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2022 March Fong Eu Achievement Award Recipient: Timothy Reiniger

Timothy Reiniger has been a lot of things in his life: Attorney, government official and expert in document technology. But he's always been drawn to work supporting Notaries — first as an executive with the NNA and later as Digital Counsel for remote notarization platform eNotaryLog, LLC. But without doubt, his most remarkable achievement was his role in the creation of the nation's first remote notarization law in Virginia.

At a time when remote notarization was barely understood and carried a lot of mistrust, Reiniger architected and then helped author a law that provided a model for remote notarization to catch fire and be accepted as a safe, secure practice throughout most of the United States. Reiniger then worked closely on the subsequent enactments in Montana and Texas, which earned him an appointment by the American Bar Association as an Advisor to the Uniform Law Commission's Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts. Reiniger's work, starting in Virginia nearly a decade earlier, helped state governors and Notary commissioning officials to quickly issue temporary authorizations for remote notarization during the pandemic — allowing vital documents to be notarized safely and securely during lockdowns without endangering Notaries and the public with the health risks of face-to-face contact.

For pioneering the first remote notarization laws and supporting efforts to make remote notarization safe, secure and accessible to Notaries and the public, Timothy Reiniger has been chosen as the 2022 March Fong Eu Achievement Award recipient.

Established in 1979 in honor of the late California Secretary of State March Fong Eu, the award is presented annually to an individual who strives to improve the standards, professionalism and effectiveness of the Notary Public office in the United States.

"Every state that has enacted remote notarization owes Timothy Reiniger a debt of gratitude," said Bill Anderson, the NNA's Vice President of Government Affairs. "In 2011, Timothy essentially had to invent how to use technology to securely identify a remote signer for a notarial act when there weren't any similar use cases — he had to figure it out himself. It takes vision to do that, and that's hard."

Early work with eNotarization and RON

Reiniger has worked with Notary laws, practices, and technology for more than 20 years. He served as Executive Director at the National Notary Association in the early 2000s, helping develop the earliest electronic notarization laws. After leaving the NNA in 2010, he accepted a position with a Virginia law firm focused on real property and technology laws. It was here that he tackled Virginia's 2011 Remote Online Notary Law, the first remote notarization law to be enacted in the United States and later in 2015 Virginia's electronic identity management law — also the first of its kind.

Convincing the public that remote notarization could be made safe and secure was a challenge as there were no existing state laws in 2011 to use as a model. Reiniger applied 3 important standards to ensure online notarization in Virginia would be secure:

  • Electronic signature guidelines using digital certificate technology.
  • Online identity proofing guidelines created by the U.S. Department of Commerce.
  • 2-way live, real-time audiovisual communication standards used by the Virginia State Supreme Court for taking depositions or making arraignments for persons who were incarcerated, ill or otherwise unable to appear in person in court.

These standards persuaded the Virginia General Assembly to pass the law and set guidelines that would establish the foundation for the 40 states that to date have followed the Virginia model in enacting their own remote notarization laws. One of the most important provisions in the law was the requirement to make and store a recording of the remote notarization, a standard that is universal in all remote notarization enactments.

"Everyone knows a paper Notary journal has been a huge deterrent to fraud," Reiniger said. "The recording is even stronger yet. (Lawmakers) understood that a recording would be the strongest deterrent to fraudsters."

The pandemic and remote notarization

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 22 states had enacted remote notarization statutes. The pandemic drove even more rapid adoption of remote notarization as people were forced to quarantine. Finding a way to notarize essential documents without in-person contact was urgent.

"My reaction to seeing the widespread adoption of remote notarization during the pandemic was great excitement," Reiniger said. "Remote notarization had previously been viewed as a radical change, but suddenly it was a desperately needed solution to the challenges government, legal practitioners, and business were facing."

Future Notary technology projects

When not working on new developments in Notary technology, Reiniger enjoys family activities. He and his wife regularly attend their sons' high school sports and music events and are active in their church in Portland, Maine. Reiniger also was recently elected to the town council in his current home of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

But he's not done with Notary work. Now that remote notarization has been widely enacted, Reiniger wants to find new ways to anchor Notaries in today's information economy. He's particularly invested in casting the vision of Notaries being able to accept digital IDs that can be presented on a signer's phone or mobile device.

"In the early days of the United States, Notaries became an important part of verifying maritime trade and commercial paper, and later land transactions," he said. "Now we hear every day about digital currency, which is founded on being able to verify digital identity. Notaries may be an important part of this, but the question is how to position Notaries to provide services in that field. It's a very exciting time for the Notary office."

David Thun is the Assistant Managing Editor with the National Notary Association.

1 Comment

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Catherine (Betts) Fraizer

09 May 2022

Long time in coming. Thank you for bringing us into the electronic age.

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