Notary Public Code of Professional Responsibility of 2020.

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