SECTION 1 - The Office Of Notary Public

A. History of Notaries
The office of notary public is an old office that demands dignity and commands respect. Notaries date back several thousand years to the Roman Empire. There were even notaries that traveled to America on the ships of Christopher Columbus. During the 1800's, when Florida was just a territory of the United States, the Governor was given the authority to appoint notaries for our state.

B. Status as a Public Officer
A notary is a public officer, appointed and commissioned by the Governor of the state and given the authority to perform certain duties or notarial acts. A notary also acts as an impartial witness with no financial or beneficial interest in a transaction. First and foremost, notaries prevent and deter fraud.

The Governor of Florida grants notary commissions on a discretionary basis. If circumstances in your background are not satisfactory for you to serve as a notary, the Governor may deny your application. Being a notary is a privilege. You do not have the right to be a notary and you must be a person of proven integrity and character. Since a notary is a state officer, the notary must be one who can be trusted to perform the required duties.

As Notary Public you have the sovereign power of the State of Florida vested in you. Your authority to comes from the Governor. After this training, you should have a better understanding of the office you are about to hold and realize your obligation to perform your duties with the utmost caution and care. Without Notaries Public, the legal system and many areas of commerce would either be severely hampered or suddenly come to a screeching halt.

C. Functions of a Notary
Florida Law specifies several duties of a notary public. Florida notaries:

* Are authorized to administer oaths and affirmations
* Take acknowledgments
* Attest to photocopies
* Perform marriages
* Verify vehicle identification numbers
* Certify the opening of safe deposit boxes

These duties will be discussed in detail later in this course.

An important note! It is imperative that the notary always requires the personal appearance and proper identification of the signer at the time the notarization takes place.

D. Ethical Conduct and Professional Responsibility of Notaries
What is Ethical Conduct? Will your notary conduct stand up in the public's eyes?

Many professionals have ethical standards in which they abide by. For example, lawyers follow the ethics code of their state bar association. Doctors, of course have a high ethical standard to uphold. As a public officer, you have an obligation to conduct yourself in a manner that is worthy of the office you hold. The nature of notary public makes it imperative that you uphold the highest ethical principles and maintain a strict standard of practice that is in compliance with the law. Ethical behavior is simply "doing the right thing" and abiding by the professional standards of your office. The notary's integrity and proper use of authority should never come into question before, during, or after any notarial transaction. Remember that any violation of the notary law is unethical.

Ethical notaries always observe the confidentiality of their clients. They protect the contents of documents and the business or personal transactions of signers. Ethical notaries never use the information obtained from performing notarial acts as a source of gossip or for their own benefit.

Another area of ethical conduct centers on discrimination. The United States Constitution prohibits discrimination based upon race, age, religion, gender, lifestyle, political beliefs and etc…

A notary is not an attorney and therefore should never give legal advice regarding legal documents or matters. This practice is not only unethical, but could lead to charges against you for practicing law without a license.

As the notary you must only perform the notarial act. Never give advice about a document, never explain the document to be executed and never determine for the customer the type of notarial certificate that belongs on the document. Each of these "nevers" will be discussed throughout this online course.

If a customer asks you for advice, you should politely explain that you are not authorized to give advice and then suggest that the signer:

1. Call the agency that issued the document,
2. Call the agency that will receive the document or
3. Contact an attorney for advice.

Advertising is a good way for a notary to increase business and provide good public service. However, Florida law prohibits notaries from translating the words, "Notary Public," into any language other than English. In most Spanish-speaking countries, only attorneys and judges can be notaries who practice law and give legal advice. So, the term "Notario Publico" may be deceptive to many Spanish-speaking customers since they may think that the Notary is an attorney.

Hispanic notary customers in South Florida are the most harmed by this practice. Routinely, unscrupulous notaries will post a sign in a storefront window that will indicate "Notario Publico" and charge hundreds of dollars for the same notarial acts in which Florida notaries are allowed to charge $10. The unsuspecting Hispanic customer sees the term "notario publico" and thinks they are receiving the services of a notary in their native country – perhaps a South American country or Spain. Notario Publicos in Hispanic countries are attorneys and have far greater duties than their American Notary Public counterparts and therefore, have higher fees. If you suspect that a notary is posing as a Notario Publico, please report them to the Florida Bar Association located in Tallahassee, Florida and to the Florida Governor's office.

Second, if you are not an attorney and you advertise in another language, being careful not to translate "Notary Public," you should also add a statement that you are not an attorney and cannot give legal advice and cannot charge fees for legal services – only fees for notary services. You should also know that false or misleading advertising or violating these restrictions is grounds for suspension from office and may even lead to criminal charges under other Florida laws.

Any violation of the notary laws is unethical, even if no one ever finds out, even if there is never a complaint filed against you and even if there are no criminal penalties involved. You are expected to know and obey the notary law just as you promised or will promise in the Oath of Office. Never break the trust that is placed in you as a public officer.

1.   A Notary Public is a public officer appointed by:
  Commission of Education
  Secretary of State
  Attorney General

2.   Which of the following is not a function of a notary?
  Administering oaths
  Performing a marriage
  Taking acknowledgements
  Certifying vital records
  Verifying vehicle identification numbers

3.   Ethical behavior is doing the right thing and abiding by the professional standards of your office.

4.   Notaries should always:
  Avoid discrimination among customers
  Observe client confidentiality
  Avoid conflicts of interest
  All of the above
  None of the above

5.   If a customer asks you for legal advice, you should explain that you are not aurthorized to give legal advice and then suggest that the signer:
  Contact the IRS
  Contact the Governor
  Contact an attorney for advice
  Contact the bonding agency
  None of the above